The subtitle of the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie is “Dead Men Tell No Tales.” The moral of the movie, alas, is that the same cannot be said of dead franchises.
The first Pirates film was an unexpected success: wildly overlong and over-plotted yet kept afloat by a wicked, bravura, and utterly original performance by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, a swishily swaggering mélange of rum, eyeliner, and impudence. As is customary, the sequel was a pale imitation, and the third installment of the presumed trilogy went a bit trippy and meta.
Which would all have been well and good enough. But money makes people do silly things. The half-hearted and wildly unnecessary fourth movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was one such thing. It will surprise no one to learn that the latest installment in the franchise is another. At least On Stranger Tides had the decency to be a standalone movie; with Dead Men Tell No Tales, there is talk of that most pernicious of cinematic gambits, the “soft reboot.”
Captain Jack returns, of course, although the character’s originality has gradually evolved into very nearly its opposite, a species of tired and vaguely embarrassing drag act. Given that his co-stars Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom abandoned the franchise after the initial trilogy, Jack is supplied with a new pair of pretty, mutually attracted protagonists. Brenton Thwaites plays Henry Turner, a young adventurer who is the son of Bloom’s and Knightley’s characters. (No, the franchise hasn’t actually been around that long. Yes, it feels as though it’s been around even longer.) And Kaya Scodelario portrays Carina Smyth, an astrologer and horologist—sadly, there are quite a few jokes playing on that first syllable; more sadly still, they’re above average for the film—who is eventually revealed to be the daughter of ... well, I’d best leave that to “eventually.”