Boring. That’s how I’d describe the latest Pirates of the Caribbean enterprise, subtitled Dead Men Tell No Tales. Apparently, live men tell leaden tales like this, overstuffed with subplots and uninteresting characters. Still, this seems to be what audiences want to see; four previous entries in the series have been enormously popular.

As the movie opens we meet Javier Bardem, leader of a band of bloodthirsty ghost pirates who seek revenge on those seafarers who still live. Meanwhile, a young lad (Brenton Thwaites) and a spirited young woman of science (Kaya Scodelario) risk their lives to search for the all-powerful trident of Poseidon. Caught in the midst of these elaborate schemes is the shipless and shiftless Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp), whose most immediate goal is survival.

There is a lot more to the story, as there always is in these puffed up movies. You’ll encounter almost every nautical myth imaginable in Jeff Nathanson’s screenplay, based on a story he cooked up with series veteran Terry Rossio. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer even took a page from the Marvel playbook by hiring unlikely directors to bring his latest money-burning epic to life: the Norwegian partners who did such a good job with Kon-Tiki (2012), Joachin Rønning and Epsen Sandberg.

It would be unfair to blame them for the faults of the series as a whole. The stunt work and visual effects are outstanding, as always. Casting is another matter. The two young leads have no charisma, let alone chemistry. (Remember how much fun it was to see Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley in the first series entry back in 2003, playing swashbucklers for the first time?) On the other hand, if the new directors had any say in shortening the length of this Pirates entry to a mere two hours and 9 minutes, bravo!

The movie ends with an inscrutable, Marvel-like teaser indicating that another film may be in the offing. This is not what I consider good news. I’d rather walk the plank than spend another two hours with Jack Sparrow and company.


Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024