Dead Men Tell No Tales…But I Do!

Hi Everyone,

Sorry I’ve been AWOL for so long. I don’t have a great excuse except I got home from the Pirate Women book tour and I’ve been flailing around for my next project. Flailing (and its companion activity, Wallowing in Existential Crisis) takes up a lot of time, y’all. But, I am happy to say that I am in deep research/pre-writing mode for my next project! It looks like it’s going to be a YA sci-fi novel, featuring a great female protagonist, and of course some pirates. So stay tuned…it might be coming to a bookstore near you in 3 or so years 🙂

Anyway, I FINALLY managed to beg, borrow, and steal my way to “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” yesterday. I hired a babysitter, bought my ticket, realized I had hired a sitter for the wrong day, begged sitter to come a day early, lied and said I had a doctor’s appointment, and slipped out the door in the nick of time to see a movie I have been waiting to see for years.

The POTC franchise is big for me. It emboldened me to come out of the closet about my love of pirates, invigorated my lady pirate research, occupied many, many of my waking hours through daydreaming and reading of fanfiction, and, most importantly, was a huge part of my social circle at college. I lived in a semi-commune in college, and my housemates and I watched these movies over, and over, and over again. We all still talk about them fondly and they are a large part of our identity as a group. Many legendary stories begin with a viewing of Pirates. The second one, in particular, is very dear to me for coming out in a really shitty summer of my life and providing a perfect escape from my miserable job. I think I saw it six times in theaters and I’ve seen it hundreds more on DVD.

So I had high hopes, is what I’m trying to say. I am optimistic enough that I erased the 4th one totally from my memory and I truly believed this movie could live up to its ancestors and bring me joy. I was not disheartened by its 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. Some people just don’t understand great art 🙂

Caution–spoilers ahoy!! If you want to see it, and you don’t want to know some things about it, wait until you see it and then come back and read this. You’ve been warned.

It felt…the same but different. In the opening sequence, Jack and his crew steal a bank. Yes, not rob a bank, steal a bank. There’s a giddy sequence with galloping horses, ducking bridges, and the trademark silliness that comes with Captain Sparrow et al. I felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth right then, but I was worried, because #4 (okay, I lied, I didn’t TOTALLY forget it) started out equally promising and then quickly devolved into incomprehensible self-satisfied madness. Nevertheless, I persisted.

It’s a little weird watching Johnny Depp gamely gnaw on the scenery as Jack again. He’s dirtier, unmistakably older, but the schtick is still strong with him. One wonders why he still agrees to these, although he did make Alice in Wonderland 2 so it’s possible Disney has him under a spell or at least has some really awful kiddie porn blackmail on him and he’s powerless to turn them down. Given the recent allegations of his mistreatment of his wife (ex-wife? I don’t really know) I was especially worried about enjoying the film (and perhaps that explains a bit of its floundering at the box office, although I daresay the target audience of this film either a) doesn’t know about the abuse or b)doesn’t care).

However, you reach a point where you shrug and say “it’s Jack Sparrow. This is what you get,” and you get sucked into his world and forget about everything else for a while. I’m not particularly proud of this–I can’t make excuses for his behavior and I have dropped other artists from my roster of people I enjoy for less, but I was able to put it out of my head for long enough to enjoy the movie. Like Charlemagne, who waits in the hills to come rescue his people when they most need him, Jack Sparrow had arrived to offer me personally an unparalleled diversion from the horrible trainwreck of the political season we’re in, and I wasn’t going to be left ashore when he set sail.

At the beginning of the film, it’s possible that I’m the only one who is still happy to be in Jack’s crew. He’s lost his ship, (Blackbeard put the Pearl in a bottle? I guess? In #4? I don’t remember but that’s the exposition given.) but most importantly, he’s lost his luck. His crewmembers, including his faithful first mate Master Gibbs (but not including  Mr. Cotton [with the parrot] or Pintel and Ragetti [the one with a glass eye and the one who says “poppet” in the first movie] which makes me wonder if they were killed off in the 4th one), all abandon him, and he trades his beloved compass for a bottle of rum–at this point literally covered head to toe in mud and pig poop. Nobody can keep up the buffoon routine forever, the movie shows. We all have to grow up and get on with our respectable lives. It’s very Falstaff at the end of Henry IV, Part 2. He’s gone from a legendary pirate to the butt of a joke, and suddenly I’m worried about where this is going.

With the arrival of Henry Turner (the product of Will and Elizabeth’s doomed union), a sea-lore obsessed lad who seems to have inherited the Turner penchant for getting whacked on the head, and Carina Smyth, an extremely likable plucky astronomer labeled a witch, Jack is saved at the last minute from the guillotine (in a pretty whimsically hilarious sequence that had me in stitches) and back on the sea, hunting for Poseidon’s trident.

There’s a bad guy, of course–Captain Salazar, Butcher of the Seas, played with meaty menace by Javier Bardem. He’s a pirate hunter who was caught in the Bermuda Triangle and is hellbent on revenge against the man who put him there–you guessed it, Capt. Jack Sparrow. There’s also a lot more plot, but it ultimately doesn’t matter, because you’re not here for the plot. You’re here for Jack.


In the ten years since At World’s End premiered, much has changed in my life. I’ve gotten married. I moved to the countryside. I have a child. (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have each had their first child during that time as well, come to think of it.) As the villain of the original three, Cutler Beckett, said, “the world is getting smaller. The edges of the map are being filled in.” So I knew that I could never go back to my all-encompassing love of the original trilogy–and the movie kind of knows that, too. It doesn’t make the mistake of the 4th one and get waterlogged with a Very Serious Plot and a love interest for Jack. It aims to entertain, and that it does.

The set pieces, and the special effects, are really, really terrific. Salazar’s ghost ship kind of turns into a scorpion? And it’s just awesome? Barbossa’s ship is a rococo nightmare of glittering golden skulls and jewel-toned…everything. One thing you can always say about this franchise–it doesn’t do anything by halves. This one is no exception. It must have been so fun working on this film from a technical standpoint. I would have loved to have done set dressing for Barbossa’s ship.

Yes, Barbossa is here. Of course he is. Geoffrey Rush, you shining treasure, we don’t deserve you. He imbues each cheesy line with Shakespearean gusto and desperately tries to give this film some much-needed pathos. He almost succeeds, and that is a credit to him. He is undoubtedly the best part of this (and every) movie.

Henry Turner and Carina Smyth turn in two hugely likeable performances here, which for me added a lot to the movie. They’re no Will and Elizabeth, but they are a far, far cry from the pastor and the mermaid from #4, whose names I cannot recall for the life of me. Carina’s a scientist and all the boys think she’s a witch (or possibly a prostitute), which is played for laughs but in the end, she’s right in the thick of the action. It’s not revolutionary, but it is nice. They both serve as  “wow, is this Jack guy for real? We’re all just nice normal persons who would never behave this way so we shall pearl clutch” people, but then of course they are both more than they seem. Encounters with Jack Sparrow change people–for better or for worse. Maybe that’s his greatest power; he is a lightning rod for people to escape their ordinary lives and become the people they were meant to be.

But there’s some sadness in here, too. In the inevitable sappy reunion scene, Jack views the whole affair from aboard the Pearl through his spyglass. In a movie all about parents and children, Jack has neither. He does, however, have his ship, and his crew. He’s almost a tragic figure, honestly, keeping wildly spinning plates in the air so he’s one step ahead of everyone figuring out he’s terribly lonely. Or maybe he’s not lonely, he’s just not interested in normal stuff–a wife, a home, children. He’s the cool, weird uncle who can get you weed but never brings a date to family functions (although he brags about the girl he had last weekend constantly). Is it pathetic or admirable? The movie doesn’t really make up its mind, and I haven’t either. But it’s all part of the fun, I think. To see Jack find a nice girl and settle down would feel a betrayal, whether it’s a good idea or not.  As he told Elizabeth in Dead Man’s Chest, his only love is the sea. That may have been the truest thing he’s ever said.

The high school audience who loved the first one in theaters are all thirtysomethings now, and the movie is in on it. The jokes are a bit bawdier, the sight gags are fewer. There’s a few things I was laughing out loud at that the teenagers next to me were absolutely not getting. There’s only one really awful sexist part, as opposed to protracted (racist) sequences in 2 and 3, which is nice. It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different.

Apart from the massively impressive effects, does this movie have a beating heart? For me, that depends on if Jack ever sheds the cartoonish act and shows us a glimpse of the steel-nerved, deadly-accurate shot, secretly brilliant captain. It’s not obvious, but I’ve decided that he does, in two key points. One involves lassoing a shark (just watch it) and the other is at the end (don’t want to spoil it, but you will know it when you see it). As usual, when a tough decision, a life-or-death decision, needs to be made, Jack is there. Jack is in your corner. And that, my friends, makes all the difference.

There are a spree of cameos I won’t mention, but they are all just great and one in particular is about perfect. In the final scenes, there was a moment that almost got me a little teary. I’ve loved this crew for a long time, you see, and even though we’re all getting older and allegedly wiser, sometimes there’s a glimpse of who we once were and the limitless potential we held, and that’s just a bittersweet moment now isn’t it? The whole movie, come to think of it, was bittersweet. A fitting sendoff for the ride of a lifetime–no doubt past its prime, but still undeniably something special. It’s fun, it’s goofy, it’s stupid, it’s delightful, it is totally entertaining.


What did you think, friends? Did you see it? Will you see it? What other summer movies are you jazzed about? I for one can’t WAIT to see WONDER WOMAN, which I am going to see tonight, and I will no doubt blog about it for days and days and days.


Be excellent to each other. Talk soon!



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