There seems to be a dislike for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies that I don't think is quite fair. In pop culture, I really believe there are certain properties that, for whatever reason, are just cool to hate, and I think the Pirates series is an unfortunate victim of that phenomenon.
Now, the Pirates movies aren't perfect, to be sure, unless we're talking about the first one. But no matter how you slice it, you get to go see silly swashbuckling and cool monsters and horizon-spanning adventure and hijinx on the high seas...
I'm not sure what the problem is.
Which leads us to the fifth entry in the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
There's a lot to like in this movie. The spectacle and the adventure and the strange magic of the sea are all there. It always feels fun to me to step back into this world. And without spoiling anything, there are many moments that will hold a lot of significance for fans of the Pirates series as a whole, and these moments are where Dead Men Tell No Tales really shines. It brings closure and resolution to some threads that have been left dangling for awhile, and those are the moments I loved.
The new characters, which include a young man named Henry (...) and an astronomer named Carina Smyth, are mostly well-done, and are there for actual reasons instead of just randomly falling into the company of Jack Sparrow. Their arcs drive the plot forward, a plot that has a number of really good ideas. Unfortunately, they are ideas that I wish were bolstered by a better script and much better directing.
Possibly the biggest bummer is that the least interesting thing about Dead Men is Jack Sparrow himself. Here we see Captain Jack when his luck has run out. He's lost almost everything - his ship, his crew, and his friends. There is a really interesting story there, a story that could have been a real triumph as we see Captain Jack embark on a quest to regain his former glory. But it's a story the movie never really gets around to telling. And because of the lackluster script and direction, Jack comes across as more of a caricature of himself than anything else.
Javier Bardem's villainous Captain Salazar has a past that is intertwined with the origin of Captain Jack, and the effects of Salazar and his ship are really something to see. But yet again, the script fails to capitalize on its own good ideas, instead filling the runtime with beats that we've already seen, sometimes multiple times, in the series. One gets the sense that whoever wrote the script didn't have a good handle on what makes Captain Jack Sparrow and his band of merry misfits so great. And I can't help but think what this movie could have been in the hands of more capable directors.
The third act is appropriately climactic, and has real payoff for Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbosa, as well some other significant characters in the series. I love this movie for the last ten minutes or so. But in the end, the movie struggles to overcome its weak writing and direction that can't quite bring home the impactful moments.
In the end, Dead Men is better than the last entry, On Stranger Tides (which I still enjoyed) but fails to live up to the glorious heights of the initial trilogy. So it's somewhere in between.
The film is definitely worth a couple hours of your time. And if you're a fan of the Pirates series, or have any love for these characters, you owe it to yourself to give this one a watch at some point. I would say this is a good place to leave these characters, but I really want the final entry, whenever that might come, to nail it. And this one didn't quite do that. Plus there's a post-credits stinger that indicates that there is more to come.
Even now, I'm up for another adventure, and I hope there will be one. Because I think there's more here to explore, somewhere beyond that horizon.