'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales' Is Painfully Over the Top

It’s too bad that so little creativity went into thinking about the screenplay of the latest ‘Pirates’ movie, which turned out to be a jumble of glitzy action extravaganzas

In this image released by Disney, Johnny Depp portrays Jack Sparrow in a scene from 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.'
Peter Mountain / Disney via AP

The “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, which began in 2003 with “The Curse of the Black Pearl” and continues now with “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” is a fascinating phenomenon because of the enormous discrepancy between the critics’ reactions and audience response. Critical displeasure did not keep the “Pirates” movies from becoming a tremendous success, raking in some $4 billion around the globe and generating an avid base of fans who swear by Captain Jack Sparrow. Perhaps it’s simply a generation gap we have to accept. Clearly, the “Pirates” movies marked a new trend in filmmaking that made the story secondary to a series of loud, glitzy, well-made attractions (usually without much logical connection to each other), offering momentary satisfaction rather than a single, coherent narrative move.

This is hardly a surprising development for series producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Already in “Top Gun,” “Con Air” and “Armageddon,” he preferred to bombard viewers with stimuli rather than devote much attention to the story, although not yet so bluntly in his earlier movies. While the first “Pirates” film still maintained a certain balance, the same cannot be said of the sequels, and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the fifth movie in the series, is no exception. The movie’s insane budget – some $350 million – is channeled into a sequence of magnificent action scenes, which deftly combine physical and computerized effects to create a sophisticated and appealing cinematic space that constantly reveals new facets of itself.

No inner logic

The heroes wander between ships of different sizes, exotic islands, magical worlds on land and underwater, and grotesque creatures of all types, whether human or not. The fictional world we encounter has clearly been crafted with enormous care. Too bad that not even a fraction of that creativity went into thinking about the screenplay, written this time by Jeff Nathanson (“Catch Me If You Can,” “Rush Hour 3”). There are some funny scenes, but the plot is a jumble of unnecessary ideas and complications. At some point the story simply loses all inner logic and becomes merely a pretext for the action extravaganzas.

Storywise, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is a reboot of sorts, presenting a new pair of young lovers. Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is the son of Will and Elizabeth, the couple from the previous movies. In order to rescue his father from a curse, he must locate Poseidon’s trident, which gives its owner control over the seas. He is helped by Carina (Kaya Scodelario), an amateur scientist who has a mysterious map which may lead to the trident. And then there’s Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), the ghost of a pirate hunter determined to catch the man who led to his death – Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), of course. Depp once again delivers his witty, stylish, drunken pirate-hero, who stumbles through this tangle of plotlines, trying to pull them into a coherent narrative.

Without question, there is much to enjoy in “Dead Men Tell No Tales”: Norwegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, who already showed their ability to direct impressive maritime action in the Oscar-nominated “Kon-Tiki,” succeed in creating quite a few fresh, amusing moments, and they seem to maintain remarkable control over their mammoth production. The actors – especially Depp, Bardem and Rush, all excellent – seem to be enjoying themselves, and their enjoyment is contagious. Still, the movie is so over-the-top, so noisy and messy most of the time, that watching brings not just pleasure, but pain; and that, unfortunately, is a problem.