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Entries in Pirates (1)

Wednesday
May242017

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

Stars: Johnny Depp, Brenton Thwaites, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, David Wenham, Stephen Graham, Martin Klebba, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
Writers: Jeff Nathanson.
Directors: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg.

Rating: 2.5/5

When done right - when the narrative is pumped full of emotional engagement and the effects work is exhilarating - the modern Hollywood popcorn picture can still deliver the giddy entertainment value of, say, the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, The Curse of The Black Pearl. When a summer season movie crashes and burns on all fronts, much like Pirates #4 On Stranger Tides, there is a morbid fascination in watching that carnage unfold, too.

But there is no saving grace for the mediocre blockbuster-wannabe, and that’s what is being pitched with the fifth Pirate film, the unironically titled Dead Men Tell No Tales. There is skill and effort on display in every frame, but the result is an ugly skyscraper of a film; to build it must have been a monumental undertaking (that cost Disney a reported $230million), but what, if anything of merit is the outcome?

The Mouse House deemed Norwegian pair Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg the dynamic duo to guide this sort-of-reboot, for no other apparent reason than they had made 2012’s Kon-Tiki, another movie set on water. It was a fine film, a small, human drama shot with a lean dedication to character and nuance set against a non-CGI watery expanse. Dead Men Tell No Tales is…well, it’s not that. Most likely they are there to guide the performances of Brenton Thwaites, as idealistic hero Henry Turner, and Kaya Scodelario (the pic's biggest asset), as smart and sassy Carina Smyth, the only real people in the relentlessly fantastical Pirates’ universe.

Written by Jeff Nathanson, a scribe with a few franchise-fracturing credits to his name (Speed 2 Cruise Control; Rush Hour 3; Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull), the plot is toothpick scaffolding for the effects work, which is grand at times but also patchy in the service of a sombre, murky palette. Young Turner is determined to undo the deep-sea curse that still entombs his father Will (a returning Orlando Bloom as Will, reprising the role that set him on the road to tabloid fame). To do so, he needs to find the mythological sceptre, Poseidon’s Trident, a journey he undertakes utilising the drive and intelligence of Carina and, for some reason, the loutish charm of a certain drunken buccaneer named Jack Sparrow. Getting the gazillion dollar payday just for showing up, Johnny Depp (pictured, top) brings the look but only occasionally the vibe of his career-defining role, a role that was defined by the joie de vivre of a much younger actor.

In the way of our band of heroes are series’ stalwart Geoffrey Rush as Capt. Barbosa, heading up a support cast of strong Australian talent (David Wenham, Bruce Spence, Zoe Ventoura, Michael Dorman) taking advantage of the extended Queensland shoot, and Javier Bardem as Salazar (pictured, above), a seething Spaniard spirit leading a crew of ghastly, ghostly seamen on a vengeful quest to kill Sparrow.

It would be a particularly hardened cynic not to concede there is some fun to be had. The franchise reintroduces its star player with a wild heist sequence that all but lays waste a colonial outpost; Sparrow’s and Carina’s rescue and subsequent escape from the executioner’s grasp is a highlight, including a cleverly staged gag involving a guillotine. The storming of a beach by Salazar’s undead crew is the the film’s highpoint, mixing effects mastery and legitimate narrative thrills. The re-emergence of one of the original stars of the franchise makes for a nicely sentimental reunion moment, though not allowing one of the finest actresses of her generation a single word is a disappointment.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales will meet shareholders expectations and open huge, serving its function as a profit centre KPI. Creatively, however, it is adrift at sea, becalmed by a lack of inspiration.