Shallow content, deep fun.
Seeing a Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC) film is kind of like spending time at an all-inclusive tropical resort—you don’t have to think, there are lots of drunken antics, and you walk away with a smile on your face. In the series’ fifth instalment, directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, the party continues.
Dead Men Tell No Tales offers no profound life lesson. The bickering young lovers and comic book goal (i.e. find Poseidon’s trident) are shameless echoes of the previous films and the talk of maps and stars grows tedious. However, after indulging in the film’s strengths, the viewer who doesn’t need a serious film to be entertained can brush aside these shortcomings with all the nonchalance of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).
Sparrow at the Crux
Every major player (i.e. Captain Salazar, the British Empire, Royal Navy sailor Henry Turner, horologist (listen for the pirate banter on this one) Carina Smyth, and Captain Barbossa) is intertwined with Jack Sparrow.
Chief protagonist Henry wishes to use Sparrow’s magic compass to lift the curse that has indentured his father Will (Orlando Bloom) to servitude on a ghost ship. Primary antagonist Captain Salazar (aka “Butcher of the Sea”), played superbly by Javier Bardem, wants not only to unleash the curse that renders him and his crew ghosts, but also to kill Sparrow, who he blames for this misfortune. The power-hungry Salazar takes rasping breaths and his hair constantly undulates as if underwater. “Every time that I’ll stamp my sword,” he tells one adversary, “one man of your crew will die.” And Salazar’s ship rears up animal-like before slamming down on its victims.
Action and Eccentricity
The two-and-a-half hour escape that is Dead Men Tell No Tales immerses the viewer in lighthearted entertainment: humour, drama, a bit of horror, special effects, beautiful scenery, an entertaining villain, and that adventurous score. But that’s all on top of the two strengths that have propelled the POTC franchise: over the top action scenes, and the sometimes (physically and mentally) bumbling, sometimes graceful Captain Jack Sparrow.
Among the key action sequences are an escape from a botched robbery, a diverted execution, and, most gloriously absurd, an attempt to outrow a group of zombie sharks and pirate ghosts who run on water. Often, Sparrow’s clumsiness transforms into extraordinary acts of agility. When the film goes slo-mo at key moments, resist the temptation to roll your eyes, and instead just cheer! Yes, a zombie shark jumping over Sparrow and Henry’s rowboat is completely pointless, but it underscores the schoolboy spirit of the entire film.
Jack Sparrow, with his swaying movements and rum-infused, yet snappy commentary, secures his spot among the most engaging characters in the contemporary action-fantasy genre. This time, he seduces a politician’s wife, falls asleep (standing and pantless) while someone talks to him, fights while attached to a board, and asks his crew members to pay a tribute as they’re saving him. And what other character would tell zombie sharks to “shoo” while flapping a hand at them?
Like all the gems in the POTC treasure chest, Dead Men Tell No Tales recognizes itself for what it is: a high-action, high-special effects film that isn’t overly serious.
Admittedly, I watched this one in a “4DX” theatre replete with moving seats, fog, flashing lights, and sprays of water. But wouldn’t Captain Jack Sparrow applaud such extravagance? With the pirate Sparrow, overboard is the way to go. – Douglas J. Ogurek ****