Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is complete garbage which explains its mediocre-at-best Memorial Day weekend haul—here’s hoping global box office saves it (good luck, the reported $230 million budget is a joke—I’d add at least $100 million). It isn’t just frustrating to watch, it’s actively enraging to see tens of thousands of hours of expert-level craft wasted on this utter tripe. Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg previously made the Oscar-nominated Kon-Tiki; please don’t hold this garbage movie against them, they are not the problem. In fact, they come up with some really lovely images and they know how to shoot the sh*t out of ships on the ocean. No, the problem here is entirely a bullsh*t script that wastes a decent idea.
Officially, the script is brought to us by Jeff Nathanson, with a story assist from OG franchise writer Terry Rossio. (Nathanson is also responsible for Indiana Jones and the South American Disaster. Maybe he shouldn’t get to write any more movies for a whi—oh he’s writing the Lion King remake.) It doesn’t really matter who wrote it, though, because unofficially it’s clear Pirates 5 is the cursed get of a corporate committee dreaming up new ways to spiff up the ride at Disneyland. The result is predictably awful.
The prologue is little Henry Turner throwing himself into the sea so that his cursed dad, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, looking SO thrilled, and by “thrilled” I mean “bored”), will pop out of the depths to save him. Will does so, and we learn that he is turning into a barnacle, and he’s like, “Get away from me son, I’m a barnacle now.” (I have entirely rewritten this movie in my head and it involves not learning about the Will-Henry connection until the end. It’s better, trust me.)
We cut to the main action where Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, not even trying) is robbing a bank. The joke is that he’s too drunk to pull it off properly. Also, his crew is exasperated with him and his drunken antics and no one particularly seems to like him anymore, not even Gibbs, and this whole scene seems a little pointed. There are, in fact, a lot “Jack sucks now” jokes throughout Dead Men, which makes you think.
Act one is so f*cking overstuffed—it’s like they (not the directors, they are DOING THEIR BEST) don’t trust the audience to care about Jack so they keep throwing more protagonists at us. We have Grown Up Henry Turner, played by Brenton “Eyebrows” Thwaites, who is trying, bless his heart, and Carina, played by Kaya Scodelario, visibly wondering what happened to her post-Skins career. And then halfway in, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, actually looking invested) shows up and surprisingly manages to connect just enough to deliver the only sincere emotional beat in the whole movie. And we’re not even talking about villains yet, of which there are two: Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem, who you can watch lose interest), a pirate-hunting ghost who got f*cked over by a young Jack Sparrow, and a nameless British Navy officer (David Wenham) who has no connection to anything except the formula demands the British Navy be present. Also, there is a bald witch.
While Eyebrows is a very handsome young man who is beautifully lit throughout, Carina should have been the main focus of the movie. It’s her story that provides the only thing resembling actual emotion, and the cleverest idea in the movie is her: A science-minded woman constantly mistaken for a witch. Her astronomy calculations and longitudinal deductions appear to be magic to the pirates—who believe in ACTUAL MAGIC—and the only funny bit of the movie is Carina tiredly correcting people that she isn’t a witch, she’s a scientist.
This is actually a GREAT idea, that a smart woman who can read and do sums in 1750-whatever would be an object of suspicion—it’s a Monty Python-level idea, even. But Carina is sidelined by Henry, who is, sorry Eyebrows, dead boring. If Carina was the main character, and Jack and Henry were just props to help her along, that could have been something.
But we’re stuck with Jack Sparrow, who has no arc and does not change and offers no emotional value to the movie beyond calling on weak nostalgia for a character Depp has run into the ground. Meanwhile, Eyebrows and his barnacle-dad are meant to be the main story engine, while Carina and her own daddy issues drive the real emotion. It makes the movie so convoluted and messy, with too many characters, too many subplots, and Depp’s tired performance dragging the whole mess down like, well, a sinking ship. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is an extremely well-made, incredibly expensive piece of flotsam that does to your brain cells what plastic does to dolphins: Choke them to death.