Friday, May 26, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales ★★★

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    Call me crazy, but in an industry where sequels and spin-offs are a dime a dozen, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise has long remained ahead of the field. (This is mostly due to its familiar storytelling and to a booze-hounding protagonist who's as personable as he is inebriated.) And to think that these films have preserved in the face of redundancy time and again only makes them that much more admirable. Indeed, there's a slew of shortcomings that tend to sabotage these productions: puzzling plotlines, wishy-washy acting, and hammy dialogue to name a few. And yet, there resides an indefinable charm, the kind that has moviegoers suspend their disbelief and empty their pockets. This fifth "Pirates" installment may not fit the bill as obsessive filmmaking, but it's a step above its predecessor, and—oh, I dunno—there's just something about the Caribbean that kindles ebullience.

    Here is a brief run-through of the plot: The film picks up as Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the newest hero to hit the high seas and son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), devises a plan to help his father rid himself of the terrible curse that entails a lasting commitment as captain to the Flying Dutchman. (To make a long story short, Henry must retrieve Poseidon's legendary trident if he is to break the anathema and reunite his loving family.)

    Concurrently, Captain Jack Sparrow (played by the always animated Johnny Depp) is down on his luck—the reward for his arrest has even plummeted. After an unsuccessful bank robbery attempt, the egocentric pirate captain finds himself in an often experienced position: that is, captured by the British army and set to be hanged. (Unbeknown to Jack, this is the least of his worries. For, Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), an undead pirate hunter, wants him punished for a previous dispute.) Enter Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a mysterious young woman who is also sent to the gallows albeit for a different reason—the practice of witchcraft. (You see, she's not really a witch but intelligent; her intellectual capacity provides the opportunity to rouse up a statement on gender, which I found to be quite misplaced.) Following an action-packed rescue from certain death, the trio made up of Jack, Henry, and Carina set off for Poseidon's tomb in what becomes yet another egoist tale where every character fends for themselves.

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    Let's face it, this is the type of movie where you know what you're getting going in. (One could view this flagrant repetition negatively, but I find that most audiences prefer pictures that they're accustomed to, which explains the popularity of genre films.) It's no surprise that every "Pirates" story is the same old schtick: there's exotic locations, outstanding art direction, themes with a touch of destiny, childish humor, and of course, who could forget Jack Sparrow's shenanigans, which the latter has become the central concern of the last several installments. (Not only does Depp take center stage in "Dead Men," but every scene is constructed in an effort to place Sparrow in a comical circumstance and nothing more—luckily for us, Depp is still amusing.) 

    I will say this: Despite a beat-around-the-bush plot, a recycled score, and a couple of underdeveloped supporting characters (namely the newcomers), Jeff Nathanson, a writer who's worked on a number of industry sequels, knows how to spin a good yarn. In fact, I would say that this is a fitting end to the "Pirates" universe; however, there's obviously more to come. (Make sure to stay for the post-credit scene that insinuates this unavoidable continuation.) 

    How could you not love Geoffrey Rush? The veteran actor once again steals the spotlight as Captain Hector Barbossa, and even though Depp's Sparrow may garner the most attention, I've never come across a more perfect portrayal of a pirate before. (Rush delivers an electric performance with such style and panache that I almost felt sorry for the other actors appearing on screen.) As for Depp, the Oscar-nominated journeyman continues to serve as a vital contributor to the series, regardless of age or decline in stardom. Depp's character of choice, apart from a growing likeness to Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, displays the same mannerisms and drunken demeanor, and my only complaint pertains to the actor's unwillingness to let this role pass on—as much as I have enjoyed the hijinks of Jack Sparrow over the last decade and a half, it's time for Depp to dabble in the art of drama anew. 

    Other notable mentions: Bardem, an actor who is no stranger to parts brimming with villainy, was clearly the right pick for the role of the ruthless and vindictive Salazar; Thwaites and Scodelario, two rising stars in Hollywood, certainly have their work cut out for them if they are to carry these films with the same magnetism as the original ensemble cast. 

    More so than anything else, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise is about fluid storytelling and cinematographic freedom, and first-time directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg hit the nail on the head with their execution. From bird's-eye views to sublime director interpretive shots (most notably in the gallows scene), these Norwegian filmmakers prove they have a knack for punctilious filmmaking. (More importantly, they bring a sense of continuity to a story that is undoubtedly at a crossroads.) Will I be reflecting on this movie a week from now? I doubt it. Nevertheless, there's more than enough substance here to warrant a positive review, but I have the feeling that I may not be as understanding next time around. Savvy? 

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