- Johnny Depp, dead in the eyes.
First, don’t get snookered by that misleading title — dead men monologue almost nonstop throughout this fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise. Everywhere you turn, some ghost or ex-ghost starts blathering about their tortured and confusing backstory, while also providing answers to questions that you couldn’t possibly be boring enough to ask. One of the major reveals in Dead Men Tell No Tales: the origin story of Captain Jack Sparrow’s disgusting dread jewelry. Seriously.
Of course, Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack, still a shambling alcoholic with a surprising zest for derring-do, still barely holding together his ragtag band of snarling idiot pirates. Let this sink in for a second: Depp was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in the first Pirates film, and that was barely a decade ago. As recently as early 2004, this effete drunk shtick felt not only fresh and fun, it felt like good acting. That’s shocking, especially given Depp’s utterly mirthless and obligatory turn in Dead Men Tell No Tales.
But islands aren’t going to pay for themselves, and so here’s Depp-as-Jack falling face first in mud, getting pooped on, taking repeated punishment to the groin and letting his CGI avatar do most of the real acting. Since Depp is the star of a billion-dollar franchise and theme park attraction, and because he’s made the right people a shitload of money, we’re all supposed to politely forget that his abusive behavior toward ex-wife Amber Heard became public knowledge less than one year back. Depp probably made a mint to sleepwalk through this dud, but he clearly hates every second of it, so cool. No amount of CGI can disguise his dead eyes.
Not that Dead Men Tell No Tales lacks for annoying CGI! Far from it. CGI-smeared Javier Bardem enters the Pirates-verse as Captain Salazar, a cursed ghost captain whose swirling hair and charred skin makes him look like he’s simultaneously underwater and aflame. Salazar needs Jack Sparrow’s magical compass to lift his curse (don’t ask, it’s super lame), and he’s joined on the Sparrow hunt by Henry Turner, who seeks to lift the curse that keeps his father Will (Orlando Bloom) chained to The Flying Dutchman.
Brenton Thwaites plays the part of the young hero Henry, and boy, if you thought Bloom defined onscreen callowness for a generation of automatons, wait until you get a load of this kid. He makes Bloom look like Dog Day Afternoon-era Pacino. Meanwhile, Keira Knightley, aged out of the franchise before she even turned 30, gets reduced to a wordless walk-on. Naturally, she’s replaced by a younger model (Kaya Scodelario) wearing the same form-fitting blue dress, all the better for the 53-year-old Depp to slobber over, thus creeping out an entire new generation of fans.
Every character in Dead Men Tell No Tales is ultimately hunting for Poseidon’s trident, which serves as both a McGuffin and a deus ex machina, although all that matters is the nonstop chaos and the occasional twinge of Iraq War-era nostalgia. In its ability to spin mindless fun into heavy-handed bombast, the Pirates franchise is matched only by the Transformers films, and Dead Men Tell No Tales doesn’t have the guts to be an exception.
Until Depp’s next major legal settlement, we’re probably done with this franchise for a while, saving us from such abominations as Pirates of the Caribbean: Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum, Pirates of the Caribbean: Shiver Me Timbers, Pirates of the Caribbean: Aye, Matey!, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything — A VeggieTales Movie, and Pirates of the Caribbean — Arrrrrrrrrrrrr: International Talk Like a Pirate Day, Presented by Dave Barry. New pirate law: tell no tales unless you have a tale to tell.