“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”
Since Hollywood loves a nostalgic reboot, it’s no surprise that the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise is setting sail once again, six years after 2011’s “On Stranger Tides.” For this film, subtitled “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” Disney has hired a lesser-known filmmaking duo to reanimate the series — a pair of Norwegian filmmakers, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, who helmed the 2012 oceanic adventure film “Kon-Tiki.” What they’ve delivered is a cookie-cutter “Pirates” movie that faithfully follows the formula.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is a strictly color-by-numbers affair. Watching it feels like reading a recipe attempting to replicate what made these films appealing in the first place. Mix one swaggering, slurring Johnny Depp (heavy on the eyeliner); one headstrong young lass in a cleavage-baring corset; and one noble, handsome upstart. Fold in a waterlogged supernatural villain, then haphazardly sprinkle a daring heist, an execution escape and several nautical battles. Finish with a supremely outlandish denouement.
The story laid on top of that concerns young sailor Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), determined to free his father, Will (Orlando Bloom), from a cursed watery existence. Henry believes the notorious Jack Sparrow (Depp) will help him find the trident of Poseidon to break the curse. It’s a wonder anyone thinks Sparrow can do anything in his rum-sodden state, but Turner links up with the soggy old pirate and a young woman, imprisoned for witchcraft (read: science), Carina (Kaya Scodelario), who claims to have the Map No Man Can Read, a diary of astronomical instructions that she believes will lead them to the trident.
They just have to escape Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spanish captain doomed to a ghostly existence by Sparrow. He’s been working out his frustrations by pillaging the fleet of Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush), making his way to Sparrow. Carina leads this whole brigade with her map to the stars. Despite following her, no one actually believes that she knows what she’s talking about. It’s frustrating, but also gratifying, when she is eventually able to prove herself right — ultimately, this is a film about men not believing women when they speak.
As charming buffoon Jack Sparrow, Depp has always been able to walk the line between hero and damsel in distress, but one can’t help but think that his performance here works only because of the groundwork laid in prior “Pirates” pictures. He simply gestures toward the Jack Sparrow notes that we’ve already enjoyed, previous punchlines included. One scene offers a glimpse of Sparrow’s origin story, which could be rich cinematic terroir, but rendered with digital airbrushing, the zombie youth-effect is distracting.
Ronning and Sandberg have a faculty for dry-land action sequences, full of Buster Keaton-style feats of physics. A bank vault robbery references a similar stunt from “Fast Five.” But their ocean-bound action leaves something to be desired. Ghost ships loom out of the night fog, unfurling and attacking like a giant centipede filled with half-faced warriors. The geography and timelines are muddled and confusing; all is lost in a grayish CGI blur.
“Dead Men Tell No Tales” suggests that oceans of “Pirates of the Caribbean” stories are yet to be discovered — perhaps a prequel — but there are no new treasures in this installment, which is dragged down by the anchor of a prescribed franchise blueprint.