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Movie Review: Dreadful "Pirates 5" is Beating a Dead Man's Horse

Starring Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kayla Scodelario, Kevin R. McNally, David Wenham and Geoffrey Rush
Screenplay by Jeff Nathanson
Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg

Out of Four

Reviewed by Patrick & Paul Gibbs

2003's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was one of the biggest surprise mega-hits of the past 20 years, It was a movie based on a theme park attraction, in a genre that, historically speaking was not at all bankable (1995's Cutthroat Island sank an entire studio). It also didn't help that the star of the Disney film was Johnny Depp, who didn't have a great track record at the box office. No one expected it to blow The Matrix Reloaded out of the water, or for Captain Jack Sparrow to become the most iconic film character on the decade. But the movie made it big on its own merits: it was fresh and charming, offering audiences something new and exciting, and it turned Johnny Depp into a superstar and even got him a Best Actor nomination.

That, as they say, was then and this is now. Over the course of three bloated and wildly self indulgent sequels, the franchise has become increasingly stale. But there has always been enough action, enough whimsy, and enough special effects wizardry to make it at least kind of work. Until now.

Dead Men Tell No Tales begins with a boy named Henry Turner looking for a way to free his father, Will (Orlando Bloom) from an endless imprisonment aboard a voyage of the damned, and by the end of the film, we can certainly relate to how Will Turner must feel. As you may recall, the third film ended with Will becoming the Captain of the Flying Dutchman, living a lifetime at sea collecting the souls of the dead. But young Henry has studied up on nautical mythology, and he firmly believes that he can break the curse if he can only find the fabled Trident of Poseidon, and he knows just the pirate to help him: yes, you guessed it, Captain Jack Sparrow.

Nine years later, Jack is down on his luck and without a proper ship,and is reduced to robbing banks on land and getting even more cartoonishly drunk than the constant state  of inebriation we've come to expect (Depp holds firmly to his time honored credo of "walk strangely and carry a big shtick."). But when Jack gets arrested and sentenced to be executed, Henry (Brenton Thwaites) must come to his rescue. Also set to die is a young astronomy buff named Carina Smyth (Kayla Scodelario), who has been accused of being a witch. But as it turns out, the death sentence is the least of Captain Jack's problems, because he is being pursued by one Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), an undead pirate hunter from the Spanish Navy who has a score to settle with Jack and has his eyes on the Trident himself.

This is an absolute mess from beginning to end, rivaling even At World's End for sheer incoherent loudness and over reliance on spectacle, and it doesn't even come close to pulling the latter off with the kind of skill we're used to from the series (say what you want to about the other sequels, but they are indeed spectacular.) Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon Tiki) are way over their heads trying to breathe life into a witless and extremely lazy script, and it is hard to imagine that they are going to get a lot of offers pouring in from this bungled effort. The action is more chaotic than thrilling, and all semblance of charm is absent this time around, with the memorable word play and cleverness are replaced by a steady stream of bad double entendres that decidedly are out of place in a movie that proudly displays the Disney banner.  Worst of all, the script seems to have no feel at all for the franchise characters.

In addition, the production design and visual effects are not up to the usual standards, and that again needs to be placed partially upon the directors, who make some bad choices with the effects. In fairness, part of it is that viewers eyes are more sophisticated and less easily dazzled now, but the the walking dead in this film are constantly walking around in the sunlight so you can get a good look at the imperfections, and the effect used to give us a young Jack ranges from solidly successful to recalling the recurring Conan O'Brien sketch where the a person's mouth is superimposed onto an image of a celebrity's face and frequently moves awkwardly in and out of frame.

Depp finally appears to be getting as bored with the character as the rest of us, unable to put his heart in it, and the rest of the cast just kind of fumbles their way through, with Thwaites being the only who seems to really be excited about what he is doing, though whether the fault is with the actor or the script he comes across as a rather bland, cardboard leading man, and there's no chemistry to be found between him and leading lady Scoledario. Bardem throws himself into his part with gusto, but unfortunately the usually entrancing actor is extremely annoying in this scenery chewing role.

If this is really the final installment, as has been stated in some  of the advertising, it's a sad way to finish off a franchise that was once a lot of fun. If it isn't, they got to find a way to breathe some life back into the series. All we wanted out of this film was for it to bring back some fond memories of the original, and it only worked on the level of making us wish we were watching any of the previous films.

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