I’m not sure who thought it was a brilliant idea to bring Pirates of the Caribbean back after a six-year-long hiatus following a truly messy fourth film in the franchise, but in all honesty its the one of the least surprising ideas brought on by Hollywood in recent years. On Stranger Tides really represented the misdirections the franchise had taken away from what I feel like were the true strengths of the franchise. Not only did it not feature Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, but it also seemed to spend more time on dry land than on boats, and far too much time with supernatural entities than the silly antics of the bumbling pirate Jack Sparrow.
In a franchise that started with the simplicity of cursed coins that keep you alive forever, it’s certainly astounding how far we’ve come. The Kraken and Davy Jones were believable, but Calypso, the Fountain of Youth, Mermaids, their tears, and now Poseidon’s actual trident are becoming to be a bit of a stretch.
Dead Men Tell No Tales picks up sometime after the fourth film, which was at some point either during or after the epilogue of the third movie (sorry, the continuity is hard to grasp) and finds Will Turner’s (Bloom) son Henry (Brenton Thwaites) seeking a way to end the curse that binds him to the Flying Dutchman. This sends him off on a journey to find Sparrow (played once again by Johnny Depp who sounds like he’s gone a little too method with his role this time around) in order to team up and find the trident of Poseidon which has the power to end all curses.
Throw in Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, probably the only actor in this movie who has done anything worthwhile in recent years), the British Navy, and an evil, ghosty pirate Salazar (Javier Bardem) with a boat that literally eats other boats and we’re once again back to the overly-crowded boat full of superfluous special effects and underused characters that have plagued the movies since At World’s End.
Maybe it’s because I set my hopes pretty low, but I am delighted to say that I haven’t laughed this hard at a movie all year. Surprising, no? There are some truly spectacular moments here, particularly at the beginning that make you wonder why the heck they wouldn’t just stick to more slapstick-y humor and zany stunts rather than unexplainable curses and supernatural monsters.
Depp, despite being a major jerk in real-life over the past few years, really does own Sparrow. While he seems to be taking the drunkenness to new, almost natural heights, he delivers some of the most gut-busting moments in a film that desperately needed more of them. On top of that, we actually get some much-needed backstory into his character (as well as others) that also reminds us at how little it seems like the Pirates movies were planned out.
Another thing—correct me if I’m wrong—but GPS tracking and maps didn’t exist back then, did they? Then how does everybody know exactly where to find everybody else in what feels like the blink of an eye? It’s a problem that nobody seems to address with the franchise—like in At World’s End when all of a sudden they’re in Singapore. Did anyone look at a globe?
Regardless of its oversights and required suspension of disbelief, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a solid improvement over On Stranger Tides. While nobody asked for this (nor the supposed sequels they’re planning) there’s enough here for a fun trip to the movies if you need a break from the hot weather. I really wish Disney had sought an actual conclusion to the series—not their now routine setups for a potential sequel even if it never comes. We deserve that much, especially when you have a character as iconic as Jack Sparrow. If this truly is the end, I’m going to definitely need more closure than this.