Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales arrives in theaters this weekend. The series has been sailing steady since 2003. It revived the pirate genre of films; a genre that’d been sunk for eight years, ever since the box-office bomb in 1995 that was Cutthroat Island. Not even the Muppets could revive the genre the next year with Muppet Treasure Island. But Pirates of the Caribbean did it and all it took was adding the supernatural.
So, before you cast off with the fifth installment of the series, let’s take a look back at how we got here… ghost pirates. Star-crossed lovers. Captain Jack Sparrow. Davy Jones. Giant Squid. Davy Jones’ Locker. Mermaids. Fountain of Youth. Done.
Now let’s examine the good, the bad and the ugly.
It’s nigh impossible to find fault with the first film. It’s well-written, well-acted and well-shot. One of the first shots of Captain Jack Sparrow stepping from the mast of his slowly sinking ship to the docks of Port Royal is clearly etched into our collective memories. The kinds of encounters that follow show us that this pirate is not to be trusted, but he’s so witty that we can’t help but love this scoundrel.
The star-crossed Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann are a great will-they/won’t-they pairing as Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have actual chemistry. It only becomes a problem when Elizabeth tries her charm on other male characters like Commodore Norrington or Captain Jack Sparrow. It’s kind of painful to watch. It also becomes tedious when her and Will are on the outs for most of the third film and Captain Jack isn’t around to lighten the mood.
On the plus side, all this romantic confusion leads to one of the most epic three-way sword fights in the second film. Will, Jack and Norrington fight across the roof of an old Spanish mission church and later atop and inside a gigantic wooden spinning water wheel. This franchise has many well-choreographed one-on-one sword fights, but this one certainly takes the cake.
I know many critics deride the second film, but I enjoy it. They say that it should be shortened and combined with the third film. While this criticism is valid, it might have meant cutting some of my favorite scenes: those with the Kraken. Now, sea monsters and giant squids have been around in fish stories forever, but we’ve never had them committed to screen like this before. We not only get to see giant tentacles sink a ship once, but twice. I’ve often gone back and re-watched these scenes. The organ music, as a giant tentacle smashes the first ship in half, is beautifully timed. The whole sequence is breathtaking to watch.
Sinking ships are a staple in this series. In almost every film we get to see pirate ships blasting each other with cannons. The kind of thing you expect from a pirate movie, but something we probably haven’t seen since black-and-white films. Only a franchise with this kind of budget could show this amazing nautical action. All the other films just show sword fighting on deck… although we get plenty of that too, and it’s always cool.
Although, in the third movie, it seems like there’s little at stake. By the final battle, we know what will happen and that our favorite characters — even supporting characters — will survive, so we’re just going through the motions. I was also disappointed that there’s only two ships battling. Why set up such large opposing fleets if you’re only going to have two ships duke it out?
While we don’t see a ship destroyed by another ship in the fourth film, we do see one torn apart by something that was only previously mentioned: mermaids. I’m going to be honest, the first scene with these sirens of the sea makes that movie for me. It’s difficult to fathom that the scene almost wasn’t filmed because of budgetary reasons. But that atmosphere, the singing, how they slowly appear and what transpires… worth every penny. It’s hard to believe, after seeing it, that they hadn’t introduced mermaids into the movies before that moment.
Most of the rest of the fourth film could have used some work. I think that it’s because they strayed too far from the source material. I foolishly read “On Stranger Tides” before the film came out, not realizing how loosely they’d borrow from the book. Pity. There was a good story for the taking. Still, I was happy to see so many of my favorite supporting characters return to the series and liked some of the new ones they introduced.
I look forward to seeing many more of my favorite supporting characters return for the fifth film. I also look forward to the new ones they introduce, as well. I plan to see the new movie as soon as I can on the big screen. I guess that once again I “..best start believing in ghost stories.”