Directed by: Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg
Written by: Jeff Nathanson, Terry Rossio
Cast: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario
Swift shot: Hard to believe, but this is my first Pirates of the Caribbean review. I started writing reviews in 2008, and as these series kept going, I lost interest more and more. And it really bummed me out, because as a kid I was obsessed with Disney World’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride. My dad bought me a gold coin that was so heavy it made my shorts droop, and I got a pirate musket, and I just remember that as one of my fondest memories with my dad. As I grew older though, I realized that pirates were nothing to idolize, especially after I lived in Saint Augustine and learned all about what pirates were actually like.
Still, as the years passed, I decided I would allow my inner-child the strained fantasy that pirates were somehow cool, swashbucklers of the sea and not vicious monsters. [Swift aside: come to think of it, I also really liked vikings as a kid.] And when I found out that two Norsemen directed Dead Men Tell No Tales, it kind of all comes back full circle, much like the story-line penned by Nathanson and Rossio.
Henry Turner (Thwaites) son of series champion Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is determined to break his father’s curse, and because Henry is armed with proof that curses are very real and mythology isn’t just something you read about in books, he sets out to possess the Trident of Poseidon, a relic he believes will release his father from his permanent undead command of “The Flying Dutchman.”
All Henry knows is the key to finding the trident rests with Jack Sparrow (Depp), rumored to be dead. Young Henry has joined the Royal Navy in the hopes of somehow crossing paths with the infamous pirate. Before long, he meets an altogether different, horrific Spanish captain named Salazar (Bardem), a brutal ghost who commands the “Silent Mary” and butchers all but one sailor after each encounter. Salazar doesn’t just hate Jack Sparrow, there really isn’t a word for the kind of spiteful disdain Salazar has for Jack Sparrow. Anything that brings him closer to his vengeance is all he seeks, and he will slaughter anyone who crosses him.
This is where Dead Men Tell No Tales gets visceral and dark, the kind of films I like, where villains are just terrifying. When I say Salazar slaughters people, that is exactly what I mean. He butchers them on a whim. And, also like the best villains, he assumes he’s the one in the right. I read that Bardem played him like a matador when he was alive and the wounded bull as a ghost, and that is a perfect description of his performance. If you are a fan of Bardem’s insane characters, Salazar is worthy of the portfolio . . . friendo.
Henry wakes up after his ghastly encounter with Salazar in the town of St. Martin, where he makes the acquaintance of Carina Smyth (Scodelario) an astronomer in the eighteenth century who is about to be hanged as a witch, naturally. On the whole S.T.E.M. for girls thing being shoved down our throats by Disney, thankfully it wasn’t annoying or detracting from the story in the least. And the writers actually had a lot of fun with the whole concept without becoming proselytizing on the altar of science.
Carina learns about a possible clue to find her father, whom she has never met. She was left with the secret diary of another astronomer, Galileo. She has the very map that Henry needs to find the trident. So, she needs Henry, and she doesn’t much like needing anyone. And Henry doesn’t really know what to make of Carina, just that she seems to be able to unlock the mysteries of the stars.
Meanwhile, Jack Sparrow, is as written, just kind of a walking side-show who provides constant comedy relief, yet doesn’t detract from the overall story or pacing. Depp is adamant about not wanting him to ever have a story arc, and to just kind of meander in the stories as who he is. Still, Dead Men Tell No Tales did give him some really nice tributes to his past.
Jack is now the captain of the “Dying Gull” basically the equivalent of a trailer on bricks of our time. He has a crew, but the only luck he has is bad luck. Still, he manages a pretty spectacular bank robbery that I guarantee you won’t soon forget. Shortly after the bank robbery he is nabbed by the magistrate and is sentenced to death. Naturally, he doesn’t die, because that would suck and kill the series, but he does go on a roller coaster ride, of sorts, as he defies the executioner’s blade. And after escaping, he hears that Salazar is coming to kill him.
Carina, Henry, and Jack team up, well, I mean to say Jack forces the other two to help him find the trident, because he is going to use it to best Salazar. But before he can get to the trident, his old nemesis Barbossa (Rush) also wants to get the trident, and after encountering Salazar reaches an unlikely accord with the Spanish ghost, convincing him he can produce Jack Sparrow alive.
And that’s all the story you really need to know, as things move along in the film, you go from land to sea, to land again, to sea again, and the cinematography is every bit as good as you’d expect from a Disney film. The music also deserves praise as I felt there was a similarity to one of my favorite composers, Basil Poledouris in a few scenes. Even though it was Zimmer’s protege, Geoff Zanelli who brought something fresh and interesting to the score.
The sea battles were a bit too brief for my liking, but there were enough of them to keep the adrenaline up, so it was far from a perfect film. I had some things I didn’t quite care for, the floating hair of Salazar and some of the CGI effects were overused. Still, because the technology is stellar, it didn’t ruin the immersion entirely. When certain fantastical things happen, you always run the risk of going overboard at times.
I thought the use of “Silent Mary” as basically a ship that eats other ships was a bit odd and even a bit cheesy, like a giant Jaws ship. It had all these bad ass cannons and turrets, and all it did was swallow up ships with its innards. I am sure the kids will love that element though. Minor quips like that aside, it made for a great time at the theater.
Filled with action and comedy one-liners and the brilliant Busteresque buffoonery of Johnny Depp, this latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” film brings the franchise back to high tide, and the stench of lessor works barnacled by low tide are now distant surf. It’s not exactly a family friendly film, because of Salazar, but it is highly entertaining and worthy of the Disney label. It made me want to jump right back onto the Disney World ride, which I imagine will be jam packed this weekend!
Oh, and make sure stick around after the credits.