Jeff Nathanson

Terry Rossio

Movie Review
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Part Five):A Swashbuckling Disappointment

Screenplay by: Jeff Nathanson Story: Terry Rossio - Jeff Nathanson


In the summer of 2003, director Gore Verbinski teamed up with writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio to defy odds and deliver a hilarious, entertaining live-action adventure inspired by a Disney theme park ride. Since then, each new installment has gotten progressively worse. Advertised as the final film in the Pirates cinematic world – cue sighs of relief – directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg continue tradition by butchering all that is loved about this once successful franchise.

In typical Pirates fashion, Dead Men Tell No Tales’ plot revolves around a mythological object: the Trident of Poseidon, said to break all curses and bestow upon its possessor complete control of the seas. Through a hastily paced sequence of events, former British Navy rigger Henry (Brenton Thwaites) and altruistic astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) join Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in the pursuit for the Trident.

Writer Jeff Nathanson’s rushed development of the new protagonists is apparent within the first twenty minutes, when Carina and Henry – one branded a witch and the other a traitor – are somehow tossed together on a muddled journey that is driven by daddy issues and running jokes that fail to land. While the pair is intriguing at first, the newcomers quickly nosedive into uninteresting, redundant territory. Thwaites and Scodelario share a visible lack of chemistry and enthusiasm, though it is unclear whether this should be attributed to a one-dimensional screenplay or deficient performers.

The once bright, lightning-in-a-bottle Captain Jack Sparrow is now a battered, down-on-his-luck shadow of his former self. Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the rum-addled buccaneer comes off as jaded and repetitive, and Sparrow is sadly reminiscent of a washed-up rockstar blasting his greatest hits over and over to a rapidly thinning audience.

As Captain Sparrow, Carina and Henry trudge through screenwriter Nathanson’s chaotic terrain, expect to be subjected to absurd dialogue (Sparrow: “Please don’t hang me, I’m a bed-wetter!”) and weak comedy (Carina: “Are you saying your mother was academically inclined?” / Sparrow: “More like horizontally reclined!”) along the way.

In their efforts to strengthen an incoherent narrative, Rønning, Sandberg and Nathanson have chosen to supplement once appealing protagonists as stock characters. 

Geoffrey Rush (Captain Barbossa) seems worn and ready to retire, and Depp himself appears sick to death of the perpetually inebriated character trope. Orlando Bloom (Will Turner) and Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann) reprise their roles for a grand total of two minutes, though Mackenzie Crook (one half of the hilarious Pintel and Ragetti duo) declined to reappear in this installment, resulting in a discernible absence of well-timed humour. Unfunny cameos (Sir Paul McCartney) are thrown in as thinly veiled marketing stunts, and fantastic actors such as David Wenham (Scarfield) and Golshifteh Farahani (Shansa) are cast in forgettable roles whose purpose this reviewer is still trying to figure out.

Spanish icon Javier Bardem, on the other hand, is compelling in his portrayal of the terrifying Captain Armando Salazar. Unfortunately, this effect steadily wanes through bizarre dialogue (try an undead, vengeful pirate hunter ending a threat with “please?”) and overblown green-screen. Several unnecessary sections appear to have escaped the editing team’s (Roger Barton and Leigh Folsom Boyd) notice, and the film lacks in overall fluidity. Worse still, none of the leading characters appear to be advancing the plot, and the most emotionally convincing moment in the entire film is the closing scene.

In spite of having thrown in every Pirates staple imaginable – impossible escapes, PG-13 insults, the British Navy, a ghost army, expensive CGI (Rodeo FX; Atomic Fiction), a familiar soundtrack (Geoff Zaelli), attractive star-crossed lovers, riveting cinematography (Paul Cameron), slapstick-peppered action, and of course, the much-beloved, showboating male lead – Dead Men Tell No Tales fails to entertain.

With multiple convoluted backstories and sub-quests in the mix, this film is so overstuffed that it is off-putting. Despite several villainous threats and swashbuckling battles, there is no real sense of urgency throughout the movie. The absence of the essential ‘ticking clock’ is apparent as Dead Men Tell No Tales plods along to the dull thrum of recycled jokes, overly complex subplots and inconsistent mythology. Some scenes – such as one involving a guillotine nearly slicing a character’s head off – shine with the first film’s unconventional ingenuity, yet these moments are rare; its pleasures meager in comparison to the bulk of the film. One almost wishes that dead men would just stay dead and spare moviegoers another installment.

While a fair portion of the Pirates demographic is – by now – wary of the franchise’s tendency to disappoint, a sizeable chunk will no doubt flock to see this film. Disney will continue to manipulate the combined star power of Orlando Bloom, Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley to deliver another spectacular letdown, and viewers will stomp out of cinema halls with heavy hearts and even lighter wallets.

With Jeff Nathanson’s screenplaythe most engaging aspect of the Pirates franchise – Captain Jack Sparrow’s unfailing wit – appears to have been eliminated entirely, resulting in a clumsy pastiche of The Curse of the Black Pearl. Sparrow’s quick escapes are no longer clever: they are stumbling accidents, the result of a character having been devoured by its own peculiarities. It is this blatant disintegration of the protagonist’s personality that will likely discourage viewers from watching the next installment.

That’s right: the next installment. The Disney machinery never dies. Savvy?

   Tina Mohandas

Tina Mohandas is a songwriter, musician, tattoo artist, vintage motorcycle collector, and animal rights activist. Currently writing her debut science fantasy novel, she is also the co-founder of the non-profit Bikerhood India initiative, and hopes one day to free every caged animal in the world.

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