In 2003, Johnny Depp took on the role that would ultimately define his career. Captain Jack Sparrow burst onto the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl like a breath of fresh air, and the franchise has coasted on his charisma ever since. However, almost a decade and a half later, the Jack Sparrow shtick has worn thin, and the Pirates franchise has started to show clear signs of wear and tear. In that regard, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg's latest Pirates adventure is an earnest attempt to try and return the franchise back to its former glory, and while it's successful in a handful of scenes, it mostly serves to confirm that this franchise needs to finally sail off into the sunset. After all of these years, it may finally be time for Captain Jack to hang up his sword and give up the pirate's life for good.
Years have passed since we last saw Captain Jack Sparrow (both in and out of the Pirates universe) and the years have not been good to him. The once legendary pirate outlaw has been reduced to a shadow of his former self -- messing up seemingly simple robberies with a skeleton crew and drinking even more than he ever did in his heyday. Through a series of increasingly unfortunate events, the infamous Pirate Captain finds himself on the run from the cursed Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who seeks bloody revenge after a fateful encounter with Sparrow years earlier. Along the way, Jack teams up with Henry (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner, and a brilliant young woman named Carina (Kaya Scodelario) on a quest to recover the fabled Trident of Poseidon. As they sail the seven seas on this mission, they encounter the sinister Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), vicious mythical creatures, and a world that no longer understands or tolerates the pirate's life.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a simple and straightforward story, but it's also a narrative slog. The film's plot is held together by the flimsiest of logic, with enough glaring plot holes to turn the whole thing into Swiss cheese. Certain vital plot points (such as how Salazar knows certain aspects of his curse) are left completely unanswered, while other scenes rush through exposition to make up time eaten up by the previous action sequences. There's a nice narrative throughline centering on Henry's desire to free his father from The Flying Dutchman (shoutout to At World's End), but every other plotline in the movie feels adrift with little sense of direction.
Beyond that, the film lacks a sense of urgency that made previous outings in the franchise so enjoyable. Several sequences attempt to recapture the tone and style of Jack's "I'm a dishonest man" speech from the climax of the first movie, but they lack the flow or lyricism that they once had -- resulting in scenes that seriously drag the film's pacing down. The classic Pirates DNA is there, but everything has slowed down and generally turned stale after relying on the same tricks for years.
One of the biggest issues that this franchise has to contend with is the fact that the titular pirates no longer feel like pirates. Instead, Jack Sparrow seems more like John Belushi's classic Bluto character, only in a pirate costume, while the rest of Jack's crew is the Delta Tau Chi fraternity from Animal House. They've gone from loveable rogues to incompetent pranksters, and it often feels like Dead Men Tell No Tales sacrifices the emotional honesty of the characters for a few cheap laughs. Sparrow has lost the Han Solo-esque anti-hero charm that made him so watchable in the first film, with the franchise opts to embrace Johnny Depp's animated facial expressions, a knack for slapstick, and ability to slur his words. This is something that the Terminator franchise was forced to contend with in its similarly lackluster fifth outing: the moment your hero becomes a mockery of himself is the moment that you know you've gone off course.
That's not to say that there aren't quite a few legitimately entertaining moments in this film. There's one particular scene involving Jack Sparrow, a guillotine, and centrifugal force that's endlessly entertaining, as well as a sequence involving some badass zombie sharks that feature the best scares since Curse of the Black Pearl. I take no issue with the scenes themselves, but they're tied so poorly into the plot that it becomes difficult to have any real emotional stakes in them.
It's also worth mentioning that the film's supporting cast members do commendable jobs with the material that they're given. Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario offer a fun twist on the traditional Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann dynamic as a new generation of heroes, and Geoffrey Rush steals every single one of his scenes. Make no mistake; there are moments in this film that will make you laugh and cheer -- they're just too few and far between compared to the elements that fall flat.
At the end of the day, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales feels like a bloated, rum-induced fever dream that nobody asked for at any time. The film's paper-thin plot meanders with little momentum to propel the action forward, and its strengths are simply not enough to outweigh its considerable weaknesses. We will always look back fondly on the Jack Sparrow that we came to know and love during the early years of this series, but Dead Men Tell No Tales is not the return to form that any of us wanted.
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