Maybe dead men tell no tales because they’ve got nothing left to say.
That’s what it feels like slogging through the fifth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, a rotting corpse of a franchise that somehow keeps sailing way past its prime. Since the surprisingly sprightly Curse of the Black Pearl 14 years ago, these movies have gotten fatter, more preposterous and less funny. This one is cold, dead movie all about cold, dead people.
Its punishing 129-minute run time starts with old Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), cursed to inhabit the ocean’s bottom in the wreckage of the Flying Dutchman but unable to die. Will’s and Elizabeth Swann’s son Henry (played nicely as a boy by Lewis McGowan and less so as a young swain by Brenton Thwaites) is willing to tie a rock to his foot and plunge fathoms deep to visit his doomed daddy; by this he hopes to break the curse that condemns Will to ferry dead souls to the next world. Bland Will warns even blander Henry to quit the travails of the buccaneer life—but hey, if he did that, where would the movie go from there?
Anyway, the hint of a promising premise goes nowhere in the hands of directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (both of whom also helmed the terrific Kon-Tiki) and screenwriters Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio, who freight this thing with ghost sharks, ghost ships, prison brawls, bloodless romance, embarrassing slapstick, frenetic battles—in other words, stuff we’re already tired of from the last four Pirates voyages. The overstuffed plot also includes complications from the vengeance-seeking Captain Armando Salazar of the dead pirate ship (Javier Bardem, very funny and playing to the third balcony), a smart, headstrong astrologer and proto-feminist Corrine (Kaya Scodelario) being pursued as a witch, the ever-present and deeply annoying Redcoats and Captain Hector Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush), who brokers a side deal with Salazar. Everyone is desperate to get his mitts on the movie’s MacGuffin—the curse-breaking Trident of Poseidon—but you won’t find yourself caring much because of how mechanical and calculated every moment feels.
The movie isn’t without its bright spots. There’s Jack Sparrow’s first scene, a jazzy, inventive and well-staged bank heist, as well as some genuinely clever stuff that involves a spinning guillotine. Mostly, though, it’s aggressively ordinary, right down to the Paul McCartney cameo. Johnny Depp himself surprised Disneyland visitors last month by temporarily replacing the animatronic Captain Jack on Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride. He may as well be animatronic here, too, considering how every move he makes in a once delightful, inventive and iconic role—the drunken swagger, the eye-narrowing, the slurry speech, the lecherous leer—looks mechanized, rote and buffoonish. It’s as painful as watching a drunk uncle play the fool while thinking he’s straight-up hilarious. But then, the whole affair reeks of desperation, right down to the Geoff Zanelli score, which works overtime to try and make us feel things the movie doesn’t bother to earn, and Paul Cameron’s cinematography, a study in drab grays.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales isn’t just standard issue bad; it’s mind-numbingly boring. Abandon ship, gang. Seriously.