Review: Disney’s latest “Pirates” entry treads familiar waters

Full of witchery, imagination, humor and a lot of water, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales finds our hero, Captain Jack Sparrow in the throes of a British jail, scheduled to be executed.  The British are also holding Henry Turner, one of their own and the sole survivor of an encounter with the cursed, undead Captain Salazar.  Salazar left Turner alive to tell Sparrow of his impending reckoning.  Turner is on a quest for the Trident of Poseidon.  While the British Navy doesn’t believe Turner, the mysterious Carina offers to help him find the Trident.  Sparrow’s ally, Captain Barbosa returns, buying him the necessary time to outwit Salazar.

Tales features the directing duo of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, whose Academy Award – nominated high-seas adventure film Kon-Tiki, made them perfectly suited for this film. Or so we thought.

Johnny Depp returns as the bemused Jack Sparrow.  His performance treads the same waters (pardon the pun) as the previous entries only without the same stamina.  Kaya Scodelario’s Carina starts out strong and meanders in the middle, doing very little until the third act.  Geoffrey Rush’s Barbosa is an absolute hoot in the film, his function as a “middleman” is the most effective role in the film.  Javier Bardem was the perfect actor to play the villain, Salazar.  The role felt like Ahab-incarnate, but Bardem plays it to the hilt truly anchoring the film.

Terry Rossio co-wrote a revised script with Jeff Nathanson.  Rossio had a familiarity with the characters; Nathanson brought the same vigor he shared with George Lucas and their Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull script.

The result here was convoluted.  Perhaps this is why Brenton Thwaites seemed to get lost in the background unless he was onscreen with Depp.  Much like the Indiana Jones – Mutt Williams relationship in Crystal Skull, Sparrow is the protagonist yet it really felt like Turner’s story.

Tales echoes Crystal Skull and not in a good way.  The film was very effects heavy; the characters are strong, but they rely on technology to tell far too much of the story and the payoff got muddled. There is one particular special effects sequence featuring the Black Pearl where I genuinely laughed.

Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg tried their very best, but they were out of their depth.  That’s not to say that the film is a complete miss.

Javier Bardem and Geoffrey Rush rose to the challenge, elevating with and above the effects.  Johnny Depp is solid, but the character is waning.   A protégé of Hans Zimmer, Geoff Zanelli resurrects Zimmer’s famous cues from prior Pirates’ entries reminding us that we’re supposed to be enjoying our adventure on the high seas.  A lack of fresh cues pulls us out.

The overly convoluted Dead Men Tell No Tales is full of characters that don’t fully work. In an uncanny irony, Sparrow utters “I have a rendezvous beyond my horizon” at the end of the film.  Perhaps Mr. Bruckheimer and Disney will see that horizon for what it is and bring the series to a conclusion, sooner rather than later.

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