*Warning: Potential Spoilers*
This is it, people. This is the end of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, after three good films and (now) two mediocre ones, it is time for the ship to dock permanently. We have been asked to swallow a lot for this series – including the six-year wait between the fourth film and this one – but I think it’s time we all agreed that the quality of these movies has been dropping since the first one, and maybe it’s time to just throw in the towel. Actually, not even maybe. It’s time. It’s long-past time. We all know and love Jack Sparrow (sorry, CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow), but even he seems to be leaving the series, whether or not Johnny Depp shows up on set, and the longer the series goes on the less it feels magical and fun but rather ridiculous and worthy of all the face-palms you can give. While the trailers announced Dead Men Tell No Tales as the final film in the franchise by saying “the final adventure”, it has already been announced that one more film will follow to create a second trilogy. The only condition is that Depp returns to the cast, and I am begging him, please, say no. Captain Jack’s time really is up.
Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) finds himself without a crew and down on his luck five years after the events of On Stranger Tides (2011) and when he gives up his last reminder of his pirate days – his magical compass – he unleashes the fury of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a ghost captain who Sparrow bested in his youth. Jack’s only hope of surviving Salazar’s revenge is to hunt down the Trident of Poseidon, said to control the seas and break any curse performed at sea. He is joined by Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelrio), an orphan astronomer who can break the key to finding the trident, and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), who is desperate to use the trident to break the curse on his father Will (Orlando Bloom), forever doomed to roam the seas as the new Davy Jones. With the undead crew of Salazar behind them and aided by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Jack’s only chance is to prove that he is still the legendary pirate he once was.
This may come as a shock to anyone who sat through Dead Men Tell No Tales, but at two hours and nine minutes, this is actually the shortest film of the Pirates franchise. It’s easily forty minutes shorter than the longest in the franchise, At World’s End (2007), and yet somehow, sitting through the exploits of Jack Sparrow this time around is far less satisfying than it has ever been. This is partially because the shenanigans that Jack gets himself into are more ridiculous than they’ve ever been, and at this point it’s stopped being funny and just become stupid. Jack’s opening magic trick shows him being awakened from inside a locked safe, and then his crew (who are quick to quit when the plan wrecks astronomically) uses horses to pull the safe away from the building, but the building itself ends up being pulled from the ground and taking a joyride through the town with Jack surfing on the roof. Like I said before, we’ve had to swallow a lot of stupid from this series and take it as “oh, it’s a movie about undead pirates and a magical trident, there’s nothing weird about any of this”. And most of the time, we can. It’s just hard to really enjoy the fact that a group of horses his pulling an entire building around tight turns in a wooden town and that the whole thing goes on for several minutes when all you can think about is “okay, this entire town is dead now. Oh, Jack is dead too. And those horses they are so dead.” While most of the Pirates films have had crazy stunts, they at least try to look reasonable – maybe you or I couldn’t perform them, but Jack Sparrow and Will Turner are more in shape and generally cooler than we are, sooooo they could pull it off. But this entire movie, from the traveling building to the undead sharks to even the guillotine fiasco, it’s not even fun enough to make it enjoyable to watch. It would also be nice if we had any idea what the rules were for this franchise, since this movie seems to break several. For instance, Salazar and his crew are awakened by Jack “betraying” the compass, but exactly what does that entail, because this is not the first time that Jack has given it away. That compass traded hands like five times during At World’s End, none of that qualified as “betraying” it?
All of this might have been bearable if only Jack Sparrow had shown up to the film. Wait, you might say, I’ve seen him in all the trailers and Johnny Depp is listed on IMDb, how is Jack Sparrow not in the movie? Well, in theory he is. He says “savvy” and walks around like he’s drunk, but the actual character we know and love never seems to actually show up. Jack Sparrow is unpredictable and sometimes just a bad pirate, but he is also cunning and manipulative, and from the first Pirates of the Caribbean we’ve seen all of this in him. He is always three steps ahead and even when he isn’t, he knows how to get himself out of his holes. This Jack doesn’t even seem close to that, stumbling around as if he has no idea what he’s going to do or where he wants to be. He doesn’t even seem that interested in reviving the Black Pearl anymore, which was his main goal after On Stranger Tides. He’s not only not a main character, he’s barely even a side character in the plot, just there for people to plan around but not really use. Sometime in between then and now he lost his “Sparrow-ness”, and without him, the series is nowhere near what it was. There’s a reason that the studio has said they won’t make any more films without Depp, but it seems like we lost him six years ago.
Now, it’s not like there is absolutely nothing to appreciate in this installment to the series. They’ve raked in so much money over the years that they had plenty to throw around for their CGI, and it worked out very well. The island of “Fallen Stars” was fantastically beautiful, actually, reminiscent of the shots of the star-studded water in At World’s End. This was followed up by the underwater world where the Trident of Poseidon was residing. Think of the water-filled worlds of Moana (2016) combined with the wave parting of The Prince of Egypt (1998), only darker and more eerie, with sunlight barely filtering down in between the walls of waves, casting a rippling shadow over everything. If you just looked at the surroundings and ignored the ridiculous people, it was very nice. And though we had no Jack Sparrow around, the character of Carina sort of makes up for it (despite her slightly overdramatic backstory). She is sassy, she is fun, and she is more interesting than Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly) ever was, so she’s a lot easier to root for as a female protagonist. She is also the only one who really reacts to everything like a normal person, freaking out over undead pirates and rolling her eyes at the crazy villagers trying to hang her for being a witch. She can’t make up for the lack of our favorite captain, but she tries very hard and we appreciate her for it.
At the end of the day, every ship needs to return to port eventually, and it seems to me that the SS PotC is ready to return home for retirement. At this point, it’s not quite as honorable as it could’ve been, but it is definitely time.
2 / 5
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life is over for me…