The one consistently great thing about the Pirate of the Caribbean films is its swashbuckling, seafaring, grandiose musical score. It’s not that this franchise’s latest, Dead Men Tell No Tales, is without thrilling action sequences, but hearing the return of the “One Day” theme from the otherwise overbearingly disappointing At World’s End in its opening scene was one of the biggest thrills of its runtime.
I agree with the general consensus that the first one, The Curse of the Black Pearl, is great and the sequels are increasingly disappointing. With that, the fundamental problem with Dead Men is that it follows the previous sequels.
Perhaps the series could have been consistently strong had it been a series of one-off adventures like Indiana Jones, starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow somehow improving the lives of people through his buffoonery amid some seafaring crises, as he did with Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann in Black Pearl. Alas, the first sequel, Dead Man’s Chest, which I have a slight nostalgia for due to the buzz it got that summer, went the Star Wars route by turning the series into an overarching story, cursing each sequel to the fate of having to tie back to a storyline that jumped its shark.
So, my disdain for the sequels Dead Men follows combined with its poor critical consensus prepared me to be disappointed.
That’s not to say I wasn’t entertained. The effects are cool, especially regarding the cursed undead pirates who are quite unlike Black Pearl‘s cursed undead pirates, and there are parts that had me laughing out loud (though a couple of gross-out gags I could have done without). I was even somewhat invested in the characters. Most admirably, the story attempts to rectify one of the series’s shark-jumpings, though the execution of this rectification feels as anticlimactic as the rest of Dead Men is messy and tired.
At the very least, this rectification brings the series a sense of finality. …That is until the post-credits scene sets up another chapter by hinting at a returning plot point that I, at least, am not asking for; not only that, it contradicts everything this film was building up to. Now that I think about it, Dead Men‘s zombie sharks are metaphorical of the state of this franchise.
Of course, those who like the direction the sequels took should be fine with this film. For those who don’t, if only there’d be a sequel that would pretend the previous sequels never happened, not by retconning but by giving us a new storyline that doesn’t mention previous ones.