A little history: I saw the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie in theatres three times, and Captain Jack Sparrow became one of my all-time favorite characters. The only midnight showing I’ve ever been to was Pirates 2: Dead Man’s Chest. Life has changed a little in the last fourteen (!) years since Captain Jack first sailed in, but I was still pretty excited to see Pirates of the Caribbean 5: Dead Men Tell No Tales this past weekend. You never can tell by the time you get to installment five of a series, but I intended to take it for what it was, and it was a fun time!
The movie circles back to plot threads left by Pirates 3: At World’s End, picking up with Henry Turner, the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Henry is determined to rescue his father from Davy Jones’ curse, and thinks the answer is to find Poseidon’s Trident. He intersects with a series of characters after the same goal: Carina Smith, an astronomer and scientist branded as a witch; Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) who wants it to rule the sea; and of course, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his ragtag crew, who need the Trident to fend off Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew of the dead.
There’s a lot going on in here, and things move fast with few pauses between new crises, upheavals or full-scale battles. There are still ample funny moment, though they do tend to have some degree of franticness to them.
Jack Sparrow is still a lot of fun and I expect always will be; I especially enjoyed a (fairly brief) flashback to how he first became a pirate captain. It better showcased that weird and engaging mystery of never quite knowing how in control Jack is. Present-day Jack seems to have lost his grip on things a bit, though never on his ability to ride through an insane situation and come out standing.
Henry Turner was a bit of a blank, apart from his determination to rescue his father, but he served as a decent impetus. Carina Smith was more engaging, the smartest one in the story who’s fighting to be heard in a world that disregards her. She’s tough, independent, and doesn’t wait around to be kidnapped, rescued or fought over. She does get captured fairly regularly, but keeps her defiance and agency somehow in spite of it.
There’s a whole host of familiar supporting characters who I’m always happy to see again: long-suffering Mr. Gibbs, Murtogg and Mullroy, Jack the Monkey, and of course the marvelous, magnetic Captain Barbossa. His evolving relationship with Jack over the course of the movie series has been wonderful; it still makes me happy when Jack calls him Hector, and I love the way he always remains on top of the situation, one way or another.
There were some bizzarro cool special effects for the ship of the dead, with its decaying crewmembers. Salazar didn’t much do it for me though, kind of an amalgamation of every villain whose come before in the series, just put together a little differently. Ditto Navy officer Scarfield, who was mostly only fun for being played by David Wenham (Faramir of Lord of the Rings).
This movie seemed a bit more violent than its predecessors, which I didn’t really appreciate. Some of it was honestly a question of sound-mixing–punches and body-slams seem a lot worse when they’re loud. There was also less epic sword fighting and more straight-up stabbings. I could have done with a different tone on that front.
So overall feeling? In all honesty, this movie probably tried to pull in too many elements–but they were fun elements, so if you ride with it there were a lot of good things in here. I’ve always said that each of the Pirates movies has to be taken individually because each is trying to do something different.
Pirates 1 was a completely unexpected comedic sea epic, drawing heavily from the Disneyland ride, introducing and showcasing the inimitable, delightful Jack Sparrow. Pirates 2 was purely a romp in the Caribbean with the pirates, riddled with witty call-backs to the first movie. Pirates 3 was the epic adventure, with bigger battles, more exotic locales, and questions about the edges of the map and immortality. Pirates 4 was the afternoon special, day-in-the-life adventure of Jack and Barbossa, nothing significant, just another adventure.
And Pirates 5? I think this one tried to be epic again, with bigger and badder villains, and ties back into some of the plot threads of Pirates 3. It didn’t quite get to where Pirates 3 was–but if you accept it as a slightly smaller epic adventure, not profound but exciting, it delivered a good time.