Captain Jack Sparrow would often tell his cohorts to “wait for the opportune moment.” Well, perhaps he should have taken his own advice because I think the opportune moment for Captain Jack to sail off into the sunset leaving behind nothing but fond memories of himself has passed. Don’t get me wrong, I never expected one really good movie based off of an amusement park ride to be made, but clearly expecting five really good movies to be made based off that ride was expecting one (more likely at least two) too many. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a fun, swashbuckling, ridiculous romp, just as you’d expect, but it does have a rather large, glaring flaw: this series no longer seems to know what do with its star, namely Captain Jack himself.
Captain Jack Sparrow has always been known for being slightly daft. He doesn’t do things the way everyone else does, which just makes him look crazy. Plus, he’s clearly never gotten his sea legs, or his land legs, because no matter where he is, he’s perpetually ready to fall over. It’s all part of his unique charm. Unfortunately, in Dead Men Tell No Tales, one key element of his characters seems to have been left out: that, secretly, he really is one of the best pirates you’ve ever heard of. Usually, Captain Jack has a scheme or several going, which leaves him one swaying step ahead of everyone else. In this film, he has no scheme, and for that matter, he seems to have no purpose whatsoever. This movie commits the cardinal sin of giving its central character absolutely no reason to be there. Oh, he provides some funny quips and is involved in some exciting action sequences, but he’s really just along for the ride in his own movie. There’s none of the sly, crafty, cunning that hides beneath the veneer of an incompetent dork; there’s just, well, a whiny, scared, perpetually lost incompetent dork. This fact is merely highlighted by the fact that a flashback shows the Captain Jack we’ve all come to know, that rogue who’s just so crazy he might be brilliant. That schemer who’s one step or two ahead of his enemies. That roguish swashbuckler who always has an idea of how to get out of a tight scrape. Sadly, the current Captain Jack is a mere shadow of his former self. In truth, if that had been part of the story – seeing how far Captain Jack had fallen and finding a chance to reclaim his former self through this adventure – that would have made a rather compelling story. But he doesn’t; he’s the same sad sack at the end as he was in the beginning, and he does nothing to help resolve anything that takes place.
To its great credit, however, Dead Men Tell No Tales remains a fun romp despite the fact it has no idea what to do with its main character. The story this time out is straight forward and quickly paced, unlike the meandering, double-crossed laded sequels of the original trilogy. Perhaps it’s because of this quicker pace, but this film also feels livelier than the going-through-the-motions On Stranger Tides. Plus there are some fun ties back to the original series, which makes this film a bit more enjoyable for long-time fans. Even the bad guys, despite feeling a bit derivative, are fun to watch and bring a sense of menace to what is otherwise a much more light-hearted, humor-filled adventure than previous Pirates outings. Then there are the zombie ghost sharks. I mean, come on, how can you not have fun with zombie ghost sharks? In truth, aside from the obligatory romantic subplot, Captain Jack is pretty much the weakest part of his own movie.
The quest this time around is for Poseidon’s trident. The trident, you see, is an object that can break all the curses of the sea, which is of particular interest to young Henry Turner for reasons fans of the trilogy will be familiar with. He’s aided in his quest by a scientifically inclined young woman (which of course means everyone thinks she’s a witch), who struggles to find a way to bridge her firm belief in science with the mystical events she finds herself caught up in. Captain Jack is just along for the ride because, well, he’s supposed to be, I guess. Now it may be of interest to you to know that there actually is such an object, an object that can break curses. You see, we’ve all been cursed with the curse of sin, and there’s just one thing in this whole world that can break that curse: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus Christ took our curse when he hung on that cross, he became the curse for us (Galatians 3:13). It’s through him and what he did on the cross that curse of sin is broken, and through which we can find a life unburdened, free, and eternal. Really, Jesus’s death and resurrection are far more powerful than any mystical object at the bottom of the sea, and more importantly, are real. You may not have even realized you were cursed, but now that you know, why wouldn’t you seek out that which can break that curse forever?
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a fun and often funny adventure on the high seas, but it’s also just the latest in a long series of reminders that whatever it was that made the first Pirates movie so magical has been impossible to recreate or duplicate. The most obvious testament to that here is the fact that Johnny Depp seems to be doing an impression of his own character because even he’s forgotten how he once made Captain Jack’s unique charm seem so effortless. Once your films are filled with caricatures of beloved characters instead of the actual characters themselves, clearly the opportune time to quit while you were ahead has sailed. Disney shouldn’t wait for Captain Jack to get marooned at the box office, which likely won’t happen this time around, but the series has been on a decline for some time now. Rather, know when to say enough is enough and let Captain Jack retire with whatever passes for dignity for him.
Score: 4 of 7 – Poor Captain Jack, lost and useless in his own movie. Dead Men Tell No Tales has all the hallmarks of a Pirates adventure: darkly mystical bad guys who are kind of gross to look at, bawdy humor, intense action, and a few gross-out gags. All things to keep in mind before introducing young, new fans to the series.