It’s rare for a big-budget movie to be genuinely terrible; the norm is far closer to mediocre. And yet, somehow, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has featured two genuinely terrible movies in a row now. Dead Men Tell No Tales is a bad, bad movie.
Some have criticized this film for being hard to follow; it’s certainly got a lot going on, but I didn’t find it entirely hard to follow as much as just pretty uninteresting, weighted down by bad performances. There’s a sea-witch and zombie sharks and a lot of stuff that probably should be cool; the look of the Javier Bardem character, the villain of the piece, is sufficiently off-putting (but overly similar to the look of Bill Nighy as Davy Jones in the original trilogy). Obviously Bardem is someone with a lot of experience playing cinematic villains, but he’s mostly wasted here. Despite some good plot elements, almost nothing in this movie works. This movie is filled with impossibly stupid riddles and really bad humor; at least one joke in the film involving an alternate use for a toenail falls very very flat.
The new characters here are poorly characterized, with little substance; a lot of telling, not a lot of showing. They’re obvious caricatures of existing characters who were too expensive to get back for this film. We never really get a good understanding of what the villain’s motivation is either, obviously a problem.
It’s kind of shocking to recall that in 2003, Johnny Depp was a genuinely deserving Oscar nominee for his initial performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. He was entertaining and charismatic and unpredictable! How the mighty have fallen. This is one of the laziest performances in film today; he’s cashing some nice checks, but man does he not give even the slightest shit. There’s also a moment in the film in which a flashback to a younger Jack Sparrow is depicted, and boy is the actor who plays young Jack bad.
Also appearing in this film is young Australian actor Brenton Thwaites, who plays Henry Turner, the son of Orlando Bloom’s Will. He’s an actor who has apparently been marked for stardom, cast as the lead in several movies that have frequently turned out poorly; maybe I’m crazy, but the reason for this seems pretty apparent to me: He’s not a great actor. He also has absolutely zero chemistry with ostensible love interest Carina, played by Kaya Scodelario. I can’t hold the chemistry issue against either actor, because the dialogue is so stilted and problematic to begin with, but it remains an issue.
Even a great actor like Geoffrey Rush, who in the past delivered good performances in this franchise, here again appears like a self-caricature. He’s also, at 66 years old, looking a bit wizened to be in a film like this; he looks somewhat the worse for wear, to put it lightly. Though he gets killed off in the film, you could never know if it’s for good – this franchise has resurrected enough characters before, that character deaths are essentially meaningless.
Perhaps the only redeeming quality of this film is that it’s not quite as bad as the completely irredeemable On Stranger Tides. This franchise has completely squandered great guest actors like Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Ian McShane, and mostly squandered its main cast as well. The fact that this movie concludes with an obvious sequel hook is almost disgusting; this film is so bad, it’s hard to imagine audiences wanting to see another one of these. This is a franchise that should have been retired – probably after its first film, certainly after its third; the diminishing financial returns on these films indicates that maybe we’re nearing a breaking point where the franchise will finally come to a conclusion, but until then Disney will continue to milk this for everything it’s worth. This is a bad bad movie in a franchise that needs to put out of its misery, so that we can be put out of ours.