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Walks the Plank

Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp
Walt Disney Studios
 129 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed byJoachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

The McGuffin in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a priceless artifact known as the Trident of Poseidon, an object that allows the person who wields it to break any curse. That bit of ancient maritime lore (along with a hefty paycheck) may be what convinced Johnny Depp to sign on for another cinematic voyage as his best-known character, Captain Jack Sparrow, because Depp is sorely in need of something to break the career curse that seems to have befallen him. Sadly, this latest installment of Pirates merely extends his streak of clunkers.


If you’ve seen any previous Pirates of the Caribbean movie, then you know what to expect in Dead Men Tell No Tales. For two hours and change, Depp staggers around in a state of constant inebriation, like Mr. Magoo, completely unaware of his surroundings most of the time, save for those rare moments when he sees a woman, some treasure, or a bottle. On those occasions, he does a drunken double take and cracks a bad lush joke. Back in 2003, when Depp originated the character, it was a brilliant counterpoint against the usual stereotypical image of pirates of yore (such as those in the Disney theme ride that inspired the series) that it earned Depp an Oscar nomination and assured the success of a most unlikely franchise.


By now, however, Sparrow is old hat and, like most loud barroom drunks, has worn out his welcome. The series is old hat as well. The storylines of the Pirates movies have always had overly complex yet relatively uninteresting plots overflowing with too many characters, both real and supernatural. Dead Men Tell No Tales is no exception. Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Jack Sparrow’s old crewmate Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) vows to use the aforementioned Trident to rescue his father, who is now a ghost riding the seven seas on the Flying Dutchman. Unfortunately, Henry winds up in the brig on the island of Saint Martin, along with Sparrow, who was captured by the local constabulary while trying to rob the island’s first bank. A third occupant of that same prison is Carina Smyth (Kaya Scoledario), an educated young woman with an interest in science in general and astronomy in particular.


Fortunately for the three prisoners, Henry manages to engineer their escape literally in the nick of time for Jack and Carina, who are facing death sentences for piracy and witchcraft. Jack manages to get back together with the remnants of his old crew and patch up their differences, after a fashion, and put out to sea in search of Poseidon’s Trident. But while Jack is looking for the Trident, one of Jack’s old enemies, Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), is looking for Jack. Salazar was outwitted and killed by a young Jack years earlier, and his ghost (who has destroyed a number of ships, including the one Henry formerly sailed on) is out for revenge. In that regard, he is joined by another old enemy of Jack’s, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).


The first half of Dead Men Tell No Tales is filled with action, including two technically proficient set pieces on dry land and plenty of CGI wizardry in naval battles. Yet despite all the noise, it’s also incredibly boring. The plot is far too complicated, with double and triple crosses involving the main characters and a bevy of changing loyalties. In addition, keeping track of the various curses, magical objects, and supernatural beings that have become part of Pirates’ storylines is far more taxing than watching a summer escapist film should be. Nor does it help that the film’s first major set piece, which involves using a team of horses to pull a bank vault out of its foundation and drag it away through the streets of St. Martin, is a blatant rip-off of a highly similar modern day theft in one of the Fast and the Furious films.


The only times I was entertained during the first half or so of Dead Men Tell No Tales were watching the second big set piece, one involving rescuing Jack from the guillotine, and seeing Paul McCartney show up for a thruway one-minute cameo. The latter is obviously a response to casting Keith Richards in a somewhat larger role as Jack’s father in an earlier Pirates film. The former allows the second unit to showcase some considerable acrobatic talent in pulling off a very well-choreographed, highly complex routine.


Dead Men Tell No Tales does pick up somewhat in the second half of the film, largely because of some CGI set pieces that I thought rather effective. The ultimate showdown comes straight out of Exodus as ocean waters part to allow Jack and a few others to climb down to the bottom of the ocean (now dry land) and obtain the trident. Norwegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg are far from household names, but their success in considerably lower budgeted earlier films showed that they could be adept at this type of light, comic action fare.


Technical skill, however, doesn’t help the directors overcome a script that is completely bereft of new ideas and, instead, merely recycles Johnny Depp’s drunk routines from all the earlier Pirates movies. Depp apparently believes that he can simply sashay and stagger around and slur words so that hilarity inevitably ensues. Instead the results are what usually occurs when a drunk imagines himself to be a comic genius: a series of “jokes” that are nearly incomprehensible to anyone else. Nor do Depp and his co-stars get much help from the scripted one-liners they wind up reciting either. A joke in which Carinna refers to herself as a “horologist” (with understandable reactions from the male cast members) is about as sophisticated as this movie gets.


Dead Men Tell No Tales is like the Caribbean itself: a handful of small, colorful islands surrounded by an awful lot of monotonously routine and sometimes distasteful sea water. By now Johnny Depp’s humor is long since past its expiration date, and the few good special effects, like the ghostly form of Captain Salazar, are overwhelmed by other visions we’ve seen too many times before. Javier Bardem is rapidly overtaking Christoph Waltz as the go-to guy for screen villainy and provides some spark in his scenes, but Geoffrey Rush seems to be contemplating his upcoming payday in most of his scenes. The Disney factory has too much talent for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales to be a total disaster, but the franchise has definitely walked the plank.

In this scene,  Brenton Thwaites has a disappointing first meeting with Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) on IMDb