Pirates of the Caribbean movies tend to be unwieldy vessels of bombast. Every entry could stand to lose 20 minutes. But while the first three under director Gore Verbinski mostly managed to balance a mix of swashbuckling adventure and madcap comedy with dashes of romance and horror, once he and co-stars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley left, the ship got really rocky with 2011’s On Stranger Tides, a mostly forgettable entry despite the presence of Ian McShane and Penelope Cruz.
This latest attempt, Dead Men Tell No Tales (international title: Salazar’s Revenge), unfortunately does not right the ship. With Cruz’s hubbie Javier Bardem as the new bad guy, it’s a sad, exhausting, boring example of Hollywood blockbuster by formula, a paint-by-numbers affair that tests not so much patience as interest. There’s nothing really new here; everything feels like we’ve seen it before, and with four previous movies that all had bloated running times, we probably have.
There are no interesting naval maneuvers (well, save one), and apart from an homage to Buster Keaton and a delightful escape sequence, the rest of the movie shuffles onward like a zombie. Brenton Thwaites plays Henry Turner, now-grown son of Bloom & Knightley’s characters. He has one character trait and that seems to be pluck. Kara Scodelario plays Carina, a woman of science most men decry as a witch, and while the opportunity to showcase a smart, seemingly self-educated woman is welcome, the film also goes out of its way to give her several comeuppances under the guise of a lackluster flirtation with Henry. Geoffrey Rush reprises his Capt. Barbossa, but when he gets a chance to actually use some of his better acting muscles it slips away due to poor planning in the first half of the story.
The largest failing of the movie is that there’s no one interesting in it. Bardem’s Salazar drools black blood like The Penguin from Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, but doesn’t have a personality beyond “horny for revenge.” It’s a shame because Bardem is the kind of actor who can take whatever you throw at him and make it great. But you have to have something to throw first. The new couple are basically younger stand-ins of their first iterations, and that leaves, as usual, a reliance on Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow, whose antics, after six years’ absence, still feel tired. Is there any new insight to the character? No. Are the jokes better? No.
Let’s be honest here: this is probably going to make money, and there are probably going to be more Pirates movies. But with a $230 million budget, you’d expect to see something that will at least surprise you, with a gripping story with well-rounded characters, interesting twists and turns. Future installments should invest in those, you know, pretty essential elements of great movies, and not only on noisy setpieces that are the overcompensating equivalent of a mid-life crisis purchase of a bright red convertible.
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