*NOTE: Before I start this review, I would like to thank Novo Cinemas for inviting me to the premiere of this film.*
Personally, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is one that has always held a certain charm for me. In fact, I still maintain the first three films (Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End) form a truly fantastic adventure film trilogy featuring a colourful cast of characters and a sprawling, epic tale featuring a world that feels truly alive and breathing. The fourth film (On Stranger Tides) was a decent enough entry but in my opinion, wasn’t as memorable as the ones that’d come before it owing to it’s smaller scale.
Regardless of the installment however, when you watch a Pirates film, the sense of fun and adventure that it brings you is palpable and quite unlike anything else; You can almost smell the stench of the Pirates, the feel of the ocean breeze and the smell of gunpowder, all portrayed onscreen. In a lot of ways, these films do a lot to satiate the well-justified cravings for an honest-to-goodness, down-to earth (or however down-to-earth a franchise featuring zombies, fish-people and mermaids can get) action and swash-buckling adventure, the likes of which haven’t really been seen since Indiana Jones (or even Tintin after it, both directed by Steven Spielberg).
Now, of course, a huge reason behind the success of this franchise can perhaps be attributed to one man, or rather, one character – Captain Jack Sparrow, embodied completely by Johnny Depp. There are a couple of cinematic characters that I feel have been truly fused completely with the actors that play them, and Johnny Depp’s portrayal of this loveable, drunk scallywag is most definitely one of them (The others being Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and Christopher Reeve as Superman).
So having said all that, it is with great pleasure that I say that I truly enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (or Salazar’s Revenge as it is known in some territories), the fifth and latest installment in this franchise. It was a joy to step back into this world and catch up with all these beloved characters and be involved in their shenanigans once again. And of course, catching up with Captain Jack Sparrow was a joy in itself, with Johnny Depp playing the character once again to perfection. There are some new characters that we meet in this story however, like Will Turner’s son Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), looking for a way to free his father from the Davy Jones’ curse established in Dead Man’s Chest, and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a self-professed horologist (that word is a source of a lot of jokes in the film) and of course, the antagonist Captain Salazar (played with the requisite amount of malice by Javier Bardem). Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa returns as well, remaining the entertaining foil to Johnny Depp’s Captain Sparrow. Furthermore, the story this time around has a surprising amount of heart and longtime fans of the series, like myself, will see moments that are sure to put a smile on their faces. Also, the film has a post-credits sequence that is actually worth sitting through the credits for.
Now, while I’m not going to go into anymore major plot details, given my aversion to spoilers; I will say that this film, like the ones before it, is MacGuffin-focused i.e. All the characters are searching for a particular object with each after it for a different purpose. In a lot of ways, this film pretty much follows the exact same beats as the first film in the franchise (Curse of the Black Pearl) and while that may seem like a negative for some, I found it quite sensible as it functions as a sort of ‘soft-reboot’ of the franchise, not unlike what Star Wars: The Force Awakens did.
One of the biggest draws these films have has always been the action set-pieces, and Dead Men Tell No Tales is no stickler in that regard. An early action sequence involving a bank robbery was a particular stand-out, blending together practical stunts, CGI and even humor seamlessly. Nevertheless, none of the set-pieces here rival the ones in Dead Man’s Chest however, with Sparrow’s escape from the cannibal island in the second film still remaining one of the highlights of the entire series. Not a bad thing however, as the ones that are there in Dead Men are consistently entertaining.
There are a couple of issues I had with this film however, the biggest one being the pacing. The film’s runtime is 2hr 33min and quite frankly, it didn’t have to be that long, especially for the story being told. There are some scenes in the film that feel drawn out and moments where Johnny Depp isn’t onscreen can feel at times like filler, causing the film to drag at some points. Another quibble that I had, and mind you this is more a nitpick than actual criticism, was that I wished they explored the world of the Pirates a bit more, especially when considering how well the second and third films established the universe. Locations like Tortuga, the Pirates Coven, the Singapore Pirate hub, Tia Dalma’s Swamp etc. in previous films established this universe as a dark, mysterious and yet, fun realm. Dead Men however is much more reserved in that regard, focusing more on the characters and the story than the world itself. That sounds weird as a criticism, considering that’s precisely what the movie should do, but personally, I felt a good balance between character, story AND world-building would’ve gone a really long way in this film being great rather than just really good.
In any case, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is still a fun, swash-buckling adventure, with a storyline that if Disney chooses, could also serve as a fitting and emotional finale for the franchise.
However, if they do decide to move ahead with the franchise, that’s fine too. It’s a Pirate’s life after all.