On DVD: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

When Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales came out this past May, I was one of the few to give it a favorable review. Upon rewatching it on Blu-Ray last night, well … it’s possible I was a little too favorable. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, after all, and that’s pretty much what Disney counts on these days.

Out of all of Disney’s billion-dollar properties, Pirates is the shakiest of the bunch and it certainly shows in Dead Men despite producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s best efforts to breathe new life into a franchise never should have been a franchise in the first place. You can’t really recapture what made The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) so incredible, and every time he tries, it just gets a little more sad.

Unsurprisingly, Johnny Depp is Dead Men’s weakest link. This most recent outing as Captain Jack Sparrow is Hollywood’s newest and best example of an actor phoning it in for a paycheck — and barely even that, if rumors about Depp’s lack of professionalism on set are true — and his performance hurts Dead Men as a film more than it helps. Remember how Depp’s first nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards was for Jack Sparrow in The Curse of the Black Pearl? Dead Men proves pretty damningly that, 13 years and 99 problems on, that actor no longer exists.

And neither does Jack Sparrow, really. The Jack Sparrow of Dead Men is less a party-mad rock star and more the drunken pervy uncle you desperately want to avoid at Thanksgiving. This is as much the fault of writer Jeff Nathanson, who gives Sparrow one-liners about testicles and whores instead of the sly meandering he’s known for, as it is Depp’s. “Wings Over the Caribbean,” a bonus featurette on the DVD/Blu-ray that highlights Sir Paul McCartney’s time filming his cameo in the film, alludes to Depp’s heavy (but uncredited) involvement in writing McCartney’s scene with Sparrow. It’s not a very good scene, for McCartney or for Depp. If Depp also had a hand in rewriting the rest of the movie, then it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that no one making the Pirates movies knows what makes Jack Sparrow Jack Sparrow anymore, including the man who created him.

Still, that doesn’t mean that parts of Dead Men aren’t enjoyable. I stand by a lot of the positives I emphasized in my original review, highest among them Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa and Kaya Scodelario as Carina Smyth. Thirteen years on, and Rush is still the quintessential pirate — disgusting, two-faced, and noble in his own piratical way. Meanwhile, I got a lot out of the short featurette “Telling Tales: A Sit-Down with Brenton and Kaya” (aka the next generation of Pirates stars) simply because I’ve loved Scodelario since her magnificent turn as Effy on the British television show Skins (2007-2013). Most of the 47 minutes of featurettes are fluff pieces, and this one might be the fluffiest; nevertheless, it’s a little fun to peek into the lives of one of my favorite actors and hear about her experiences filming a movie as huge as this one.

The DVD/Blu-ray offers a few more featurettes that are worth checking out, including “The Matador and the Bull,” which is a deep dive into Javier Bardem and his performance as Captain Salazar. This featurette was probably the most helpful of the seven, if only because it offers more insight into the character of Salazar than the actual movie does. I said in my original review that Bardem is criminally underused in Dead Men; hearing Bruckheimer call Salazar “one of the greatest villains of all time” without blinking only confirms what I thought before. Bardem put a considerable amount of thought into Salazar, and the movie does him a huge disservice by making him more of a narrative inconvenience than an actual villain. It’s a real shame because Salazar easily could have been as iconic as Davy Jones or even Bardem’s Bond villain in Skyfall (2012) with a tighter script and a clearer vision of what this movie could be.

A blooper reel and four deleted scenes complete the special features, but they’re so sparse that they’re hardly worth mentioning. It’s possible I’m a little biased, though, because I watched the blooper reel and 25+ deleted scenes from The Curse of the Black Pearl so often as a 13-year-old that I still have a good chunk of them memorized. And yes, I am a little proud of that.

This isn’t the first time my opinion about a movie has changed upon a rewatch at home, but for me that’s always been one of the joys of curating a DVD collection. You’re never quite the same person when you watch a movie for the second time, and I get a lot more out of movies when I give myself another chance to think about them. Whether this is your first time seeing Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales or a return viewing, I imagine you’ll find something to enjoy here. I should know better, but I still like Dead Men a lot more than I don’t.

Aly Caviness is an administrator of Midwest Film Journal, possible witch, and lifelong film obsessive. Through Lynch, her grandmother taught her how to spot “The Girl,” and through Frankenstein, her grandfather taught her how to love in spite of fear. She blames Jack Sparrow for her MA in colonial Atlantic history and Guy Pearce for her marriage. By day, she works and writes in the Archives & Library at the Indiana Historical Society, which possesses such artifacts from Hoosier film history as James Dean’s high school yearbooks and posters from the 1997 classic, “George of the Jungle.” By night, she mostly cries about Laura Palmer.

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