I don't like Johnny Depp anymore. We'll always have "Edward Scissorhands" and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," but his schtick hasn't just gotten old, it's become a bit unbearable. Not even taking into account his tabloid-fodder personal life, he's become a caricature of what he once was.
The thing that used to make Depp such a remarkable actor was his fearlessness in his choices and his performances. He was weird and quirky but brought a vulnerable honesty to his roles, whether it was the doomed accountant William Blake from "Dead Man" or the bittersweet irony of "Ed Wood." Even with his successes, he was still largely an indie actor until the original "Pirates of the Caribbean."
From that point on, all of his roles were surface-level quirky without any of the soul that made Depp a truly great actor. Everything became pale skin and giant hats or goofy mustaches and several layers of grotesque makeup. Now, with the release of the fifth "Pirates of the Caribbean," Depp has become the Jar Jar Binks of this franchise.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" follows the formula so perfectly that it's a little depressing. The direction looks and feels exactly like the other films, down to the cinematography and set construction. The script feels like a perfunctory afterthought. You can easily pick out everything coming just based on the characters: a misunderstood and tough young woman, a generically handsome young man whose heroism is noble for its own sake and a villain who's mildly sympathetic and also gruesomely fun to look at. It's paint-by-numbers filmmaking at the most fundamental level.
What made the original "Pirates" so entertaining was what a surprise it was. A two-and-a half-hour Disney movie based on a 40-year-old theme park ride should not have worked, and the fact it did was a minor miracle. A big reason why it did was Gore Verbinski's inspired direction and Depp's swarthy and effortless performance. A decade later, Verbinski has moved on and Depp isn't invested in creating something memorable.
"Dead Men Tell No Tales" has everything this franchise trades in: a magical McGuffin (the Trident of Poseidon), fisticuffs, Captain Jack in prison about to be executed, people swinging from ropes high over the Earth and about a dozen other familiar tropes. Following the blueprints that make something popular can sometimes work out well ("The Force Awakens"), but if it's not done without a modicum of artistry, then it just plays as pathetic and lazy.
Depp will probably have a massive comeback sometime soon. He just needs one more perfect role to bring him back into pop culture's good graces. As it stands though (and I say this as someone who watches EVERYTHING), I think I'll be avoiding his work for a while. He got on that last nerve and swashbuckled all over it.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Dir. Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX, Sisters Movie House, Redmond Cinema