Of Dead Men, Tridents, and Horologists7 min read

Promotional Image — Copyright Disney, 2017
Last night, my wife and I decided to go to the cinema to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Now, before I continue, let me preface this article with the following.

I’m a huge fan of the historical phenomenon of pirates in general, anything remotely piratesque immediately piques my interest. The time period, the social constructs, the music, the seafaring ships, battles on the high seas…

I could go on. 

Loveable rogue, Jack Sparrow

The first film introduced us to the down and out Jack Sparrow and his rum-tumbling antics as he attempts to ‘pick up a crew in Tortuga, raid, pillage, plunder, and otherwise pilfer his weasley black guts out’.

It had everything a 2003 audience was looking for. An action-adventure film with the right combination of history, mystery, and intrigue right to the end.

The subsequent sequels in the original trilogy each left us with a taste of its progenitor, the humour and action rolling thick at every turn.

The fourth film, On Stranger Tides was a derivation from the winning formula the previous three had successfully instilled. While a decent enough extension which matches its predecessors in tone, this film was unfortunately very focused on the final goal and not on the journey.

On Stranger Tides might have held the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ moniker, but it felt far less epic than those before it. This could be partially attributed to the successful pay-off and wrap of the original trilogy. Even though the last scene in At World’s End proffered that we’d see the infamous Jack Sparrow hunting for the Fountain of Youth, I feel it didn’t warrant an entire film being spawned forth.

That said, On Stranger Tides did have some fantastic cameos from Ian McShane and Penélope Cruz which certainly propelled the film along, but couldn’t save it feeling weaker than the others at the time.

Before going to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, my wife and I decided to watch through the first four films in a single week so we could refresh ourselves of the events.

Now having seen, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales I’m a little bewildered by the choices made by the producer and director alike.

SPOILER ALERT: You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be monsters.

To emulate the earliest of ‘Pirates’ films, Dead Men Tell No Tales attempts to refocus on the journey. We open to the now seven-year-old boy Henry Turner finding his estranged father, the cursed captain of the Flying Dutchman. Tying rocks to his ankle and haphazardly sending himself ‘to the depths’, landing squarely on the main deck of the aforementioned vessel.

Henry Turner — Son of Will Turner

Through affinity for a father he barely knows save the stories his mother has told him, his son is adamant to break the curse that binds Will Turner to the ship and his fate of the sea.

He hears of the fabled ‘Trident of Poseidon’, the only known object which can lift his fathers curse, and save the day.

Carina Smyth — Astronomer, Horologist

Years later when he meets a young woman, Carina Smyth, who recounts the mystery of the ‘map no man can read’ as foretold by the diary of the famous astronomer Galileo Galilei, he sets off to find the compass of Jack Sparrow that will lead him to said trident and to break the fate of his father.

Sounds like a compelling setup, certainly one that warrants a journey of epic proportions.

Jack of course has his own troubles, he’s penniless, without a functional ship, and captain of a crew that has little faith left. Down-and-out he hocks his last remaining possession of worth, his compass, for a bottle of rum, setting in motion a series of events which releases an evil force of ghostly spaniards, hell bent on seeking revenge on him for trapping them in the first place.

Again, sounds quite good, either of them would make a great story… and here in lies the rub.

Apart, each story could have lived up to the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ name, together they feel like a mash-up which serves to undermine each other, and leaves the audience bewildered by its incredibly sudden ending.

It’s almost like they had two scripts and one budget and the producer gave the screenwriter a pair of blunt scissors along with half a roll of sticky tape and said ‘make it work’.

Did it work? Sort of.

Some of our favourite principle characters are back in true form. Jack Sparrow, Joshamee Gibbs, and Hector Barbossa all reprise their usual antics as we expect, which is fantastic. Here we are again, on deck with the crew and adventure on the high-seas. But because of the outward premise of two films in one, we don’t get the time for the mystery to build that the previous movies afford.

Speaking of characters… once you’ve finished watching the film you’ll ask yourself a few important questions.

Where Did the Witch Go?

During the events of the film, the British commanders and Barbossa himself is advised by a striking female character, bald with red lines of arcane symbols painted/drawn/tattooed on her face who provides an enormous amount of exposition toward the plot lines of the film.

Witchcraft and Wizardr… wait, thats a different film.

Yet this sea witch went… um… well I can’t actually tell you, because we aren’t treated to a storyline tidbit or any screen time to find out where she ended up in the film.

Perhaps this is due to her inclusion in the film as a carryover from the Pirates of the Caribbean: Tides of War. No it’s not another film we’ve forgotten or yet to see, this is a tie-in video game that was released in May 2017 that apparently explains some of the pre-history to Dead Men Tell No Tales.

What Happened to Barbossa?

Principle, iconic cast member throughout the entire franchise, lost at sea in a thirty second sequence that leaves you hanging (and premise for yet another film methinks!) wondering what fate became of the now pirate king and redeemed father of Carina.

Barbossa dies, again… he’ll be back…

This again I feel was due to the pushing together of too many story elements. For such a constituent part of the series this should have warranted bigger fanfare.

What of the Dutchman and its crew?

So yes, we see Orlando Bloom as Will Turner striding across the grassy field toward his son, now unfettered by his wanton curse and back to his (by ten second cameo only) wife Elizabeth. But what of the ship? What of the fated crew? What of his father William ‘Bootstrap Bill’ Turner? Do they go off on their own jolly adventures, perhaps they all turn in and settle for life away from the sea?

Even a little bit of lip-service from Will would have sown this up.

such a constituent part of the series this should have warranted bigger fanfare.

Was it worth it?

All in all, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is still a somewhat enjoyable film. With few saving graces.

The performance of Javier Bardem as Armando Salazar certainly is memorable. With his heavy Spanish-English accent, and the delightful way he calls to “Jack a-Sparroo” adding much to a character that is little more than a rehash as captain of yet another crew-of-the-damned we’ve already seen.

Salazar and his crew of expensive special effects budgeteers.

Sadly the crew of the Silent Mary (Salazar’s ship), and even the ship itself, felt more like the need for the director to spend their special effects budget than something monstrous to be feared.

I was half expecting on the mention of the dead coming after Sparrow for him to quip “oh?… again?… really?” as it’s a warn trope in the film series.

A Conclusion

For all the points I’ve made above, if you’re a fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise of films then I’d still recommend you see it, if only to round out the set.

So do I Jack, so do I…

If however you’re tagging along to the film with a passing promise of adventure, intrigue, excitement, and mayhem, then maybe wait until it’s out on Blu-ray or your favourite streaming service on a rainy day when you haven’t got anything better to do.

Also published on Medium.

Leave a Reply