Pirates of the Caribbean is probably one of the most unlikely big-budget tentpole film franchises that has ever existed. Based on a Disney theme park show, it’s hard to believe they could have built a two-plus hour film out of it — let alone five movies (and counting).
But they have, and the Mouse House has pulled in over $3.7 billion worldwide so far, and the fifth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean looks to be no different. The quality of the films, however, has been going down, and reached an all time low with the fourth outing, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011).
So does Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales break that trend, or is it the worst one yet? Happily, the short review is this: It’s the best Pirates movie since the first one, which opened in 2003. The downside is that wasn’t a very high bar to clear.
Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg decided to go a bit back to basics, and take a page out of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There are a lot of the same beats from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but it is also based very much in the backstory from previous films. This is both a benefit and a hindrance for the movie.
On one hand, it deepens the movie, but it’s at the cost of the silliness that the series is known for. One of the reasons for the first Pirates of the Caribbean’s success is that it didn’t take itself seriously, so you lose a bit of that when you base the motivations of one of the characters on the mythology.
My biggest problem with the film is that it seems to waste the best set pieces up front near the beginning of the film, and nothing is quite as fun as that first bank heist. Fortunately, Rønning and Sandberg realized that while Johnny Depp’s character is the star of the franchise, they need to use Jack Sparrow — well — sparingly. He isn’t as central to this story as he was in On Stranger Tides.
And yes, this movie does leave the door open for a sequel. In a lot of ways Dead Men Tell No Tales feels like a movie specifically designed to reset the events of the first three movies for the next sequel. It is actually a fine bit of world building, as everything is explained well enough for a Pirates of the Caribbean film. What I hope for the next one is a bit more fun than this movie, but it does feel like a definite step in the right direction.
On another note, with the summer box office already down 10% over last year, and even with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 being a true hit, there’s a lot riding on the financial success of this new Pirates of the Caribbean film for the overall summer, as we’re flooded with more sequels.
Here’s the trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales: