In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, we find the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow in a drunken stupor. Washed up and officially deadbeat, even the price on Jack’s head has sunk to a paltry pound. It’s a strange parallel to Johnny Depp’s public persona of late, having slipped from the good grace of the hoi polloi after reports of his abusing wife Amber Heard made waves, followed by news of widespread financial woes and a slew of middling to poor films floundering at the box office. With Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, both Sparrow and Depp pray for a comeback.
In this world of living-then-dead-then-living pirates, zombie hammerhead sharks and hoity toity British Colonialism, no one cares about Captain Jack Sparrow anymore. His glory days are behind him, only a jarring red tooth (Johnny Depp’s real tooth apparently) and an increasingly disloyal band of followers to his name. It’s a sad state to behold; a formerly cherished icon diminished to such apathetic nothingness. Lost is the gleam in Depp’s eye, the swagger in his step that made Cap’t Jack such a ferociously unique screen presence.
Depp prances about the screen nonetheless, slurring and swaying, but he’s no joy to watch. Perhaps I’ve allowed my real world perception of Depp to slip into his portrayal of Sparrow but there is something fundamentally missing here in purely an in-movie sense. This is no lovable rogue. He’s a relic; a talisman of former celebrity. The soul of the character is gone, replaced by hammy hand flapping and DOA comic relief. Sparrow has gone from chortle to chore.
Even the action sequences have lost their shine. Chasing former glory, Jack and his pea-brained cohorts execute a heist ripped straight from the pages of Fast Five, hauling a safe through the streets of some England-occupied sapphire isle, their booty tearing up the streets behind them. Rather than being lugged by muscle cars, the haul is led by a half-dozen horses in a laugh-bereft scene that’s trying far too hard to be everything to everyone. The first set piece comes across as expensive first and foremost, setting the tone for both how lazy the CG-laden story is and the throw-money-at-it-to-solve-the-problem tactics so heavily at play with everything else to come.
Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (from the hit Norwegian adventure epic Kon-Tiki) claim inspiration from the first installment. Wanting to have Sparrow play second fiddle to a crop of new characters, including William Turner’s son Henry (Brenton Thwaites) and astronomer/horologist/also-someone’s-daugher Carina (Kaya Scodelario), sounds good on paper but is not what we are presented with. The newbies end up tied to a ship’s mast for most of their trip with Sparrow, the later running amok and hogging much more screen time than he’s worth.
They all seek the Trident of Poseidon, an unfindable item that gives ultimate power to those who wield it. Or something like that. The mythology throughout is muddier than a face-plant in the pigsty. Henry wants the Trident to free his Pops from his cursed tenure as a barnacle-faced underwater pirate; Carina rightfully thinks the journey may connect her to her long-lost father; and Jack prowls for the means to defeat a former foe, back on his trail after hubris and thirst led to a misguided trade.
Which brings us to Javier Bardem’s Captain Salazar, a terrible character whose admittedly looks pretty sweet. Bardem adopts a thick Spanish lisp as the porcelain-faced pirate hunter suffering a curse that is so ambiguous that the movie never spends a mere second trying to explain it. He and his crew are ghosts, kinda, plagued to chill in the Devil’s Triangle because…they sailed in there once? The shortcomings of Salazar’s character are hardly Bardem’s fault. He seems to actually be enjoying himself, crunching the scenery one black-goo-filled mouthful at a time. But there is just no rhythm or reason to what he is and what he’s doing and trying to piece together anything involving Salazar will quickly led to a Kraken-sized migraine.
One scene he’ll be hobbling along, supporting himself with a pair of canes and the next thing you know, he’ll be running full tilt on top of water like Jesus killing the 40-meter dash. His quest to slay Jack Sparrow is insatiable, hinting at some semblance of backstory between the two that is turns out to be all kinds of bad. When we finally do get a humdrum flashback to fill in their history, it’s revealed the pair only met once – if you count catching one another’s eyes across the ocean as meeting. They share the sea for such a short stretch that there’s no way Salazar could have even learned Jack’s name, much less run him to the top of his nemesis list. Dwelling on the details is not encouraged here but there’s so many logical sore thumbs sticking hither and thither that it’s a real challenge not to get caught up in them.
Like Salazar and his crew, Dead Men Tell No Tales is almost entirely lifeless and makes not a lick of sense. Logic complaints aside, the thing is a bore. None of the new characters prove gripping, the fetid romance little more than an uninspiring time-filler, and even the great Geoffrey Rush seems kind of out-to-sea as series favorite Hector Barbossa. The heartiest laughs of the film are found laughing at the screen rather than with it (a late-stage reunion almost looks pried from a Twilight flick it’s so glossy and overblown). Discerning audiences will need more than a “cheeky yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” to get through this disaster at sea, as it’s but a mere amusing set piece or two away from being an absolute waste of time.
CONCLUSION: Shiver your timbers because ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ is a lifeless CGI shipwreck. A wholly soulless swashbuckler, this soap opera on the high-seas is so full of blaring plot holes that were it a ship, it would have already sank to the bottom of the ocean. After this fourth unwanted sequel, it’s never been more clear that it’s time for Jack Sparrow and crew to finally walk the plank.