H.L. Mencken once said “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” Perhaps that is why the image of the pirate still resonates with us, even today? There is a sense of freedom and romance to The Golden Age of Piracy that appeals to many, despite life at sea being grim and brutal.
That harsh reality is totally absent from Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, as is any other semblance of reality. The world of Pirates remains a shadowy continent, well past the point on the map that says “Here Be Monsters.” This is a ripping yarn, through and through, where the telling of the tale is more important than the details.
Our story opens on Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) – the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan from the first three Pirates films. With Will still cursed to captain The Flying Dutchman and ferry the souls of those who die at sea, Henry has devoted his life to studying old legends in search of a way to save his dad. This leads to his quest to find The Trident Of Poseidon – an artifact that can break any curse – and Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who owns a magic compass that leads the holder to their heart’s desire.
Unfortunately, Jack Sparrow’s famous luck has run dry and he’s without two pieces-of-eight to rub together. Trading his compass for one last bottle of rum, Jack accidentally triggers the release of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) – a Spanish Navy man with a hatred of all pirates, whom Jack was responsible for cursing with undeath.
With Salazar and his men threatening every ship at sea, soon there is a daring race for The Trident. Among those seeking it is Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) – an astronomer whose notes and research may be the only map to The Trident. Also seeking The Trident is Jack Sparrow’s rival Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), whose newfound criminal empire (forged, apparently, by the luck he magically stole from Jack) is threatened by Salazar’s return.
Those who expect a strict adherence to continuity or, indeed, logic, will not enjoy Dead Men Tell No Tales. The story here blatantly contradicts the tale of how Jack Sparrow first acquired his magic compass from the previous films and there’s no reason why Will Turner should be cursed given that captaining The Flying Dutchman didn’t become a curse until Davy Jones betrayed his duty.
Others have already listed all the ways that the story, timeline and mythology don’t add up but it seem against the spirit of the series to nit-pick in this fashion. One might as well complain about the fact that Elizabeth Swan’s son is played by an actor only four years younger than Keira Knightley, despite 19 years passing since the end of At World’s End.
The bigger problem is that there’s very little sense that we’re seeing anything new in Dead Men Tell No Tales. A race to a magic artifact? A child trying to save their cursed father? A seemingly invincible army of the undead? A talented outcast seeking connection to the father that abandoned then? Jack Sparrow defying death during an increasingly silly series of action sequences? The entire plot is lifted piecemeal from the earlier films in the series.
That being said, the execution is top-notch. Those who enjoyed the previous films (even those rare few, like myself, who enjoyed On Stranger Tides) will find a lot to love about Dead Men Tell No Tales despite its flaws. The film also presents a worthy ending to the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, though a post-credits sequence suggests the franchise may not be done just yet.