Film review: Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Men Tell No Tales

by James Robins / 10 June, 2017

Sidelined: Johnny Depp, mascara-laden as Jack Sparrow.

Johnny Depp is the Hollywood equivalent of an off-season panto performer.

It’s hard to remember a time when Johnny Depp did not appear on our screens wigged and costumed and behaving eccentrically. We’d have to venture back to 2009 and Public Enemies to see Depp’s features in sharp relief.

Even the more sincere of his recent roles, in Transcendence and Black Mass, required him to be, respectively, smothered in a digital distortion or caked in makeup. Depp has become the Hollywood equivalent of an off-season panto performer, forever costumed to the hilt, his considerable skills as an actor obscured.

So it seems inevitable that Depp returns to our screens as Captain Jack Sparrow, the drunken and shambolic pirate who wears mascara for no apparent reason. When the first Pirates of the Caribbean film came out in 2003 (which, we should never forget, is based on a Disney theme park ride), Depp’s routine was mildly entertaining. Four films later, the Sparrow act, like the rest of his work, has become an irritating shtick.

If reports from the set of Dead Men Tell No Tales are to be believed, Depp has some difficulty in even showing up to work each day, which may account for why he’s been somewhat sidelined in the action this time around.

Rather, the movie rests on some old-franchise seafarers and new first mates. Returning are Geoffrey Rush and Orlando Bloom; newly introduced are Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner, a preening golden boy with a louche ponytail, and Kaya Scodelario as Carina Smyth, whose last major work was the cult TV show Skins. She was possibly cast for her resemblance to Keira Knightley, but she may just be the best thing about the movie, carrying herself with purpose and regularly humiliating her crewmates with a certain look that can only be described as part adorable pout, part pointed glare.

The story remains as needlessly complicated as it has been for the past 15 years. There is a curse, an evil captain (Salazar, played by Javier Bardem) and some mythical object that will resolve everything. It’s all intensely ridiculous and very middling, save for some exciting moments of cannon-and-musket naval combat. Perhaps Disney would do well to remember the thrust of Robert Louis Stevenson’s beloved Treasure Island: pirates go looking for buried gold and become pointlessly consumed by their own greed.



This article was first published in the June 3, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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