"Pirates" provides some fun and overwhelms with overdone, bloated special efffects


“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” - Javier Bardem has recently played a pair of truly iconic villains. As Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men” (2007), this truly unrelenting boogieman sometimes uses a silent captive bolt pistol to murder his prey at close range throughout west Texas. Bardem also plays Silva in “Skyfall” (2012), and this former MI6 operative returns to haunt and kill his former boss, M (Judy Dench), while James Bond (Daniel Craig) attempts thwart this memorable baddie’s very personal attack.

In each film, Bardem’s character’s personal appearance adds an intriguing dimension to his performances. Chigurh sports an odd early-Beatles, bowl haircut, and Silva dons platinum blonde locks but also reveals a hideous misshapen face, when he famously pulls out a prosthetic from inside his mouth.

Well, in the fifth “Pirates” film, he plays Captain Salazar, a dead pirate whose rotting corpse still walks the Earth. (Actually, Salazar can only exist on the ocean, but I digress.) As this murderous menace, Salazar’s light olive and grayish skins cracks under the hot sun, and his long black hair moves in slow-motion, as if he is swimming underwater. Bardem’s makeup, however, appears synthetic and fake, like 50 heaping grams of artificial sweetener in a can of store-brand diet cola. His appearance is just one small piece of a bloated special effects budget, in which directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg attempt to overwhelm the audience under a constant barrage of humongous sequences that seem to only exist in order to top one another during a very long two hours and nine minutes.

“Pirates of a Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” does, however, feel like a “Pirates” movie and tries extremely hard to entertain a clamoring public, hoping for a fun popcorn film. On one level, Ronning and Sandberg’s picture does accomplish this feat. If one buys into this Caribbean universe, the film will thrill. For instance, a ghost ship routinely opens up like a skeleton and smashes real ones into smithereens, and Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) glibly dances on various cannons to avoid a giant pirate entity in a fun scene.

On the other hand, writer Jeff Nathanson’s jams two new characters (and a pair of key artifacts) into the story but without allotting nearly enough time for these new elements to breathe on screen. Instead, the two new individuals are forced to hurry to the next explosive sequence.

Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a lovely, 20-something astronomer revels in her appreciation and extensive knowledge in science, but various vagrants and upstanding gentlemen alike constantly call her a witch throughout the picture. Apparently, at the time, an educated woman can only possess brains through the use of magic. The problem is Nathanson never really shows off Smyth’s gifts. Sure, she leads Sparrow’s ship (an important one from a previous film) to something called the Trident of Poseidon, but her work is only presented as an afterthought as the camera occasionally shows her referencing a book and calling out a random thought.

Smyth’s character is just wasted as attractive window dressing and exists without too much to do except become the obvious love interest for a second character, a young upstart Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites). Turner seeks the trident to hopefully lift a terrible curse begat on his father and catches up with Sparrow, because of his run-in with Salazar, who wishes to take out his frustration on Depp’s famous character.

The picture works best whenever Bardem and Geoffrey Rush, who returns as Captain Barbosa, appear, as they spew venom and bark orders, respectively, with the glee of teenagers in their first high school production. They are having fun, and it does translate. They just need to fight through oceans of special effects and yell over a blown out soundtrack designed to engulf an audience, so we wouldn’t notice the film’s tired and loose narrative. Well, I did, but then again, I was not eating popcorn.

(2/4 stars)

Image credits: Walt Disney Studios