Tuesday, July 11, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Welp, so far Summer Movie Season 2017 is playing out as expected, just like the previous few years. Studios bet the farm on bland, ill-advised and massively-budgeted tent pole pictures that crash and burn on arrival at the box office (I'm lookin' at you, The Mummy and King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword), while a precious few rise from the rubble to become bona fide hits (like Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 and Wonder Woman). Unfortunately I don't see this trend going away anytime soon.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was written by Jeff Nathanson (with "story by" credit for Terry Rossio) and directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg.

Nathanson previously wrote Speed 2: Cruise Control (with Jan de Bont), Rush Hour 2, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal (with Sacha Gervasi and Andrew Niccol), The Last Shot, Rush Hour 3, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (with David Koepp and George Lucas) and Tower Heist (with Ted Griffen, Bill Collage and Adam Cooper).

Ronning and Sandberg are Norweigian filmmakers who previously directed Max Manus: Man Of War and Kon-Tiki, neither of which I've ever heard of.

If you've seen even one of the previous Pirates movies, then you know exactly what to expect here. T
here's an attractive young couple who "meet cute" and fall in love by the end, a soggy sea villain who's looking for a magical McGuffin and Jack Sparrow slurs and staggers his way through the film, having little or no effect on the plot.

And that in a nutshell is the problem with Dead Men Tell No Tales. It's not a terrible film, it's just bland and stale. Even worse, it contains absolutely nothing to distinguish it from any of the previous four.

Pirates Of The Caribbean was a surprise hit wayyyyy back in 2003, grossing a whopping $654 million against its $140 million budget. That kind of success made a trilogy inevitable, and the second and third films were even more lucrative, grossing an amazing $1billion dollars (or close to it) each. 

With the trilogy completed, further films were neither needed or wanted, but Disney pumped one out anyway in 2011, which once again went on to gross over a billion dollars worldwide. That made a fifth installment all but inevitable.

It's hard to believe now, but back in 2003 Johnny Depp's performance as Jack Sparrow was a breath of fresh air at the cineplex. The public had never seen anything quite like his eccentric, outrageous antihero, and the character was embraced by audiences worldwide. Incredibly, the role earned Depp an Oscar™ nomination for Best Actor! Unbelievable!

But that was then, in the Before Time. These days Depp's performance as Jack has lapsed into pure self-parody. There's something sad and pathetic about seeing him don the old costume again as he staggers around the set, slurring the same old, worn catchphrases. It's like watching your sad, drunken uncle do his cringeworthy Cap'n Jack impression for two and a half hours.

Oddly enough, Jack Sparrow's been shoved aside in Dead Men Tell No Tales, as the other characters far outshine him. He stumbles his way through the movie with little or no effect on the plot, and nothing even remotely resembling a character arc. Heck, Geoffrey Rush as Barbosa has a far more interesting plotline in the film than Jack does, and comes close to being the bona fide star.

Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley had the good sense to flee the series after their three film contracts were up (although they're pulled back in here for brief cameos). They're replaced by a pair of equally vapid leads, who might as well be clones of the originals.

Javier Bardem stars as Captain Salazar, the latest in the franchise's succession of waterlogged villains. Bardem is the only one who seems to be having a good time here, and his Salazar is easily the most 
interesting character in the entire film.

The plot seems a bit more streamlined this time, which can only be a good thing, as previous films were bogged down by excessively convoluted scripts. Many are claiming this new film is a "soft reboot," meaning it advertises itself as a sequel while stealthily remaking the first movie. I don't see any evidence of that here. This is most definitely a sequel, as it picks up a dozen dangling plot threads from previous films and continues them.

The film ends on something of a final note, even though we all know that's not true. If the movie reaches the magic billion dollar number, you can be sure a Part 6 will be along soon. There's a post credit scene that sets up an additional film, and shortly after Dead Man's Chest Premiered, Disney officially announced a sixth installment.

So far this series has given us titles such as Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and now Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. I've no doubt we can soon look forward to Pirates Of The Caribbean: Shiver Me Timbers, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Ahoy, MateyPirates Of The Caribbean: Blow The Man DownPirates Of The Caribbean: Thar She Blows!Pirates Of The Caribbean: Walk The PlankPirates Of The Caribbean: Yo, Ho, Ho and the ultimate title, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Arrrrrrrrrrrr.

The film's a bona fide flop here in the States, grossing just $167 million against its $230 million (!) budget. Ouch! Once again though, the foreign box office has saved a poorly-received American movie. It's made a whopping $544 million overseas, for a worldwide total of $712 million. That's a respectable amount, but it's about $300 million LESS than the previous outing took in.

There are some reports that the budget was actually closer to $320 million, due to delays caused by Johnny Depp injuring his hand during shooting. Because of marketing and other hidden costs, these days movies need to gross around TWICE their production budget just to break even. If those $320 million reports are accurate, then this film's never going to turn much of a profit. Jack Sparrow may have finally been done in, not by fellow pirates, but by studio economics and a disinterested audience.


The Plot:
The movie opens as young Henry Turner sneaks out of his house at night, rows into the ocean and jumps overboard (!). Somehow he just happens to land on the deck of the ghostly Flying Dutchman, the ship captained by his father Will Turner (played by Orlando Bloom). After the events of the previous films, Will's cursed to ferry those who died at sea into the afterlife. Henry believes he can lift his father's curse with the help of the legendary Trident Of Poseidon. Will says to forget about him, and sends him back to his boat.

Nine years later, Henry (now played by Brenton Thwaites) is a sailor about the Monarch, a British Royal Navy ship. When the ship starts to sail into the Devil's Triangle, he warns the captain not to enter the dangerous area. He's accused of treason and locked in the brig.

The Monarch enters the Triangle and sure enough, it's immediately attacked by the undead Captain Salazar (played by Javier Bardem) and his ghostly crew of the Silent Mary. Salazar's men kill the entire Monarch crew (it's a Disney movie!) except for Henry. Salazar tells Henry to send a message to Jack Sparrow that he's coming for him.

On St. Martin, a young woman named Carina Smyth is accused of witchcraft for her knowledge of astronomy and horology (the study of time). She manages to escape her cell and sneaks out of the prison.

Elsewhere on the island, the Mayor (played by Bruce Spence) touts the theft-proof safe in the town's 
new bank. When he opens the safe, he finds Jack Sparrow (played of course by Johnny Depp) sleeping off a bender inside (?). Jack's crew ties a team of horses to the safe in order to steal it, but they inadvertently end up pulling the entire bank building through the streets of St. Martin (??).

The bank trundles through the streets in a massively expensive setpiece, as Jack hangs onto the safe for dear life. Unfortunately all the money in the safe falls out the open door as it bumps and jostles along the streets. By the time the crew makes it back to Jack's ship, there's only a single coin left in the safe. Jack's crew tells him they're fed up with his drunken, incompetent leadership and desert him.

Meanwhile, Henry's scheduled to be executed for treason. Carina sneaks back into the prison and tells him she has a diary containing a map to the Trident Of Poseidon, and for some reason wants him to help her find it.

Jack staggers into a pub to buy a bottle of rum. When he finds out he doesn't have enough money, h
e trades his magic compass (that points to the owner's fondest desire) for a bottle. For some reason, this immediately frees Captain Salazar and his crew from the Devil's Triangle, allowing them to come after Jack. Yeah, I don't get it either, but let's just go with it or we'll be here all day.

Carina helps Henry escape from prison. Unfortunately she's immediately recaptured and thrown back in jail. Jack's also arrested for bank robbery and tossed in the slammer. 
Henry visits Jack in prison, disappointed to find out that the legendary sea captain is a hopeless drunk. He tells Jack he plans to find the Trident and use it to break his father's curse.

Jack and Carina are taken to the gallows for execution. For some reason Jack's given the choice between hanging and the guillotine, and picks the latter. At the last second, Jack's crew comes to the rescue, led by Henry, who paid them to come. How he knew where Jack's crew was or even what they looked like is left to our imaginations. The pirates fight the guards and both Jack and Carina are nearly executed several times before they're ultimately freed. Everyone makes their way to Jack's ship, the Dying Gull, a barely-seaworthy tub that miraculously doesn't sink when it's launched.

Out at sea, Captain Barbosa (played by Jeffrey Rush) is enjoying the high life after taking the Queen Anne's Revenge from Captain Blackbeard (which happened in the fourth movie). Barbosa encounters a sea witch, who for some reason now has Jack's compass. She gives it to Barbosa.

Salazar then approaches Barbosa's ship and calls for a meeting. Salazar infodumps his origin story to Barbosa, saying that many years ago he was a captain in the Spanish Navy, determined to wipe out every pirate he saw. They came across a pirate ship with a young Jack Sparrow among the crew. Salazar and his men attacked the ship, killing many of the pirates.

As Jack's captain lay dying, he gave him the magic compass. Jack then assumed command of the ship, and tricked Salazar into following him. At the last second Jack's ship veered off, and Salazar's sailed helplessly into the Devil's Triangle, which I have to admit was a pretty cool scene. The ship was destroyed and all aboard were lost, doomed to live as ghosts in the Triangle. Jack then became captain of his own ship.

Salazar now wants to find the Trident Of Poseidon (that makes THREE people looking for it now) and use to to kill Jack Sparrow. Barbosa agrees to help him.

A British Navy ship spots the Dying Gull and heads toward it. Suddenly Salazar's ship appears and destroys the Brits. Salazar and his men then board Jack's ship and attack. Jack, Henry and Carina escape in a rowboat and head for a nearby island (our heroes, ladies and gentlemen!). Salazar sends a group of zombie sharks after them, but the three manage to escape and make it to shore. Because of their curse, Salazar and his crew can't step onto dry land, so Jack and the others are safe as long as they stay on the island.

Barbosa arrives on the island and demands something from Jack— the Black Pearl. In one of the previous films, the ship was magically miniaturized and placed inside a bottle, which Jack wears around his neck. Jack agrees, breaking the bottle and setting the tiny ship in the water, where it instantly grows to full size. Barbosa then takes command of the ship, and ties Jack to the mast. For some reason, he allows Henry and Carina to come along for the ride, unrestrained.

Carina uses the stars and the map in her diary to navigate their way to the Trident. Barbosa sees a design on the cover of her diary, and recognizes it as his own. He then realizes that Carina is his daughter. 
He left her (and the diary) at an orphanage years ago, to give her a chance at a better life. In a rare lucid moment, Jack figures this out as well, and Barbosa threatens to cut out his tongue if he tells Carina about her parentage.

Eventually the ship reaches a remote island where the Trident's located, and Jack, Barbosa, Henry and Carina go ashore to search for the Trident. Carina sees a field of jewels corresponding to the design on her diary, but can't locate the Trident. She sees a large jewel jutting out of a rock, and realizes a piece of it's missing. She pulls the small jewel from the cover of her diary and places it in the larger one. It fits perfectly, and the large jewel lights up, causing the sea to magically split in two (Moses-like), revealing the Trident at the bottom.

Jack, Henry, Barbosa and Carina run down the Trident, just as Salazar and his men appear on one side of the ocean. Salazar grabs the Trident and tries to stab Jack with it. Henry somehow realizes that destroying the Trident will break EVERY curse of the sea worldwide. He breaks it in half, and the undead Salazar and his men are instantly brought back to life (um... shouldn't they turn into moldy corpses?).

With the Trident destroyed, the sea trench starts to collapse. Far above, the Black Pearl sails as close to the edge of the trench as possible, dropping its anchor so Jack, Henry, Barbosa and Carina can climb back up. They start climbing the chain, but Salazar sees them, and he and his men follow.

As they climb, Carina notices Barbosa has a tattoo on his arm that matches the design on her diary. She realizes the truth about her parentage, and asks what she is to him. He answers "Treasure," and lets go of the chain. He falls onto Salazar and his men, knocking them off the chain. The ocean trench closes, engulfing them all. Jack, Henry and Carina make it back up to the Black Pearl.

Some time later, Henry and Carina stand on a hill and kiss. She says she's decided to ditch the name "Smyth," and call herself "Barbosa" in honor of her father. They watch as a figure emerges from the ocean, and see it's Henry's father Will, who's now freed from his curse. Elizabeth Swann, or I guess Turner (played by Keira Knightley) shows up for ten seconds and welcomes Will home.

Jack's once again Captain of the Black Pearl. He has his magic compass back and uses it to set sail for the sixth movie.

In the after credits scene, Will and Elizabeth are in bed asleep. Their bedroom door opens, and a shadowy figure with a large claw enters. Will wakes up, sees nothing and goes back to sleep. We pan down to see soggy barnacles on the floor, indicating Davey Jones was there.

• For some reason, 
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is known as Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge in the UK. Strange. Maybe there's already a film with a similar title there?

• Javier Bardem plays Captain Salazar in the film. He's keeping things in the family, as his wife Penelope Cruz starred as Angelica in the previous movie, Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

• Brenton Thwaites plays Henry Turner, son of Orlando Bloom's Will Turner. I'm assuming Thwaites was cast for his slight resemblance to Bloom, and because he delivers a similarly wooden performance.

By the way, in real life Thwaites is only twelve years younger than Bloom, and just four years younger than his "mother" Keira Knightley. Kids grow up so fast these days!

That's still nowhere close to the most ridiculous "Minimum Familial Age Gap" record set by 2004's Alexander. In that film, Angelina Jolie plays the MOTHER of Colin Ferrell, despite the fact that she's only ONE year older than him!

• Because of her scientific knowledge, Carina's accused of being a witch and sentenced to hang. 

Oddly enough there's an actual witch in the film, who helps both Barbosa and the British Navy locate Jack Sparrow. Even more puzzling, the Navy officers seem perfectly willing to work with her, never once suggesting she be locked up or executed.

So which is it, movie? Does this society hate witches or doesn't it?

The movie's supposedly set in 1755. England abolished the practice of executing witches two decades earlier in 1736. Additionally, astronomy was a proven science at the time, as the Greenwich Naval Observatory was founded in 1675. Carina's knowledge of the stars would not have been seen as heretical, supernatural or witchy.

• By the way, for someone who claims to have studied astronomy, Carina doesn't know what she's talking about. She says she was named after "The Brightest Star In The North." Um... Carina isn't a star, it's a constellation— one that's only visible in the Southern Hemisphere. Whoops! 

Secondly, the movie takes place in 1755, meaning Carina was probably born sometime around 1735. The Carina constellation was discovered in 1751. Double whoops!

• When Jack's captured and thrown in the dungeon, he meets his Uncle, er, Jack, who's locked up as well. 

For some reason, former Beatle Paul McCartney has a cameo role as Uncle Jack. I guess it's only natural— after all, Rolling Stones member Keith Richards played Jack Sparrow's father Captain Teague in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

• When Jack's placed in the guillotine, he looks down and sees a couple of severed heads in the basket below him. This is an Easter egg, as the heads were modeled after the film's directors, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg.

Nitpick Alert! The Pirates movies have never been big on historical accuracy, a trend that definitely continues here. After Jack's captured, he chooses the guillotine as his form of execution., noting it was invented by the French. Sorry, Jack. There was a similar contraption in use in England in the 1755, but it looked quite different and was called "The Maiden." Dr. Joseph Guillotin invented the, er, guillotine as we know it in 1789, well after the movie takes place.

Additionally, Jack mentions mayonnaise, saying it was invented by the French as well. He's technically right, but it wasn't called "mayonnaise" until 1806.

Inaccuracies like this generally bother me, as they could be avoided with thirty seconds of googling. I'm not terribly upset by the slip-ups here though, as this is a big dumb action movie and not a documentary. Besides, it's got far bigger problems than flubbing the date that mayonnaise was invented.

• Whenever we see the soggy Captain Salazar, his long, stringy hair flows back and forth like it's being affected by unseen underwater currents. It's a nice little detail that I liked quite a bit, and was probably a nightmare for the CGI artists to create.

• Speaking of CGI one of the highlights of Dead Men Tell No Tales is Jack Sparrow's origin story, as we get to see him back when he was young, sober and in his prime. It's actually one of the better parts of the movie, as we watch him outsmart Captain Salazar, see where he got the name "Sparrow" and find out why he wears his signature hat and beads.

Young Jack is played by Johnny Depp of course, as Disney once again trots out the digital de-aging technology that they love to use so much. Maybe they paid a lot for it, so they're trying to get their money's worth? The tech was used to great effect to de-age Robert Downey Jr. In Captain America: Civil War and Kurt Russell in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2.

Honestly I'd rather see an entire movie this young, in-his-prime Jack Sparrow, instead of the perpetually inebriated sot who wore out his welcome log ago. It'd probably be too expensive to de-age Johnny Depp for an entire movie though.

• In the third act, Henry breaks the Trident Of Neptune, which breaks all curses of the sea all over the world. While that sounds like a good thing, it should have caused quite a few problems for the characters that never actually occur.

When Salazar and his men first sailed into the Devil's Triangle, their ship exploded, instantly killing them all and turning them into soggy ghosts. Most of the ghosts appear to be minus significant body parts. Salazar himself is missing the back of his skull, while others are lacking limbs, chests and even heads (!). Heck, one of his men appears to be nothing more than a floating torso. 

Yet once their curse is lifted, for some reason Salazar and his crew are transformed back into completely whole, living humans. I dunno... they were blown up and dismembered before they were cursed, right? So shouldn't they turn into inanimate piles of rotting meat?

Similarly, once the Trident's snapped in two, Will Turner's curse is lifted and he's able to return to land and join his wife Elizabeth. 

But in Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End, Will's heart was cut out (!) and placed inside the Dead Man's Chest for reasons. Seems like the second the curse was lifted, he should have dropped dead like a sack of wet laundry.

Sounds like the screenwriter forgot to watch the previous films before he sat down at the computer.

• At the end of the movie, Barbosa attacks Salazar, sacrificing himself to save his daughter Carina.

Earlier this year in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (SPOILERS!), Yondu attacks Ego, sacrificing himself to save his foster son Peter.

Pirates came out just a month after Guardians, so there's no way it could have deliberately stolen this little story arc. Still, it's an interesting coincidence that two big budget summer films killed off a major character in exactly the same way.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales isn't a terrible film (it's nowhere near as bad as The Mummy), but it's bland, repetitive and offers absolutely nothing we haven't already seen in the previous four outings. Johnny Depp's once-entertaining Jack Sparrow shtick wore out its welcome long ago, as he's now lapsed firmly into self parody. For diehard fans of the franchise only. I give it a C+.


  1. I think they changed the title over here as it was too similar to Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - apparently we get bored reading after five words and just give up and assume it's the old film and not bother watching it.

    I never got why we also changed Zootopia to Zootropolis over here as the pun nature of the title only works on Utopia and that name fits the storyline much better!

    1. I honestly couldn't remember all the sub-titles of these movies, and was surprised to see that TWO of them contain the words "Dead Man's (Men's). Honestly I could see that confusing the masses.

      As for Zootopia, I read that they changed the title in England because there was already a movie or TV show or something with that name. Is that true, or was it "fake news?"

  2. Nothing I've heard of but wouldn't surprise me otherwise why change it?

    Sooooo looking forward to Pirates Of The Caribbean: Arrrrrrrrrrrr now you've coined it but as I only get to see them when they show on Sky TV years later, I'll have to hope Trump doesn't have other 'plans' for us all before then.


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