Monday, June 26, 2017

PIrates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Film: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)
Stars: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Geoffrey Rush
Director: Joachim Ranning and Espen Sandberg
Oscar History: The fourth film was the first not to dance with Oscar-it's possible it gets in for Makeup or VFX, but I wouldn't count on it.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

It's hard to remember at this point, but there was once a time that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were a risky bet.  The film was coming a year after The Country Bears, the first feature-length theatrical movie dedicated to a ride at a Disney theme park, had bombed spectacularly.  This was in the era where Disney wasn't quite as golden as it is currently (the animated feature that year was the largely forgettable, though admittedly profitable, Brother Bear), and pirates movies have been notoriously dodgy investments for Hollywood through the years (in 2003, you could still remember the spectacular bomb that was Cutthroat Island, the biggest Box Office disaster of all-time).  Plus, Johnny Depp was no one's idea of a bankable leading man if Tim Burton wasn't around.

Oh, how times have changed.  The Pirates franchise is now one of the most successful of all-time, having earned over $4 billion (with two of the films crossing the billion-dollar mark worldwide), and Johnny Depp came out of the film one of the most profitable stars of the past decade, as well as a three-time Oscar nominee.  The pictures have declined somewhat in quality, but they remain obvious audience favorites, particularly internationally, and while no other Disney film about a ride was able to do quite as well (with my apologies to Tomorrowland), it stands as one of the monetary crown jewels in Disney's crown, even if it feels like after the latest film it's time for the series to go the way of Davy Jones' locker.

(Spoilers Ahead) After all, the picture feels, from the start, to be a bit of a misguided adventure.  I'm one of those people who genuinely liked the epic sweep of the second and third films, particularly the second which, while nowhere near as good as the first, was still eminently watchable and featured a strong supporting performance from Bill Nighy.  The fourth movie, however, left much to be desired and felt out-of-place.  Without Will and Elizabeth, there weren't enough characters to connect us to the series from before, and Depp was starting his wilderness period as an actor, something that sadly hasn't let up despite him once being electric onscreen.

Here we have another picture that largely tries to have a standalone adventure, but one that never comes close to equalling something magical from the mid-Aughts films.  The movie centers around Salazar (Bardem), captaining yet another ship of the undead through the Caribbean (seriously-are there any actually living pirates in the ocean at this point?), who is intent on revenge on Jack Sparrow.  Why Jack Sparrow?  Because the writers can't really find any other plotlines.  Honestly, there are moments in the movie that felt like we were in a Gilligan's Island situation, like no one had seen the third or fourth film (even if you probably have if you're catching the fifth), or that hopefully no one had remembered them because they clearly were being borrowed from ferociously.

The film also feels empty in that it doesn't bring back much of the crew (Kevin McNally's Gibbs remains the only link there from the first three films), and really the stakes feel particularly low here, perhaps because the actors playing our principle love interests are so wooden.  Brenton Thwaites continues to work after his insanely bad performance in The Giver, the human equivalent of a print perfume ad come-to-life.  His chemistry with Scodelario is non-existent, and perhaps more vitally, so too is his chemistry with Depp and Orlando Bloom, who are more central to the audience anyway.  The ridiculous story about Barbossa having a daughter feels eye-rollingly tacked on, and the side comic bits feel too sparse and unused.  The film struck gold in its first entry by casting two actors who can, you know, act, as the love interests, and two that have actual chemistry.  It's never been able to recover from not being able to duplicate that.

Which is a pity, because there are undeniably interesting moments in this movie.  There's a jolting thrill in seeing Bloom and Knightley come back to their roles after the misguided On Stranger Tides, and since I hadn't had this spoiled for me by Variety I actually was shocked when they showed up as I knew they had sworn off the franchise after At World's End.  The idea of saving Will from his watery fate aboard Davy Jones locker was a wise one, as it was one of the few loose ends fans of the original series cared about, and as can be witnessed by bringing Knightley back (even wordlessly), there was still some story left there to play with.  Unfortunately, the movie is muddled down too long for this to redeem the picture, and with their chapter now properly ended, perhaps we can put this series to bed before fond memories of the original pictures is totally lost?

At least that's what i'm thinking at this point, but I'd love your thoughts.  Anyone clamoring for another adventure aboard the Black Pearl, or are we all kind of on-board with five (or perhaps three?) being enough?  Where would you want the series to set sail toward next if we did go back?  Share your thoughts below!

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