Hey, another Pirates review from Remi, just because we’re completionists.
It’s not a perfect movie, but after the train wreck that was On Stranger Tides, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales almost comes off as a great piece of work. At the very least a good piece.
This is a delightfully fun film. I can only assume that Tides' marching orders yet again stood in place—make an even family friendlier version of the original trilogy—and directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg leaned into that. Dead Men takes the joyful aspects of the franchise and uses it to an almost shameful degree. Some might say this film is fan pandering—and these some may be right—but you know, so what? It works, at least for the most part.
Maybe it’s something as simple as the streamlined plot, with Captain Salazar (a deliciously evil Javier Bardem who rolls his rrrrrs-s like they’ve never been rolled before) chasing down Jack Sparrow (you know who) on his hunt for the trident of Poseidon. There is no twist to it, outside of Sparrow being joined by Will Turner’s son, Henry (portrayed by Brenton Thwaites, on a quest to free his father), and Karina (Kaya Scodelario), a woman deemed a witch by The Man because she has knowledge of science. (A more civilized time, clearly.)
That’s about it. A straight-line plot. There are twists and turns, of course, but the focused storytelling gives more time to colorful action set-pieces and dialogue. Dead Men is often just a fun movie.
Helpful is the return of Sparrow’s crew, or a large portion of it. Gibbs (Kevin McNally) is of course there, but also signature characters like Marty (Martin Klebba) makes his return. As does Barbossa (Geoff Rush), who is as delightfully Barbossa as always. (Granted, Barbossa’s father-daughter subplot with Karina might not be the movie’s finest moment, but Rush does as well as humanly possible with one of Dead Men’s more unnecessary ideas.)
Yes, I am aware there are missteps in Dead Men. It may lean too heavily on the original trilogy, not unlike the last Star Wars films where it got a little too much. There aren’t many original, fresh thoughts going around in Dead Men, and how close it plays to Curse of the Black Pearl’s story can get a bit shifty at times.
Give them this, though: The writers (Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio) catch the essence of Jack Sparrow. Instead of reminiscing fondly about his adventures with Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, he treats them like a footnote in what we can assume to be a long line of similar stories in his past. The thing that stands out to him about that period was Elizabeth’s looks. That, to me, is Jack Sparrow. He’s not a man who looks backward—other than at the Black Pearl—but is rather someone lives in the moment, with his eye no further than a few steps ahead.
It might seem like a small thing, but it makes a difference.
I get it, though. The scenes with young Sparrow are cringeworthy, and Brenton Thwaites has the charisma of a wooden plank. He was horribly miscast as Henry.
Did we really need to see Will and Elizabeth again? Not really. And what was up with the after-credit scene (one of the few things Tides got right)? Does it make any sense to have Davy Jones come back? (Other than having Bill Nighy return, because come on, who wouldn’t want that?)
There are things that don’t feel at home in Dead Men, but they’re not enough to get in the way of the enjoyable parts. It might not be a film that’s up there with the two first movies in the franchise, but pit it against the third one? I’d at least put it on par.
Disney, listen up…
Look, here at Mojo, we want a sixth Pirates film. That might be pathetic, it might be sad, but we feel what we feel.
And Disney, if you’re looking for that coveted Mojo five-skull review, here’s a good place to start: Make sure Deppo comes back. Sure, he might have… gone through some things… but even in the midst of that, his performance in Dead Men was back to form. His performance helped elevate the movie. And he’s doing better these days. He even has an Instagram account! Anyway, just something to chew on.