Review: ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ sinks Depp, ‘Pirates’

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Dead Men Tell No Tales.” Is it too much to ask for this franchise follow their lead?

Johnny Depp is back as Jack Sparrow in a meandering tale about a quest to find the trident of Poseidon in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead men Tell No Tales.”

The fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie — the first in six years, not that you were counting — suffers from the same excess and bloat that long ago sank this insufferable series.

The best thing that can be said for this installment is it’s only a little over two hours; it’s the shortest entry of the series, which hit maximum “HUH?” with the two hour and 48 minute running time of 2007’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”

Johnny Depp’s sloshed swashbuckler Capt. Jack Sparrow is back and as bumbling as ever. The visuals here are crisp and the production design is lavish, but spending two-plus hours at sea with this adventure is about as appetizing as spending two hours at sea treading water without a life preserver. Eventually, something’s gotta give.

It’s difficult to remember, but back in 2003, the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was a delight, if not something of an anomaly. It was Johnny Depp’s first real blockbuster — only one of his films, 1999’s “Sleepy Hollow,” had ever crossed the $100 million mark before, and that one just inched over the finish line — and Depp brought his off-center, indie sensibility to the role of Capt. Jack Sparrow, a washed-up pirate whom he played as a mixture of Keith Richards and the town drunk.

The villainous Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) pursues Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as he searches for the trident used by Poseidon.

Watching the film was like watching him get away with something, and it was a fascinating ride, which Depp rode all the way to an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. It was the height of his career.

In a way, it also marked the end of his career. To that point, Depp was a serious but quirky actor, and he took on interesting roles to which he brought a smart, left-field sensibility. Since then, his quirks became his brand, and he exhausted them in a series of soul-deadening roles in cookie-cutter projects to rapidly diminishing returns, from “Alice in Wonderland” (and its sequel) to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” to “Dark Shadows” and “The Lone Ranger.” It’s been a depressing slide.

The skid continues with “Dead Men Tell No Tales.” Where Sparrow was once an electrifying character, now he’s an unlikable lout you wish would walk the plank already. “Dead Men Tell No Tales” seems to follow a version of “The Simpsons’ ” Poochie rule, where anytime Jack Sparrow is not on screen, all the characters have to talk about Jack Sparrow. Enough already. It’s not a good sign that in a scene early on when Sparrow is strapped to a guillotine, you’re rooting for the executioner.

Johnny Depp is back as Jack Sparrow in a meandering tale about a quest to find the trident of Poseidon and something called the Map That No Man Can Read.

The plot is a doozy, because all of the “Pirates” films bog themselves down with incoherent plots that boggle the mind. This one has to do with a magic compass, a ship of ghost pirates (led by Javier Bardem’s Captain Armando Salazar), a quest to find the trident of Poseidon, and something called the Map That No Man Can Read. (It’s funny, because “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is like the script that no man can read.)

Sparrow is at a low; the bounty on his head is down to a measly 1 pound. In a way, it feels like a parallel with Depp, whose cache has fallen in recent years. There are some scenes of CGI trickery in the movie that resurrect a young Depp, and you want to save him from doing any more of these films. Ahoy, matey! Get out while you still can!

But there’s no saving him, and there’s no saving “Dead Men Tell No Tales.” You wind up envying the dead; this is one tale to which they don’t have to listen.

(313) 222-2284


‘Pirates of the


Dead Men Tell

No Tales’


Rated PG-13 for sequences

of adventure violence, and

some suggestive content

Running time:

129 minutes