Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

When it comes to sequels we have been spoiled in recent years by Marvel and the latest Star Wars episodes.  But with last week’s entry into the Alien universe we were reminded that most of the time it doesn’t work out.  The usual model for a sequel is to try and repeat earlier success which involves repetition of the more popular elements.  Once that decision is made creative compromises are engaged and the resulting project is likely to be unoriginal and more conservative in scope, probably losing the edge that made the first film so successful.

Obviously there are exceptions.  But never has this principle been more clearly evident than in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  The Curse of the Black Pearl is a great summer popcorn movie with a truly eye-opening performance by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.  Depp has stumbled and slurred his way through four sequels now and has yet to recreate that initial magic.  Probably because the good Captain is too eccentric to be anything other than a supporting player as I pointed out in my review of On Stranger Tides.  Movie star Johnny Depp, however, has to be the lead.

In this one he does step back a little to share the stage with a couple of younger leads.  Henry Turner, played by Brenden Thwaites, is the son of Will Turner, played by Orlando Bloom and Elizabeth Swann, played in a cameo by Kiera Knightley.  Henry’s driving ambition is to free his father from the curse that puts him on the crew of the Flying Dutchman, destined to sail the ghostly seas forever.  He meets Carina Smyth, played by Kaya Scodelario, an astronomer who keeps being mistaken for a witch.  She is looking to unlock the secret of a diary that her unknown father gave to her when he left her as a baby on the steps of an orphanage.  The two mysteries are related of course and both hinge on finding the Trident of Poseidon, which can break all sea curses.

Jack Sparrow stumbles in the story because Henry believes that the captain can find the Trident.  But Jack’s a little down on his luck and once again his past is catching up to him in the form of Captain Salazar, played by Javier Bardem.  Salazar was captain of a Spanish pirate hunting ship who Jack stranded in the Bermuda Triangle back many years ago.  Now Salazar has escaped and he and his crew have supernatural powers and are looking to rid the seas of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Well it may have something to do with my exceedingly low expectations, but God help me, I kind of liked it.  To be sure it is a pale imitation of The Curse of the Black Pearl but it has many of the elements that made that film work.  The look of the film, sort of macabre without being gross or scary, has been consistent throughout the series.  The images here don’t seem quite as inventive.  But is that because they are no longer new as they were in back in 2003?  Who knows?

It has much the same kind of off-hand humor.  At one point an exasperated Carina asks, “Are all pirates this stupid?”  They think about it for a little bit and then nod their heads and say, “Pretty much.”   There are many more examples of that.

I do have to say that I really didn’t get much involved emotionally with either Henry or Carina.  It wasn’t that the two actors did a bad job but I just didn’t find their stories that compelling.  This isn’t a film that’s going to appeal to deep emotions.

In the end it is an enjoyable summer movie.  You probably won’t remember much of the plot by the time you get home but you’ll have been entertained for a couple of hours.  What more can you ask of a sequel?

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