Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
“Disney has displayed complete inertia in updating this franchise for modern audiences.”
Title: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)
Directors: Joachim Rønning 👨🏼🇳🇴 and Espen Sandberg 👨🏼🇳🇴
Writers: Story by Jeff Nathanson 👨🏼🇺🇸 and Terry Rossio 👨🏼🇺🇸, screenplay by Jeff Nathanson 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Dead Men Tell No Tales is the fifth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean. It spends its massive $230 million budget to render gorgeous special effects, but if you scratch beneath the glitzy surface, you’ll find just dust as familiar faces, narratives, and seafaring staples deliver the pervasive sense that the Pirates franchise is sitting on its haunches in its wait for retirement. After all, the franchise began 15 years ago and has hardly lifted a finger in changing anything, even its lead actor, Johnny Depp, in the role of whimsical alcoholic Jack Sparrow.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? NO
Dead Men Tell No Tales is merely one among countless films that lazily defaults to a male gaze. While it does reserve significant screen time for its lead female, Carina Smith (Kaya Scodelario), no two women actually ever exchange words. The only other woman with a speaking role is an adulteress found sleeping with Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).
The male gaze is so literal that partway through the film, Carina undresses down to a corset and pantaloons and dives overboard while the young hero, Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), chirps about seeing her ankles. Jack responds, “You’d have seen a lot more, if you’d kept your cakehole shut!”
By the end, I knew this film would be scoring low on Gender but I clung to the hope that writers would keep Carina independent of a romantic storyline. She’d been doing a fine job of running around and being an active, if flat heroine. Unfortunately, the final scenes deliver her to Henry with a wholly unnecessary kiss, ruining the opportunity for Carina to stand on her own.
Meanwhile, Henry’s father, Will Turner (played by Orlando Bloom who appears in the first three Pirates films, garners a long backstory and emotional story arc with his son. He is also hand-delivered a woman at the end of the film. Elizabeth Swann, played by Keira Knightley, literally appears out of thin air and rushes into Will’s arms, like a prize he has won. Despite appearing in the same number of prior installments as Will, Elizabeth’s role in Dead Men Tell No Tales is fleeting, silent, and solely in the service of Will’s storyline.
Finally, it must be mentioned that the entire project is cast in shadow by Johnny Depp’s real life scandal with his ex-wife, Amber Heard. As Sara Stewart puts succinctly for the New York Post:
“It’s a little less cute these days to watch [Depp’s] Jack Sparrow swish about drunkenly, knowing the actor’s been accused of being an abusive lush.”
This film escapes a low score in this category by casting the main villain, Captain Salazar, with Javier Bardem. Bardem is Hispanic, hailing from the Canary Islands of Spain.
Unfortunately, this positive representation suffers a slight detraction in that he never actually looks Hispanic, merely undead. Luckily, his recognizable voice (and accent) remain intact.
Beyond Bardem, the ethnic representation of this film becomes exceedingly white. Extras belonging to ethnic minorities do appear here and there, but they occupy no narrative space and are always depicted alone within a sea of white characters.
Mediaversity Grade: D 2.08/5
Disney has displayed complete inertia in updating this franchise for modern audiences, employing a stagnant formula that is showing diminishing returns both at the box office and with critics who gave this film just 30% on Rotten Tomatoes.
A sixth film continues to be a possibility. If it comes to fruition, I'll be giving it a hard pass unless serious actions are taken to improve the franchise’s abysmal record on inclusion.