Thursday, July 6, 2017

Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Men Tell No Tales

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable 
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

The original Pirates of the Caribbean was an unexpectedly exciting and unique action adventure mostly because of director Gore Verbinski and the Johnny Depp's creation of Captain Jack Sparrow. The second was a worthy successor but was tainted by the failure of the third. The fourth was a forgettable waste.

But this fifth film is a return to form.

The story involves Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) trying to find a way to break the curse leveled upon his father Will Turner at the end of the 3rd film. Henry decides to sail the seas in search of the mythical Neptune's Trident which supposedly has the power to wipe out all curses leveled at sea. In his adventures he comes across the ghostly Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) who sets Henry to find Jack Sparrow. For his part, Jack is down on luck and his crew has lost faith in him. But he is pulled in to Henry's adventure along Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a young scientist who is accused of witchcraft.  But the motley crew is pursued not only by Salazar but also by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who has returned to the pirate life since the last film.

I was lukewarm on this film, having been unimpressed by the las two. But there is a scene where Henry must rescue both Jack and Carina at the same time. What results is a scene that is funny, exciting, and visually insane in the best possible way. From that point on I was all in. Despite the film's flaws I enjoyed the rest of the movie through to the end.

Even though it has been fourteen years since the series began, Depp hasn't lost a step.  His Jack Sparrow is at the same time repellant and charismatic.  You want to yell at him and times want to be him.  Henry's presence does a good job of filling the earnest innocence that his father provided in the first trilogy, which is something you need for Jack.  He is in every way the antihero and always skirts the line to selfish villain like a sillier Mad Max.  But Depp always gives us just enough to be attacked to Jack despite all that he says and does while at the same time getting the biggest laughs of the movie.

Thwaites is serviceable, but nothing terribly special in his role.  But Scodelario is fiery, fierce and witty.  She has a great screen presence and range.  Bardem is his usual creepy self, which is a plus in his role as Salazar.  I have never thought that Rush was given his due as Barbossa because all of the attention goes to Depp.  But Rush always brings a strange complexity to what should be a one-note villain.  He is a man of intelligence wrapped in a life of violent ignorance.  In this instance he is revelling in his success, and yet it bores him.  He is a pirate king, but Rush plays him like he is wearing a crown of thorns.

Directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg do an admirable job picking up Verbinski's flag.  The action sequences are another big selling point.  This movie is filled with swashbuckling adventure.  And while they go over-the-top, it fits in this film.  There is a wonderfully odd sword fight as Jack hops between the cannons of two ships that is as ridiculous as it is thrilling.  The special effects hold up well and keep the eye engaged.  The violence is a bit much.  For some reason after the first film the violence became less fun and more disturbing with the wanton killing of several characters.

The journey to the mcguffin is convoluted and needlessly complicated.  They also throw in a subplot about Carina's long lost father that feels shoe-horned and forced, but the movie does the best that it can with it.  

Thematically, there is quite a bit about fathers and children and about owning up to your past mistakes, but it doesn't go very deep.  It was surprisingly emotional.   I found as the film came to a close I was unexpectedly moved in a beautiful sequence that tugged at my heartstrings.  It was a great payoff to fans of the series.

Of the five Pirates movies, Dead Men Tell No Tales is probably the 3rd best, which is not all that bad.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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