PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES – A FLICK TOO FAR

SHORT TAKE

Yet ANOTHER in a series of weaker and weaker installments of Pirates of the Caribbean movies, which, nonetheless, still has a few surprisingly good moments (and I do mean teeny tiny moments), mostly thanks to Geoffrey Rush, about the importance of fatherhood.

SPOILERS

I admit, I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales anticipating, regretfully, that I would have to write a scathingly dismissive pan for this fifth installment in this series of decreasingly inventive franchise offerings. While I was, unfortunately, not wrong, there is reason to reinforce my belief that “NO one TRIES to make a bad movie”.  Amazingly, I found aspects to commend and which deserve some applause.

Before I get there I have to first express dismay – did the director just tell the crew: “Follow Depp around as he pin balls from place to place as Jack Sparrow and we’ll write a script around whatever he’s doing”???

Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t want to not like this movie. I even went wearing my Pirates of the Caribbean earrings my kids gave me for Mother’s Day years ago for the opening of a previous P of C installment.

But these movies suffer from what in the sci fi world could be described as “replicative fading” – the tendency of copies of copies to become less well defined, more replete with mistakes and less richly detailed than the predecessors until at last the descendants are no longer viable. Do they not think they have perhaps milked enough out of an idea which began as a SINGLE EXHIBIT IN A DISNEY THEME PARK RIDE!!!  I think this parrot has ceased to be (apologies to Monty Python and the Dead Parrot sketch).

The stories, after the first one wherein Depp brilliantly stepped onto a dock from the crow’s nest of a sinking ship, now seem to slap dash about from one preposterous situation to another as Depp bounces around doing pratfalls: falling off a tall fence into a muddy pig pen, being dragged down the street with his foot attached to a rope by horses pulling a….well, a HOUSE down a street, evading ghost pirates by lassoing a ghost shark, and pirouetting on a board as a guillotine slides back and forth within inches of his neck. His previous incarnations of the worst pirate Commadore Norrington had ever heard of: engaged in a sword fight while running in a water wheel, fought with squid headed sailors, and drunkenly swung invincibly from chandeliers, ropes and off house tops. All this with ZERO suspense as we know he will escape unharmed.

Sparrow’s antics are often reminiscent of other more original vaudeville-like routines from other movies and eras: Chaplin’s Little Tramp’s breakdown in Modern Times where the Tramp misses being crushed by centimeters as he cavorts through gears and machinery; or perhaps Baby Herman’s parkour crawl from Who Framed Roger Rabbit around the increasingly dangerous kitchen as Roger attempts to rescue him; or maybe just the Three Stooges as they endure falls, impacts and encounters with lethal implements with only minor scratches and the occasional blackened hair to show for it.  But Depp’s Sparrow simply leans heavily on these creative giants, no longer bringing anything original or inventive to the slap stick. While there are a lot of cartoon deaths, you know Sparrow will live to stagger another day. Without him there IS no Pirates franchise. So there’s really no serious tension.

Meanwhile, though they can’t do without him they don’t seem to do much with him either. His character has become less the center of focus and more like Puck, flitting between the other characters, igniting chaos and consequences with which the others must deal, getting himself away repercussion free.

While I really don’t mind that, I do mind the fact that the writers don’t even TRY to convince you anything bad will happen to Sparrow any more. The unlikelihood of Sparrow being even injured takes away all healthy suspense and tension from the film, which, in turn, takes away all the ebb and flow of emotion which sparks humor.

As for the other characters:. Disney HAD to try to set up the “next generation” Will-Elizabeth paring. But Brenton Thwaites who plays Henry Turner, son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan,  and Kaya Scodelaria, who plays Carina Smyth, the supposed leads/new love interests  have absolutely….no…chemistry…between … them….what-so-ever. While Will and Elizabeth (reprised briefly here by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly) had a life long history which made their bond credible, Henry and Carina have only just met under absurd circumstances. They are arrested, escape, captured, and rescued from execution via one more ridiculous scenario after another: Because she is a women expressing an interest in science she is declared a witch. Henry is the sole survivor of a shipwreck so is condemned to death. Carina finds out Henry is after the Trident as well so springs him from his chains in return for an alliance but is herself arrested and sent to the gallows. Henry hires Jack’s old crew to save both Carina and Jack from execution — and on and on. It’s silly, and as though the writers couldn’t think of a legitimate plot, they just invented one “escape room” after another to challenge their intrepid heroes. When in doubt – have someone chase them and, like Bugs Bunny, they always manage to get away.

And you know what else is annoying: They absolutely WASTE David Wenham (Faramir from Lord of the Rings)  in  unrecognizable makeup and cliche bad guy lines and Paul McCartney!!!!! in a cameo under Halloween quantity makeup and facial hair.

NO ONE TRIES TO MAKE A BAD MOVIE:

There is a small gem to be dug up. Once again reinforcing my belief that NO one tries to make a bad movie, P of C: Dead Men has an underlying thread of essential purpose hiding, like Paul McCartney, under all the totally unnecessary and fairly ludicrous accessories.

Both the lead characters – Henry and Carina – are on Chataquas inspired by their respective fathers. Henry is trying to find Poseidon’s Trident in order to use it (somehow) to release Will from his curse and return him back to the family fold. Carina is determined to follow her father’s diary to find this same Trident as a legacy to him.

Once again, instinctively, against the will and wishes of every P.C. promoter in Hollywood, they can not seem to avoid the irresistible truth that FATHERS ARE AT THE CORE OF EVERY CHILD. For better or worse the fathers of Henry and Carina are the true leads of this movie – mostly unseen in the former case and a mystery in the latter, the fathers propel the plot (such as it is) and most of the motivations.

Which brings me to a shining moment of three dimensional coalescence in the form of Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa. Rush is an astonishing actor: David Helfgott in Shine, Hans Hubermann in The Book Thief, Lionel Logue – King George’s teacher – in The King’s Speech, Javert in the prose version of Les Miserables, Peter Sellers in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Philip “I don’t know, it’s a mystery” Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love, even the voice of Nigel the Aussie Pelican in Finding Nemo – the man is a versatile, nuanced, and powerful actor; a chameleon, like Dustin Hoffman, who can singlehandedly suck you into the world of the movie in which he resides. Make no mistake, even Rush can not shore up this shaky step down into the sink hole that has become the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

However, Rush manages to knead a few lovely moments out of this Playdough of a script and gift us with a last couple of surprises. When Carina tells Barbossa where she got her father’s diary, Rush doesn’t have to say a word, but like the walk Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey takes at the train station in It’s a Wonderful Life when George decides to sacrifice his own future for his brother’s happiness, we watch Barbossa’s face as he walks away from the young woman that fate has thrown in his path. We understand in the next few seconds by his expression, his gaited walk and his thousand yard stare that he has just realized Carina is his daughter. Of course it is on the strength of Rush’s portrayal alone which makes this moment both believable and moving and which makes his inevitable sacrifice for her later the real genuine and satisfying ending to this series. There is NOTHING before this in the plot which would suggest this connection; nothing in the way the actress behaves, nothing she says, which would give the audience a fair hint that she and Barbossa had a connection.  It was as though the script’s instructions were: “On the word ‘orphanage’ Geoffrey Rush proceeds to act the SNOT out of the moment to carry this scene, because we’ve been too busy working in absurd Captain Jack ‘schticks’ to write an actual plot.” 

Barbossa’s death should have been the penultimate scene of the movie. From the first there has been the push and pull of Barbossa and Sparrow. Without Barbossa there is only the Sparrow clown left and had the creators ANY sense at all they would have let this franchise end – not with a bang but with the whispered word “Treasure” – Barbossa’s description to Carina of what she is to him just before he dies.

FINAL GRIPES:

We homeschooled six kids from Kindergarten through high school graduation, so we were around our kids a LOT. And I have told them, probably, hundreds of times: You can get away with a lot if you can make me laugh. And I could have forgiven much in this movie if they had been funny. But sadly, even though this is supposed to be a comedy, the moments are barely worth the occasional smile.

Pintel and Ragetti – the pirate Abbot and Costello part of Barbossa’s crew – the thick bald guy and the skinny one whose eye keeps popping out – who provided occasional Greek chorus like quips during the first movies have been replaced with a forgettable pair who I would not be able to point out in a line up. Pintel and Ragetti were sort of adorable buffoons. The new guys are neither recognizable nor have any distinguishing characteristics to make them stand out in the crowd of pirates.

I’m not sure the writers and producers really know their audience any more – which is a downright tragedy for a franchise that’s been going on for 14 years.

ONE SMALL CONSOLATION

It was actually quite nice to see Bloom and Knightly reprise their respective roles at the tip end as Turner and Swan and reunite after the curse is broken.


SAVE US!!!!!

HOWEVER, the writers apparently think they will be able to squeeze yet another pathetic replicant out of this failing enterprise. There is a reveal after the credits finish rolling as Turner and Swan lie contentedly asleep together as husband and wife. (And, yes, I’m one of those people who stay to marvel at the enormity of digital artists there are, listen to the epilogue medley of themes, and watch for “fun” credits such as “hand models” and “bee wranglers” – OK so I’m easily amused. AND I’ve been doing this YEARS before “Easter eggs” started cropping up in the credits.) Clues during this extra scene indicate there likely will be yet ANOTHER P of C!!! This speculation is hammered home if you check out us.imbd.com. Type “Pirates of the” into the search engine and you will find “Pirates of the Caribbean 6"…………………………. *sigh*

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