In 2003, "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," a big-budget blockbuster based on the classic Disney theme park ride, debuted to critical acclaim and instantly became a box office and pop culture phenomenon. A swashbuckling adventure loaded with fun, plenty of heart, and a career-defining performance from Johnny Depp, The Curse of the Black Pearl paved the way for the Pirates franchise to become one of the most popular and successful in history.
Unfortunately, the two sequels of the initial Pirates trilogy, 2006's Dead Man's Chest and 2007's At World's End, couldn't quite capture the same magic. Sure, they're fun and they were both box office behemoths, but they were too crowded, too complicated, and too unwieldy. 2011's On Stranger Tides, the fourth film in the franchise, brought viewers back to a simpler story, but also managed to throw out all the fun and heart along the way as well.
So how does Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth film in the franchise, fare? Not well, I'm afraid. In fact, this film is easily the worst of the series and a major disappointment. Let's start with the small problems. Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario make their franchise debuts as Henry Turner (son of Will and Elizabeth) and Carina Smyth (the long-lost daughter of Captain Barbossa, the first film's main antagonist) and while they aren't bad characters, they also aren't very memorable. Other than their familial ties, the story doesn't really give us any reason to care for the duo. They're both wholly uninteresting and I wouldn't go out of my way to see a sequel revolving around them.
The story is another problem. Dead Men Tell No Tales brings us back to the complex, overloaded storylines of the first two sequels and it's really quite frustrating. Multiple plots are constantly happening at the same time and presented in a jumbled format, story threads are left dangling, and the characters are tossed from point to point like hacky sacks. Complexity can be good if presented correctly, but DMTNT is a mess that isn't much fun to figure out.
But perhaps the biggest failure of the film is the character of Jack Sparrow himself. The writers decided to capitalize on the comedic side of the character by making him as goofy as possible. Jack Sparrow has always been somewhat silly, but he was also a formidable fighter and intelligent badass in the first four films. Even when the sequels lost their way, Jack Sparrow made them at least somewhat worthwhile. That can't be said for this film. Jack doesn't have a single serious moment in the film and doesn't really do much of anything. He spends the entirety of the movie bumbling around, making jokes, and almost getting himself killed while Henry and Carina drive the plot. He's given a bit of backstory in this film, but it's insubstantial and doesn't counteract the absolutely imbecilic nature of present day Jack. It doesn't help that Johnny Depp seems positively bored as the character and almost as if he has forgotten how to play him. It's a shame that a character as iconic as Jack Sparrow has been brought to such a low level.
There are some positive aspects of the film. Geoffrey Rush is still fantastic as Hector Barbossa and his death scene is appropriately emotional. The finale and reunion of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann is also fantastic. Their absence has hurt the most recent films since they brought a lot of charisma, chemistry, and star power to their roles. Javier Bardem does a splendid job as the film's main villain Captain Salazar, although he is severely underutilized. The visuals are unsurprisingly well-rendered (although those undead sharks are pretty abysmal) and the action set pieces are fairly well-executed.
Unfortunately, these few positive aspects can't save the film from being a soulless mess and an insult to the character of Jack Sparrow. How the mighty have truly fallen. I think it's far past time that we laid this franchise to rest. It has overstayed its welcome and is no longer the fun adventure it once was.