In the fifth installment of one of the highest-grossing film series in history, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales “rights the ship” after the widely criticized fourth movie introduced new characters and ultimately fell flat. Despite this improvement, Dead Men Tell No Tales lacks a creative touch; a complication that has plagued the series since its onset in 2003.
Dead Men Tell No Tales attempts to link the previous storylines of the series to a new ensemble of actors and actresses. The movie begins with Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) who wants to break a curse placed on his father, former protagonist William Turner (Orlando Bloom), at the end of the third movie. To do this, Henry must first find the Trident of Poseidon, an ancient relic that provides the user power over the sea and the ability to break curses. Henry finds Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who is also seeking the trident, and together, the duo enlists the help of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), a swashbuckling pirate captain, in the quest. However, Sparrow is being chased by Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), a former Spanish naval captain and pirate-hunter who was cursed by Sparrow and now leads an army of the undead. Salazar also seeks the trident to lift the curse placed on himself and his crew. Bloom and Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann), both briefly return to their famous roles after a hiatus in which neither appeared in the fourth chapter of the series.
Heading into a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, two things are certain: it will have a stellar soundtrack and the patented comical antics of Jack Sparrow. Dead Men Tell No Tales does not disappoint in these areas. The soundtrack — Pirates’ usual high-energy, orchestral compilation of horns and string instruments — is as invigorating as ever. It’s especially exhilarating while Sparrow and his crew captivatingly rob a bank or escape decapitation from a guillotine.
While the soundtrack and comic relief are welcome constants from previous Pirates films, the film’s main plot line is both confusing and unimaginative. While the changing of the guard from Knightley and Bloom to Scodelario and Thwaites seemed to indicate a new direction for the series, Dead Men Tell No Tales followed the same rough narrative that all of the previous movies did — pirates, ghost pirates, and the British government fight for a powerful secret treasure while the government simultaneously tries to imprison Sparrow and his pirate crews. This same plot line marks a lack in creativity by the producers, and the fresh faces fail to inspire new additions to the movie’s structure. Perhaps, after four installments, Disney has run out of unique pirate-themed narratives.
Additionally, Dead Men Tell No Tales not only followed a predictable course in its execution of the main plot line, but it also left many important questions unanswered. For example, Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) returns in his marauding role as a pirate captain, but he lacked purpose and did not fit into the film’s overall narrative. At one point, Barbossa double-crosses an agreement he reached with Salazar in favor of allying with Sparrow, Smyth, and Henry Turner instead. It was unclear why he chose to team up with Salazar in the first place, since Barbossa already possessed a crew, ship, and large amount of gold, with no need to ally with the ghost pirate king. Further, Barbossa has no reason to put himself in danger from Salazar and states no potential motivations for his switch, as he was not eager to pursue the trident, convoluting his character’s purpose in the story. Similar confusion surrounded Smyth’s inclusion in the quest for the trident, as her motivations were also never really clear.
While no Pirates movie will ever compare to the first film, Dead Men Tell No Tales was a drastic improvement over the series’ fourth installment. Unfortunately, segments of its plot lacked creativity and purpose, ultimately culminating in a mediocre final product. If the viewer is hoping for more of the same antics found in previous Pirates films, this is the right movie. If the goal is to view a markedly improved and fresh film, however, it may be wise to sit Dead Men Tell No Tales out.