At this late stage, audiences for “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” should know better than to expect any surprises.
Like all of its predecessors, “Dead Men” is as shiny and polished as a hand-blown glass Christmas ornament — and just as empty.
The plot (the screenplay is credited to Jeff Nathanson) is predictably incomprehensible.
Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the grown son of series regular Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, who has very limited screen time), is determined to save his father from eternal enslavement on the sunken ship The Flying Dutchman. (Thwaites is such a bland screen presence that he achieves the near impossible by making Bloom seem dynamic.)
To break that spell Henry will have to obtain several powerful talismans: a pirate diary containing a hidden map, a compass with mystical properties and Poseidon’s trident.
He bickers with a young woman, Carina (Kaya Scodelario), who is so much smarter than the oafish and superstitious men around her that she’s repeatedly condemned as a witch. Wanna bet they’re going to move past bickering and fall in love?
The series regulars — among them Geoffrey Rush as the dour Captain Barbossa and the crew members of the Black Pearl — give their usual one-note performances. Most of these characters were set in stone four movies ago and haven’t evolved one whit.
That goes especially for star Johnny Depp, whose Captain Jack Sparrow remains an unchanging and buffoonish blend of swash and swish. For this viewer, anyway, the charm wore off several films back.
New to the cast is Javier Bardem, who plays a ghostly Spanish captain bent on revenge against Jack Sparrow. One only hopes Bardem’s paycheck was substantial enough to see him through a dozen ambitious, but low-paying, independent productions.
If you don’t blink you may catch a heavily-disguised Sir Paul McCartney as a jailbird buccaneer. Meanwhile there is much running around to no apparent purpose.
Well, that’s not exactly true. While it’s almost impossible to care about the personalities or the plot, the film exists mostly as a framework on which to hang one massive moment after another. An entire building is dragged by horses through the streets of a Caribbean port city. Jack Sparrow finds himself threatened by an out-of-control guillotine. A rowboat is besieged by half-decomposed ghost sharks. The ocean parts like the Red Sea in “The Ten Commandments.”
Many of these moments are impressively executed by co-directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg and a vast crew of computer geeks, or they would be impressive if they involved characters and situations that carried any sort of dramatic and emotional weight. As it stands, this is one big special effects reel.
Early reports on “Dead Men” suggested it was a step up from the last couple of “Pirates” pictures. That’s like saying grandma showed impressive speed in outrunning great-grandma.
The good news is that this is, reportedly, the final “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie — a welcome end to a big-budget cycle of cinematic self-abuse.