Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is not only a mouthful to say, but it’s also a mouthful of bilge water, stale to the taste but just familiar enough that you may be enticed to drink it in, even as you drown in it. There’s no real creative drive or reason behind the revival of this 14-year-old franchise after six years of dormancy, only a desire for Disney to add another franchise win to their balance sheet, and it’s clear in how this film demonstrates that this franchise’s wells of creativity have long been dry. While playing like a mixtape of the greatest moments from previous films, it also crams in so many extraneous story beats through flashbacks and subplots that it can’t help but fall victim to narrative conveniences, contrivances, and plot holes. It’s the worst kind of mess: an utterly generic one.
Henry Turner (a cypher played by Brenton Twaites), the son of previous protagonists Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, wants nothing more than to free his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman, and he vows to track down the dread pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, acting drunker than ever to seemingly mask his boredom with the material) to assist him in finding the trident of Poseidon, which is said to have the power to break all the curses of the sea. In his search, we meets Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a woman of science accused of witchcraft who holds a secret diary that she claims can point them to the trident. They meet Jack, who has given up his magic compass, which in turn releases the villainous Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew from magical imprisonment… somehow, and Jack departs with his new young cohorts to find the trident, primarily to save his own neck.
With a central plot that convoluted, you may be surprised to learn that it only gets worse from there, as Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) re-enters the fray, and a supporting cast including a witch, the English navy, and a pirate Paul McCartney muddy the waters with an incredibly unnecessary amalgamation of subplots and diversions. Seemingly everything in this narrative needs to be explained with some trivia about its significant origins, including Jack Sparrow’s hat and, get this, his ever-loving last name! Nothing is allowed to simply exist in this world, which is further complicated by the already-dense mythology of the previous Pirates films jumbling around with the new complications.
And if the plot structure is bad, the dialogue is even worse. Almost every statement made is either an expository explanation, a character’s blunt declaration of their emotion in a given moment, or a poorly told joke designed to distract you from the inanity of what you’re watching. What’s especially frustrating though is that every returning character feels so boring, as we’ve explored almost every interesting facet of their personas in previous films, and almost every new character feels derivative of what’s come before, from Henry being a carbon copy of his father to Salazar just being another spin on Barbosa’s character in the first movie. The only exception is Carina, who escapes boredom by having an absolutely frustrating character arc wherein she learns to accept that the supernaturally fantastical and the scientific don’t need to conflict with one another. This robs a potentially empowered female lead of any sense of agency, as she simply accepts that some things cannot be studied, despite her scientific acumen being what defines her as a character, though she lives in a crazy magic world anyway, and DO YOU SEE WHY THIS MOVIE MAKES MY HEAD HURT!?
That isn’t to say Dead Men Tell No Tales isn’t without its small charms. There’s an early bank heist scene that is mildly entertaining—even if it rips off the most iconic scene of Fast Five—and an action setpiece involving zombie ghost sharks is pretty dang cool. The best I can say for this new Pirates of the Caribbean is this: At least it isn’t as mind-numbingly boring as the last one, and it does a decent enough job of giving you something pretty to look at most of the time. But the way Dead Men Tell No Tales insists on piling on more and more plot details with less and less relevance makes the entire experience a tedious chore, even if you’re on board for the long-stale Jack Sparrow slapstick routine. This franchise was sunk a long time ago. Perhaps it’s finally time to let it rest.