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Family Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (PG-13)

Kernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernal (1 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG-13       Length: 129 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 12+. There is a lot of violence in this latest ‘Pirates’ film: a crew of pirate ghosts slaughters nearly everyone they come in contact with, so there are a lot of swordfights, people who are stabbed or severed, ships full of corpses and dead bodies, and a scene where blood drips from overhead onto one of our protagonists. Ships attack each other with canons; there are lots of explosions; and characters are burned. A female character is suspected of being a witch and is shown about to be hanged, another character spends time in a guillotine, there is an actual creepy witch who burns rats, a variety of sexually themed humor and jokes (including a noticeable pattern of jokes about prostitutes), some heaving cleavage and a woman who cheats on her husband with Jack, and a subplot about the importance of fathers that fundamentally ignores mothers.

‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ is an egregious example of bloated franchise filmmaking, an exercise stuffed with idiocy and sorely lacking in fun. It is a torturous mess, too violent for children and too stupid for adults.

By Roxana Hadadi

PiratesOfTheCaribbean DeadMenTellNoTales“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is not a good movie. It is not well-plotted, well-acted, or well-intentioned. It is a movie meant to cash in on the ever-dwindling appeal of Johnny Depp as an actor and Captain Jack Sparrow as a character, and it is an exercise in cynical Hollywood filmmaking that assumes the worst and simplest of paying movie audiences. It is embarrassing to watch. It is bad.

“Dead Men Tell No Tales” almost feels like an attempt at a franchise reboot, with young actors Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario meant to stand in for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, respectively, and a new backstory assigned to Jack Sparrow that makes him more heroic and sympathetic than the drunk, selfish, nonsensical caricature we have come to expect from the five preceding films. It doesn’t work.

The cast has practically no chemistry, the character motivations don’t make sense, and the film is so heavy on exposition that you’ll lose track of what is even supposed to be happening. You could see this movie a dozen times and still have no idea what you just watched. It is 129 minutes of overwhelmingly loud, shockingly unsatisfying drivel.

“Dead Men Tell No Tales” focuses, once again, on Jack Sparrow (Depp, of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”), whose past indiscretions are catching up with him, mainly in the form of young Henry Turner (Thwaites, of “Gods of Egypt”), the son of old Sparrow acquaintances Will Turner (Bloom, of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley, of “Everest”). Henry is training to be a naval officer and wants to find a way to reverse the curse that has trapped his father under the sea when his ship is attacked by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem, of “Skyfall”). The ghost ship captain, nicknamed “the Butcher of the Sea,” has an old score to settle with Sparrow, and he tasks Turner with finding Jack and delivering him to the Butcher—or he’ll kill him.

At the same time, a down-on-his-luck Jack, wasting time in St. Martin, crosses paths with the orphan Carina Smyth (Scodelario, of “The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials”), who is about to be hanged for being a witch. She is truly an astronomer, searching the skies and the seas for a mythical object called the Trident of Poseidon, but the ruling Brits, led by the sour-faced Scarfield (David Wenham, “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole”), refuse to accept that she is a scientist, not a demon. And while Carina doesn’t believe in anything supernatural, scoffing at the idea of ghosts, she is consumed with finding the Trident, a task she believes was left to her by her father before he died.

Eventually, of course, Jack, Henry, and Carina all team up, and a barrage of objects enter into their story orbit: a compass that can show your heart’s true desire, the aforementioned Trident, a journal of Carina’s, a necklace of Henry’s, Jack’s beloved Black Pearl ship in a bottle, blah blah blah. And as many unnecessary trinkets as there are (the skeptic in me guesses there are so many so that Disney can sell replicas as toys), there are even more tangential characters, like Jack’s old crew, his old foe Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, of “Gods of Egypt”), a witch who works for the British Navy (Golshifteh Farahani, of “Exodus: Gods and Kings”), plus the bad guys of Salazar and Scarfield.

Ultimately, none of this is very fun: Sparrow’s boozing and womanizing feels stale; Bardem is hamming it up, but has little character to make his own; and the film is so loud and the action so choppily edited that you’ll feel assaulted rather than engaged. Some of the imagery, like an island made of glittering stones and a sequence under the sea, are striking, but they’re muted by the 3D conversion of the film, which makes everything so dark that it’s almost indistinguishable. Plus, the story is overstuffed with plot twists to cover up the plot holes, and these are all distractions from the main point of “Dead Men Tell No Tales”—that men are more important than women.

Honestly, what else could be taken from the film? It is Henry who persuades Carina to open up her mind, and then (not a spoiler, because this is obvious) kisses her first. It is Henry and Carina’s father figures who are described in heroic, gushing terms, despite the fact that their mothers gave up just as much to shape them—it is offensive that the gutsy, courageous Elizabeth Swann is given such short shrift here. Jack Sparrow keeps delivering jokes that sexualize and undermine women, no matter their age or profession or looks. Sure, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is a mess of a movie. But that we are accepting this kind of overly violent, subtly misogynistic fare as a family-friendly offering from Disney is a problem, too—and one we can solve by ignoring the movie altogether.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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