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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Movie Review: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN – DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017)

pirates-of-the-caribbean-dead-men-tell-no-tales-movie-review

Director: Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Stephen Graham
Runtime: 129 min
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content
Purchasing Links: DVD, Blu-ray

Read the review after the jump.



PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

Review by Popa Razvan


Billed as Captain Jack Sparrow's final adventure, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" is the fifth installment in Disney's swashbuckling adventure franchise. Following the original trilogy directed by Gore Verbinski ("The Ring"), which worked as a single unit with a story that was neatly rounded out to its conclusion, the studio tried rebooting the series with new directors. The first was Rob Marshall ("Chicago") for "On Stranger Tides", the fourth film, which was a solid box-office hit, although less well regarded than the first films. For this fifth and supposedly final installment, Disney brought in Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, who previously helmed the Oscar-nominated high-seas adventure film "Kon-Tiki".


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Unlike the standalone sequel design of "On Stranger Tides", Ronning and Sandberg's film is connected to the first three films. Exacly what the connection is I will not divulge in this review because spoilers. The overall plot is more of the same, really. Legendary pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) sets out on a quest to find the Trident of Poseidon, an artifact that can save him from the undead hands of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his ghost crew. Salazar is yet another in a long line of characters who have a score to settle with Jack, which enables the filmmakers to explore more of Sparrow's backstory. Unfortunately, this backstory does nothing but confuse the franchise mythology further and sometimes blatantly disregards story elements from the previous films. One example is how the filmmakers change the history of Jack's compass and one particular rule, which Jack breaks, but which wasn't present in previous films.




On this quest he is joined by two new characters, played with wide-eyed enthusiasm by Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario, both of whom have a strong connection to the Pirates universe. One is revealed right at the beginning, while the other is a not-so-surprising twist for later on. Also onboard are series veterans Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Jack's loyal first mate (Kevin McNally). There's also a completely unnecessary cameo by Paul McCartney as Jack's uncle.


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The best thing about "Dead Men Tell No Tales" is that it's the shortest film in the entire series. It's also the least interesting of the five films, and if not for the ties to the original trilogy, it would feel entirely pointless. Even so, those connections are just used as a prologue and an epilogue, with much of what's in between still feeling pretty standalone-ish. I think it would have worked better if the filmmakers invested more into tying this installment to the first films for a more well-rounded closure, instead of this hasty patch-work that exploits the fans' nostalgia, without evolving into a coherent story.

This fifth film also has a serious problem in terms of immersion. Verbinski crafted a rich world drenched in pirate lore and incredibly rich art direction. Of course, those films ended up way too bloated and plot-heavy, but I personally enjoyed the eccentric, over-the-top quality of its universe. The fact that the whole thing was based on a Disneyland ride makes it all the more miraculous how they managed to construct such an intricate world. Both "On Stranger Tide" and this last installment feel hollow and irrelevant by comparison, particularly this last one. There's a lack of passion evident here that ultimately breaks the film.


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It also doesn't help that the writers keep rehashing familiar stories and characters. Salazar and his crew are just more of the same, another creepy villain and his undead crew to follow in the footsteps of Davy Jones and the first film's undead Barbossa, which were both far better villains. Bardem is decent in the role but his snarling performance quickly becomes a tired exercise in scenery-chewing because the character is just not that interesting. As for our unlikely heroes, they are once again running around trying to find a hidden island via some mysterious map, to find yet another mystical thingamajig. I get that the life of a pirate pretty much revolves around this kind of activity, but five movies in it's getting exhausting.


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Thankfully, Depp is still comfortable in Sparrow's shoes and his performance is still the best thing about the movie. Having said that, it's a shame that his part in the plot has been diminished in this fifth installment, acting more like a comic-relief supporting character, quipping one-liners and reacting to what other characters are doing or saying. Gone are the days when Jack's scheming and shady loyalties actually drove the plot.

Other aspects of the production are also not as impressive as they used to be, including Paul Cameron's cinematography, which feels less stunning compared to Dariusz Wolski's magnificent work on the previous four films. The score, composed by Geoff Zanelli replacing Hans Zimmer, adds some interesting new material, but mostly just reprises the old themes throughout. The art direction is decent, but unremarkable as the story adds nothing as surreal and whimsical as what we've experienced in Verbinski's films. If they should ever continue this franchise, they really need to go back to the drawing board and rethink the whole thing. As it is, it lacks the infectious passion and enthusiasm that made the first films so beloved.


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For the most part, the set pieces don't disappoint, and Disney spared no expense on this movie. Although mostly unimaginative, the action sequences feature the franchise's patented gravity-defying stunts mixed with a healthy dose of comedy. The most elaborate and fun sequence in the film is a bank robbery that plays like a parody of the vault heist in "Fast Five" Jack Sparrow-style. Although not the series' most impressive, the set pieces are still fun to watch and filled with nautical eye-candy. Still, nothing ever comes close to matching some of the franchise's best set pieces, like the Kraken attack in "Dead Man's Chest", or the Maelstrom battle in "At World's End".


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Of course, fans of the Pirates franchise will want to watch it, and they should, even if it will probably turn out to be a disappointment. Those brief connections to Verbinski's trilogy make it worthwhile for those seeking closure. It's not devoid of fun, but I personally hope that this is truly the last of Jack Sparrow's adventures. Although studio logic is usually flawed in such matters, a sixth installment would probably be a mistake, especially considering the post-credits scene, yet another example of this franchise's mangled continuity.


TRAILER





THE VERDICT

THE GOOD:
  • Plenty of the franchise's patented mix of action and humor
  • Jack Sparrow is still the best thing in these movies
  • Johnny Depp's performance
  • Thwaites and Scodelario do their best as series newcomers
  • The usual expensive bells and whistles
  • Connections to the original trilogy

THE BAD:
  • The set pieces and production values are a far cry from the first three films in the franchise
  • The story features too many reused elements and lacks imagination
  • A weak villain
  • A killer lack of passion and enthusiasm


ENTERTAINMENT FACTOR SCORE: 60%





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