In 2003, Disney accomplished something impossible: they created not only a really great movie based on something as thin and hollow as a theme park ride, but they birthed a lucrative franchise at the same time. Most major video games, which these days usually have their own storyline to support them, can't survive the feature-length treatment, but Pirates of the Caribbean was able to make the strong transition from classic boat-driven theme park attraction to fun adventure series. In fact, just before the release of the first Pirates of the Caribbean venture, Disney awarded it a subtitle, promising a future for the franchise should it be a hit... and it was indeed a smash, spawning two sequels that wrapped the movie series up as a trilogy over the next four years. In 2011, however, the series was given a fourth entry, taking the story in a new direction, but it left many moviegoers feeling jaded and dissatisfied (despite it really not being all that bad). Now, another six years later--and ten years after the finale to the original trilogy (At World's End), we have the fifth film, Dead Men Tell No Tales. The end result is not without its fair share of problems, but it's still a great deal of fun.
Have you ever been so hungry that you ended up really enjoying food that you know isn't all that great but you enjoyed it anyway? Sometimes a seriously flawed film just hits all the right spots to be enjoyable despite its glaring problems. I spent several days leading up to the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales rewatching the first four films to prepare for where Disney is taking the franchise next. In revisiting the films, I remembered just how much I love the first movie, enjoy (and hate) parts of the first two sequels, and then actually do enjoy the fourth film. Now entering into a fifth chapter (and the third directing team), there's a lot of lore and fantasy to explore within this franchise. However, the biggest problem Dead Men Tell No Tales has is that the filmmakers seem to ignore (or rewrite) really vital information from the previous entries to benefit this new story. It's really only problematic in the context of the series, but still, it makes any fan wonder how it got past even the most casual member of the cast and production team. I'll touch more on this in detail shortly...
The fourth film, On Stranger Tides put Captain Jack Sparrow front and center of the film, writing out the central characters of Will and Elizabeth from the initial trilogy. People found Johnny Depp's pirate to be too much to carry the story, and the different directions he took the story just didn't seem to strike the right chord with audiences. This time around, Captain Jack is still very much a focus, but we're introduced to two new characters, Carina and Henry, who kind of fill the void that Will and Elizabeth's absence created. They're not quite as charismatic or interesting as either of those two characters, but they're not quite intrusive or detracting either. My main complaint about the characters and acting this time around, however, is Depp actually overplays Sparrow this time around. Perhaps the fact he's seen drinking more than usual and seems drunk all the time may contribute, but revisiting the previous entries proves just how witty and cunning Sparrow really is. Here, in Dead Men Tell No Tales, he's goofier and borderline dopier than ever before -- and it doesn't look good on the character. Depp's starting to turn Jack into a caricature of the character fans have grown to love so much over the past (almost) decade and a half. However, Geoffrey Rush is back in the saddle as Captain Barbossa--the Curse of the Black Pearl "big bad" who keeps coming back into Jack's life as a sort of quasi-friend (And it never gets old to hear Jack exclaim "Hector!" when he sees him again). Several other familiar faces from throughout the series -- from Mr. Gibbs (who I hated seeing get such a raw deal in On Stranger Tides) to those two goofy British guards from the first film turning up as part of Barbossa's crew now -- are welcomed additions to the film and it all just lends to some friendly consistency in the series. There are some other familiar cameos that I don't want to spill too much about, and it teases the potential for some big things if there are any more future sequels. Also, I do have to mention that the music for the film is really fantastic. While Klaus Badelt (and a team of other well-known composers) scored the first film--with composer Hans Zimmer still helping to write several of the key themes, Zimmer has composed each of the sequels -- until now. Geoff Zanelli, a member of Zimmer's team who also has worked on all of the previous films, scores Dead Men Tell No Tales and does an incredible job in the process. He not only brings back all of the most memorable cues (including the "Hoist the Colors" pirates melody), but also introduces some great new themes, especially for Salazar. It definitely helps elevate this sequel a bit. (If you're a fan of the scores for the previous films, definitely check this one out!)
Now, I just have to touch on the story problems that really frustrate me here -- and please skip over this paragraph if you don't want to read some minor spoilers (ye be warned!) -- but I'd feel remiss if I didn't touch on it a bit. Now, for one, supposedly the key to the main villain's freedom from an unfortunate ghostly curse lies in Captain Jack's famous compass. It feels ill-explained that, in a moment when Jack barters away the compass for a bottle of booze, it's a "betrayal" of the compass and therefore unleashes the ghosts to come after him. Previously, in the other films, he gave the compass to others--OR had it taken from him--without there being a guarantee he'd get it back -- from Elizabeth to Beckett to Will to Gibbs, and so on. Yet, the moment he trades it for a drink here, that seems to be the moment he officially "betrays" it, unleashing Salazar. Furthermore, simple things like Will Turner being bound to the Flying Dutchman in order to ferry the dead forever is treated exclusively here as merely a "curse," and not also a means to have saved his life after being stabbed to death by Davy Jones in At World's End. The writers seem to be trying to overly simplify the situation in order to serve this tale. And, finally, the end credits scene (which is well worth staying through the credits for) teases the return of a character that has perished, but there is no sensible explanation for how or why that character could even be able to return (I'd be happy to see the character return, but really, it wouldn't make much sense). Some can see these questions as nitpicks, while others would see them as gigantic plot holes, but ultimately, when all was said and done, the movie was just too enjoyable to fault too much for some lazy or sloppy storytelling (I hate to make excuses for the movie, but I did enjoy it a lot). And we're also talking about a franchise here that had "fish people" and a huge kraken as antagonists in one film, a gigantic woman who dissolves into a flood of crabs and then causes a maelstrom in another entry, and cursed treasure that turned pirates into living skeletons by moonlight in the series debut. And after seeing pirates fighting with swords while traveling on a huge runaway mill wheel, it's tough to fault a scene where horses pull the frame of a building through a town's streets in a bank heist attempt. It all just amounts to silly cinematic fun.
The content is mostly on par with the previous films. It's still pretty violent, with lots of characters dying by sword, but I would probably say it is slightly less gruesome than some of the other movies (like Dead Man's Chest, for example, which even features a buzzard pecking out a man's eye in one of the early scenes). There is, however, more sexual humor. There's a gag about a horologist (which is someone who studies time) being mistaken by pirates as a prostitute, and we see Jack Sparrow wake up next to a woman who turns out to be another man's wife (both are fully clothed). It's played for laughs, but it's definitely a more inappropriate gag for young ones. There are a few other racy gags, including Jack's verbal description of Elizabeth and Carina making a quip about where Henry's hand is when he catches her (to save her life - and we don't see where he's innocently grabbing, but it sort of looks like it's just her clothed butt). Finally, Carina is constantly accused of being a witch just because she has a knowledge of science, but then we later see a real witch, who is a creepy character covered in tattoos with an open-back kind of dress on. But she honestly doesn't do much by way of magic or dark, spiritual stuff (which makes one wonder, too, what her point in this story was exactly).
Overall, five installments into this popular Disney franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean is still a really fun series. Each sequel is rife with problems, but the presence of beloved characters and lighthearted, adventurous entertainment make each film enjoyable enough to look forward to the next outing. And, with the way things end up at the conclusion of this film, I'd be really interested in a sixth film. And, as I mentioned briefly before, do stay until the very end of the credits for a bonus scene that teases what the next film could very well involve...!
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 5/29/17)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is available in a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digtial combo pack, on DVD, and in a 4K Ultra HD release with a Blu-Ray disc and digital copy, as well as separately through the usual digital movie providers. The regular Blu-Ray disc has a decent amount of extras, particularly in the form of a making-of featurette:
Jerry Bruckheimer Photo Diary (1:41) - Producer Jerry Bruckheimer likes to shoot photos while on set, so here we're treated to a sampling of his work. We see them in a sort-of motion (I don't know if "animated" is the right word to describe it) presentation, set to the Pirates score.
Dead Men Tell More Tales (47:48) - This is the core making-of featurette that consists of several chapters you can watch individually or together in a nice Play-All option:
A Return to Sea is the featurette's first chapter. It focuses on the cast coming back, reuniting many of the previous actors across the preceding four films, and introducing new ones!
Telling Tales with Brenton and Kaya focuses on the two new young cast members. What's neat about this one is it breaks from the behind-the-scenes format to feature just the two of them sitting alone in a room chatting about making the film. Production began on Pirates 5 a few years ago, so Brenton and Kaya talk about this new film as if it happened quite a while ago. The two talk about meeting each other and what it was like to join the established cast. They also talk about filming the last day of production on a beach and we get to see footage of the crew wrapping up.
The Matador and the Bull - Javier Bardem talks about the character of Salazar, seeing Pirates 4 being filmed and thinking it looked like a fun series to work on, and then eventually getting to join the cast for this new entry. Several of the cast also reflect on working with Javier (including Johnny Depp). The crew address the make-up application for Javier and Salazar's crew, as well as the visual effects for these new ghostly villains.
First Mate Confidential - Kevin McNally, who plays Mr. Gibbs throughout the series, takes us through a day on set, make-up application in the make-up trailer, and on-set during the town square execution / rescue scene!
Deconstructing the Ghost Sharks gives us an inside look into designing the creepy, decomposing "ghost sharks" and relying on lots of special effects for creating the action sequence.
Wings Over the Caribbean - Because Johnny Depp is friends with Paul McCartney, he invited Paul to join the cast and cameo as Jack Sparrow's Uncle Jack. Paul talks about playing the part and we see some fun behind the scenes footage of Paul doing his scene and singing on set.
An Enduring Legacy - The featurette's final chapter is dedicated to the franchise--past and present. It's a nice little wrap-up to the extras.
Bloopers of the Caribbean - This is a short, fun little collection of the cast goofing off or messing up lines during the filming process. Fans of the film will definitely want to watch it. (And it ends with Johnny making a crack about Pirates 6... so we may yet still see another one!)
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 10/1/17)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
A bank safe opens to find Jack sleeping inside. A woman (fully clothed) pops up and a man nearby asks another man "Isn't that your wife?" (It's heavily inferred that Jack and this woman fooled around to some extent); A woman says she's a horologist. The pirates, not knowing what it is, act embarrassed. Jack says that there's no shame in that. One of them says their mom "was one too." She asks them "Your mother was academically inclined?" to which Jack says "she was more like horizontally reclined." She continues and says "horology is the study of time!" and one of the pirates responds, "And she was always looking at her watch," to which Marty chimes in, "I can vouch for that!"; There's some talk about Barbossa leading a fleet of ships and having 18 ton balls (cannonballs?) to which Jack jokes that that would explain why he walks funny; Henry catches Carina around the waist and she comments about "where" his hand is (probably on her butt, but it's an innocent situation); When Jack tries to describe Elizabeth to Henry, he describes her in a little bit of a (humorously) sensual fashion, and is cut off as he begins to describe her bosom.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 "My G-d," 1 "P*ss-off"
Alcohol/Drugs: Jack is drunk through most of the film, and is frequently seen drinking from a bottle.
Blood/Gore: Henry has a little blood on his mouth; Salazar has black blood or something dripping from his mouth; When sailors are killed, we see some blood dripping through the floor through the ceiling in the ship's quarters below. Henry touches it before realizing it's blood; Henry has a slightly bloody cut on his cheek; We see two lifelike severed heads lying in a basket outside a guillotine; We see the pirates holding Scrum down while Gibbs tries to pull off one of his very long toenails (it cuts away before he succeeds); In a flashback, we see a villainous ship get stuck in a dangerous area where it is consumed in an explosion. As it explodes, it blows away parts of the ship and the crew, leaving these ghostly pirates (and the ship) with missing pieces of their bodies; And lots of other action/adventure violence; we see some zombie sharks that are partly-decayed but still "alive"
Violence: Lots of adventure violence; The pirates are chased through a town as they drag a bank building with horses behind them; Salazar slays many people through the film by stabbing them with his sword and slicing them. At one point he hangs a ships crew upside down and stabs them one by one, killing them; We see Salazar's ship, the Silent Mary, open its hull up like a boney ribcage and consume a ship in a ball of fire; When Jack is captured and about to be beheaded, he looks down at a basket that has two severed heads in it; A woman is nearly hung to death, but a man catches her as she falls; Some characters are shot to death; We see ghostly, zombie-like sharks swimming and jumping through the air as they try to attack some characters; Some men start to drown underwater but then get out of the water and start to breath normally; A man is tied up and forced to marry a woman against his will; A man falls to his death from a great distance into water below. Another man is stabbed during this scene and we see them also fall to their death and hit a ship's anchor as they fall; We see a flashback of a ship destroying other ships. A ship then leads the villainous ship into a dangerous area where it is consumed in an explosion. As it explodes, it blows away parts of the ship and the crew, leaving these ghostly pirates (and the ship) with missing pieces of their bodies; And lots of other action/adventure violence.
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
To find out why we don't review R-rated movies, click here