The novelization of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth entry in Disney’s popular series, is out now in stores, telling the entire story of the much anticipated movie, due out May 26th, 2017. I was surprised to see the book already out, seeing as how it spoils the movie, but decided to go ahead and pick it up to see what’s coming and to tell you guys about it.
Before we get into any details, I’m going to split this review into three parts – the non-spoilers, the mild spoilers, and the heavy spoilers. However, if you prefer to go in entirely blind, you may want to skip this. I won’t say anything in the non-spoilers that isn’t revealed on the dust jacket of the book, or the description of the movie.
As already revealed, the story of Dead Men Tell No Tales involves the son of William Turner, Henry Turner (played by Brenton Thwaites from Maleficent), teaming up with a mysterious woman named Carina (Kaya Scodelario from Maze Runner) and Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow to find the Trident of Poseidon, which will release Henry’s father from the curse he was left in last we saw him. The Trident could also be the key to Jack Sparrow saving himself from the ghostly Captain Salazar (played by Javier Bardem), who is seeking revenge on Sparrow, and will kill every pirate until he does so.
Now, I’m a huge fan of the original Pirates, but I think the series itself suffers from the same dilemma that plagued The Matrix movies – that is, they weren’t really planning for sequels when the originals hit it big. So when the original movie did as well as it did, they had to come up with stories to turn it into a trilogy, and unfortunately, with mixed effect. Despite some fantastic imagery and sequences, I felt like every Pirates movie since the first has had an overly convoluted storyline and, unfortunately, has bordered on ridiculousness. The decision to end the original trilogy on a bittersweet note, with Will Turner cursed, left a sour taste in my mouth, and the attempt to try telling incorporating Jack into a storyline with different characters, unrelated to the trilogy’s Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, was kind of boring, honestly.
So returning, albeit loosely, to a story involving the original cast via the son of William Turner and Elizabeth Swann was an exciting prospect for me. Unfortunately, the story fails under a bit of “wash, rinse, repeat.” While the original Pirates told a tale of Jack and William pursuing Captain Barbossa, who has taken Elizabeth hostage, the new film involves them being pursued by Salazar, but really brings nothing new to the series. Henry’s pursuit of freeing his father of the curse mirrors William’s attempts to free Bootstrap Bill. We have a number of the same beats, involving characters in disguise and last minute rescues from execution, or freeing from jail cells. It’s not bad…it’s all just a little bit….same-y.
Ultimately, despite not being from loyalty, Carina’s story and interaction with Henry isn’t terribly different from the story told between Elizabeth and Henry. Jack does much the same thing as he does in every film, though it does appear (at least in the novelization) to have pulled back a little bit from him being the primary focus (as he was in On Stranger Tides), and more along the lines of how his character was portrayed in the original.
The film will rest on the charisma of the cast, which obviously isn’t something I could get from the novelization. The cast of the previous movie, On Stranger Tides, couldn’t quite re-capture what was special between Bloom, Knightley, and Depp, but if the new cast can, then, despite being derivative of the same story that’s been told before, at least Dead Men Tell No Tales will be enjoyable.
If the novelization is any indication, the true standout of this film (and, quite frankly, he’s a standout in the series period) is Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa. Now a pirate lord with command of a fleet of pirates, his character has come the longest way from being the villain in the original to his role in Dead Men. His arc is the most interesting in this story.
Jack Sparrow is, for better or worse, Jack Sparrow. Though he starts the story as “down on his luck,” I’m not entirely sure that’s any different from the Jack we’ve seen before. A little more hopeless, maybe, but aimlessness has always been a bit of a character trait for Sparrow, so more aimless hardly seems to bring anything new to him. And the film largely leaves his character intact without any major development besides delving into the “sins” of his past that have resulted in Salazar chasing him down. Going back to my earlier point, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Jack’s past come to haunt him, and it’s not terribly different than how it came back to haunt him in the original, except this one involves how he came to be known as Jack Sparrow.
Henry Turner is William Turner without being interesting. I hate to say it, but his character is portrayed as naïve and single minded on freeing his father from the curse. That being said, to a certain extent, the same could be same of William Turner in the original, but Orlando Bloom brought a lot to the character. Here’s hoping that Brenton Thwaites, who I’m not terribly familiar with, can do something similar.
As previously mentioned, Carina is interesting, in that she brings less of a damsel in distress role to the series than Knightley portrayed in the original. However, as the original trilogy progressed, she took on much more of an active role, so Carina’s portrayal in this, especially her interaction with the younger Turner, doesn’t bring anything new to the tale. Her history is one of the larger aspects at play here, especially her knowledge of astronomy that leads to many pegging her as a witch, just because she’s intelligent.
Okay…big time spoilers here, so turn back if you don’t want things ruined for you.
Still here? Okay.
When I say that Barbossa’s arc is the most interesting, it’s primarily because, not only has he progressed in character, we also see his softer side at play here when Carina is revealed to be his daughter. Though, at least in the novelization, the two have little interaction, there is enough there to feel invested in the relationship, and I have faith in Rush’s ability to portray the necessary emotion when the time is right.
Those excited to see Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley return to their iconic roles will be a bit disappointed. William Turner MAY have five minutes of screen time in Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Knightley is nothing more than a cameo. More scenes could definitely have been added, as the novelizations are typically based on older versions of scripts that don’t involve the rewrites added during filming, but if this is any indication, we don’t even see Turner and Swann reunited in this movie.
Dead Men Tell No Tales seems to be a movie made with the sole intent of righting the wrongs of the last few Pirates movies. When we leave our characters, other than Barbossa, our characters are largely back to status quo. William Turner has been released from his spell. Jack is pirating the Black Pearl. We get a simple story that basically sets the series up to continue with the actors that drew us in to begin with (assuming they bring Knightley in more for future installments).
If you’re interested in seeing Jack Sparrow’s sins of the past come back to haunt him AGAIN, while he takes two young lovebirds on his adventures, then Dead Men Tell No Tales will likely scratch that itch. Those looking for something different from their Pirates stories won’t find much here, but the return to basics may be enough to draw in fans who have largely given up hope in the series being as fun and exciting as the original.