Ever since Johnny Depp began serving his prison sentence after being convicted of domestic violence against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, the top question on everyone’s minds has been what’s going to happen to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise? Well this weekend we finally find out with the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Sir Paul McCartney stars in the first ever Depp-free Pirates of the Caribbean, and the results are a curiously mixed bag.
Depp’s offscreen woes notwithstanding, Pirates of the Caribbean has been working up to having a 60s rockstar play a lead role in the franchise for several films now. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End featured an extended cameo for Keith Richards and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides gave Mick Jagger a prominent supporting role. So in a way it’s only natural for Sir Paul McCartney, often considered the “seventh Rolling Stone” (as well as a key member of The Beatles), to play the lead in the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean.
Unfortunately, the septuagenarian musician delivers a drowsy, drizzly performance as Captain Albert Halsey. Halsey is an absent-minded British privateer and captain of the Silver Hammer. Tempted into unprotected piracy by Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Halsey soon finds himself in over his head when he falls into the crosshairs of the undead pirate hunter Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem).
Though the film has a talented supporting cast including Rush, Bardem, Kaya Scodelerio, Sting, Orlando Bloom, Linda Hamilton, and Harry Connick Jr., McCartney seems indifferent and vacant in every scene he’s in that doesn’t involve singing, dancing, or playing a musical instrument. By the time Halsey saves the life Carina Smyth (Scodelerio), the feisty, altruistic astronomer-inventor convicted of witchcraft (who is also Barbarossa daughter), it only elicits yawns from the audience. Personally, I found it very creepy that Smyth falls in love with Halsey, who is almost 50 years her senior.
Luckily, there are many fine musical sequences to break up the stilted monotony of the rest of the movie. The best numbers feature classic nautically-themed Beatles tunes such as “Octopus’ Garden” (featuring an extended cameo by Ringo Starr in a duet with McCartney, his former bandmate) and “Yellow Submarine.” Sure, “Yellow Submarine” is anachronistic given that the film takes place in the early 18th century, but they cleverly explain this by making it a fantastic vision shared by the Da Vinci-like visionary Carina Smyth and the head-in-the-clouds Halsey.
The seventeen new songs written for the movie (mainly by McCartney, but there’s also a few by Sting, and one by Connick Jr.) feel comparatively slick and bland. They contribute mightily to the film’s bloated three-plus hour running time, but are still a relief from the nearly lifeless scenes that move the “plot” forward.
If Disney decides to produce further sequels to this aging franchise, I hope they wait until Johnny Depp gets out of jail, or else find a leading man (or woman!) with a lot more dedication to playing a pirate than McCartney.
TL;DR – Transforming Pirates of the Caribbean into a musical starring an ex-Beatle is a daring move, but the effort is ultimately doomed by Sir Paul McCartney’s tedious, charisma-free performance as Captain Albert Halsey.
What the rest of the critics are saying:
“Utterly devoid of energy, excitement, momentum, or any element that might possibly interest anyone.” – Legs Lavish, New York Observer
“A half-hearted shrug of a movie.” – Pie Corbett, USA Today
“Sir Paul McCartney is back, baby, and he’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com
“Seemingly designed to test the affections and patience of Beatles fans more than anything else.” – H. Andy Pregerson, New Orleans Times-Picayune
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a punishingly somnolent endeavor.” – Biffanie Quane, Slant Magazine
“A film of raging meaninglessness and staggering, almost inconceivable tedium.” – Nathan Rabin, NPR
“There there isn’t a song in the movie that doesn’t make a compelling argument for McCartney continuing to perform for years to come, or a single moment of the narrative that doesn’t scream for McCartney to never act ever again.” – Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, AVClub
“‘Sea Dogs,’ ‘Crocodile Tears,’ and ‘Queenie Eye’ are legitimately great songs but ‘Let’s Go A-Piratin’ and ‘Merry Sailors’ are among the most treacly and annoying tunes I’ve ever heard.” – Miles Raymer, Pitchfork
“A featherweight concoction made somehow even more insultingly inconsequential by the presence of Harry Connick Jr., who plays the least convincing pirate in cinematic history.” – Bowell Sandcap, Newsweek
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