The writing was never a high point of the series, but Dead Men Tell No Tales still offers up the silliest of McGuffins to date. The treasure on this quest is the Trident of Poseidon, an artifact that can grant one the power to control the seas. Oh, and as a bonus, it can apparently cure every curse of the sea. Yep, all of them. It’s the only way to explain how this trident can save Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) from the curse of the Dutchman at such a long distance.
Remember Will Turner and his unfortunate fate from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End from ten years ago? You better dust off that old blockbuster to familiarize yourself with the characters. Otherwise you won’t have a clue what significance Will Turner or his wife Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) hold to the plot as bookended segments.
Trying to save Will is his son Henry (Brenton Thwaites), now grown enough to venture across the seas and rescue his dear old dad from being a cursed mutant pirate. Henry’s entire character is that of being a believer of the supernatural, having served on ships where ghosts have slaughtered the entire crew. Nobody believes him, of course, and even less so the lovely Carina (Kaya Scodelario) who is all about science. Infatuated with astronomy, she is such a nerd for the stars she will stop a chase to peer through a telescope. Henry and Carina are supposed to be our new Will and Elizabeth, bound by the Pirates template script to be paired up as romantic leads. They hardly have a fraction of what little charisma that Bloom and Knightley once had, never really clashing all that frequently with their debate of superstition versus science.
This couple is so boring and useless that the movie thankfully makes more time for better actors. Johnny Depp is becoming a little long in the gold tooth to be playing the drunken Captain Jack Sparrow, almost appearing as a parody of himself at times, but he has a few drops of charm left in his dusty old rags. He still has the knack for slapstick sequences where he narrowly avoids death with a few stumbles and plenty of luck, even when facing the guillotine for his crimes. Geoffrey Rush is always a likably sinister force as the conflicted Captain Hector Barbossa, now a more decadent pirate as the ship captain of the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Rush is able to play up the role with such gleeful camp and spirit that he should become the template for all movie pirates to follow.
The villain is not too shabby either as Javier Bardem brings a powerful and fun performance to the cursed Captain Armando Salazar. Bound by a family hatred of pirates, he has sworn revenge on Jack (who doesn’t?) as the only captain that has ever outsmarted him and sent him to his undead fate. Bardem is a pleasure to watch for both the visual effects of his ghostly appearance and the cackling nature of his perfect villain performance. He commands a ship of his undead crew that seem to have it worse than he does, missing huge chunks of their bodies to the point where they are practically floating torsos. Even Salazar’s ship is undead in that it can shoot upward and open up its bow like an insect ready to feast on enemy vessels.
As much as I don’t want to question this logic, the whole undead angle does make the gears of scrutiny turn for being so repetitive. Sparrow and Barbossa have not only been fighting off cursed pirates for ages, but are aware of what it feels like to be undead as well. So why would they continue to fight in sword battles with these ghosts when it’s firmly established in multiple scenes that swords would go right through them? Blame the rum, I suppose.