It seemed that after the lackluster standalone installment On Stranger Tides, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise was finally over, having ended on a bad note after resurrecting the original, and decent enough, trilogy. That wasn’t the case, as everyone knows by now. The fifth and final installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales, arrived in theaters late last week to give audiences one last experience with series favorite Jack Sparrow. Unfortunately he, and the rest of the movie, fell flat.
Warning: Minor spoilers ahead
The latest Pirates installment brought back the original cast, as we’d been promised, though that claim is disingenuous: Orlando Bloom had an anemic, almost pointless role in the early movie, and his love interest Keira Knightley was even more scarce, appearing for half a minute or so near the movie’s end. Dead Men Tell No Tales was very much another Sparrow-Barbossa adventure, one that shoehorns in nods and winks to past films with little substance between.
The movie starts out interestingly enough, introducing us to the latest installment’s bad guy pirates: Captain Armando Salazar and his crew who, we eventually learn, are cursed dead men hellbent on getting revenge against series drunk Captain Jack Sparrow. The movie works in a bit of series history, giving us a look at a young Sparrow and how he made his first supernatural enemy.
Though this segue into history was skillfully wedged into the overall storyline, we can’t say the same about other movie elements. Characters felt, more than a few times, like thin cardboard versions of their past selves, existing only to cover a checklist of rehashed wisecracks. The character most guilty of this was Sparrow himself, his entire purpose seemingly to provide weak jokes and display improbably great luck. We once again meet him as a pirate drunk on rum, running from the law, getting caught, and narrowly escaping death.
The movie’s writing was weak and scattered, drawing upon convenient plot elements and deus ex machina to propel the film forward in lieu of an actual storyline. Barbossa, for example, makes a quick visit to a witch who provides him with everything he needs to know. She does this without demanding payment, instead being content with insinuating that the pirate will one day pay his blood debt as some weak foreshadowing to a future plot point. The witch makes a brief appearance later, her character existing only as an (ultimately unresolved) convenience for anyone who needs it.
There’s little effort to flesh out the mythical and mystical aspects of the movie, with characters instead drawing upon seemingly baseless belief and convenient objects to formulate a search for the Next Big Thing — in this case, the Trident of Poseidon. The mission feels unconvincing and quickly cobbled together, the entire thing being facilitated by some mysterious notebook supposedly originating from Galileo himself.
The character in possession of this object, the orphan Carina Smyth operating in search of her long-lost father, goes out of her way to present herself as a scientifically-minded character, making her belief in the Trident’s existence — and the accuracy of the notebook — feel all the more baffling. Joining her is future love interest Henry Turner, the son of Bloom’s and Knightley’s characters, who wants to break his father’s curse.
A series of dumb luck, improbable events, and happenstance bring the characters together, but not before Sparrow conveniently gives up his compass in exchange for more rum…the very compass that, again conveniently, lets loose the undead crew that just so happened to have given young Turner a message for Sparrow — a bunch of neat coincidences that make for a boring, highly formulaic movie.
We won’t ruin the ending for you, but you can probably already guess how it ends. Dead Men makes quick work to tie up a bunch of loose ends, to conveniently give everyone their happy Disney ending, to redeem a seemingly unredeemable pirate, and to, perhaps most importantly for everyone involved with the movie, rake in a bunch of money one last time. If there’s any single truth about this series finale, it’s this: if you’ve seen one of the Pirates movies, you’ve seen them all.