Even skeptics of the franchise must admit, I think, that the Pirates of the Caribbean films have generally aimed higher and been smarter than might have been expected.
The 2003 original, subtitled The Curse of the Black Pearl, was an unexpected critical and popular hit that holds up remarkably well — improbably so for a film in an unfashionable period-swashbuckling genre with the same theme-park branding roots as The Haunted Mansion, The Country Bears and Tomorrowland.
I am still full of admiration for the first sequel, Dead Man’s Chest, with its inspired set pieces and astonishing creature design. At the time I thought it an improvement on the original, but like many middle movies it signed a lot of checks that came due in the third chapter, At World’s End, which turned out to be such an overwrought letdown that disappointment rippled backward to Dead Man’s Chest, making it retroactively unsatisfying.
In retrospect, I think only the 2003 original was an unqualified success, but each subsequent installment, even the outlier On Stranger Tides, has had promising elements and good ideas that suggest the franchise could possibly catch fire again. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.
The best idea in Dead Men Tell No Tales, from Kon-Tiki directors Joaquin Rønning and Espen Sandberg, is that it was a terrible idea for At World’s End to end as it did, with Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner cursed to captain the undersea phantom ship The Flying Dutchman.
This fate reunited Will with his long-lost father, Bootstrap Bill Turner, but also separated him, except for one day every 10 years, from his love, Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann — along with the young son he gave her on the last night before his departure. (Typing that sentence 10 years later, I’m still in disbelief that it was allowed to happen.)
Unsurprisingly, Will and Elizabeth’s son, Henry (The Giver’s Brenton Thwaites), likes this arrangement no more than did viewers who cared about the characters, and he has dedicated his young life to trying to free his father from the curse of the Dutchman.
Henry has a plan for this: one involving the man with whom his parents’ lives were dramatically entangled for a time, Jack Sparrow. Actually, what he really needs is Jack’s magic compass, which points the way to one’s heart’s desire. Jack himself is useless, both to Henry and to this movie.
Alas for Captain Jack.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.