Fast Five (2011)
The sequel that got everyone back (or finally) on board with the Fast and the Furious franchise in a big way, this extreme heist film introduces Dwayne Johnson to the series as DSS Agent Hobbs.
He was henceforth known as “franchise Viagra,” but he wasn’t the only reason, maybe not even the primary reason, the fifth installment was such a big hit, or the first one to be positively received by critics. There’s also the emphasis on and embrace of implausibly cartoonish action, which climaxes with Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew towing a large vault through the streets of Rio.
Dead Men Tell No Tales, which is also part five of a film series where adversaries regularly become allies in subsequent installments, begins with an action sequence seemingly inspired by the vault bit in Fast Five. Of course, it does go much bigger, as Captain Sparrow’s pirate crew pulls not just a large safe through the streets of St. Martin but also the bank building that housed it. And with Sparrow comedically riding atop the whole thing for part of the way. It’s the best sequence of the movie, which is too bad since that means it peaks early. The one thing Dead Men Tell No Tales didn’t learn from Fast Five is how to finish bigger than you start.
Typically I pass over this movie and recommend the original, Oscar-winning 1950 documentary instead. But the remake, which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, was made by Dead Men Tell No Tales co-directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg. Their past work, including Kon-Tiki and Bandidas (which co-stars Penelope Cruz, a former POTC love interest, and wife of current POTC villain actor Javier Bardem), is great, under-seen and/or underrated stuff. It’s their previous movie, though, that clearly got them their latest job.
For those who don’t know the story of Kon-Tiki, it’s pretty wild. Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl sought to demonstrate how ancient people traveled by raft from South America to settle in Polynesia. He did so by building a raft like they’d have built and sailing the distance from Peru to the Tuomotu Islands in the South Pacific. He also filmed the whole trek himself, meaning he pretty much won an Oscar for adventuring (however, technically only producer Olle Nordemar is credited with the win).
The doc is a pretty thrilling film on its own with its sea excursion and showcase of oceanic life, including sharks. Rønning and Sandberg replicate it all more as entertainment with those sharks now CG special effects — which it should be noted are much more impressive and intense than the ghost sharks of Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Dark Shadows (2012)
If you enjoy Johnny Depp in Dead Men Tell No Tales, you’ll enjoy him in anything, including recent vehicles like Mortdecai (another movie where the female lead is smarter than the male), The Lone Ranger, and his most recent work under the direction of Tim Burton, Dark Shadows.
Depp plays 18th century vampire Barnabas Collins now residing in the 1970s and attempting to return his old estate and his current ancestors to their proper social prestige. Based on the old TV soap opera, it’s the kind of movie that’s not bad but also never proves itself necessary. Except maybe for the campy vamp performance by Eva Green as the villain.
The interesting thing about Green’s adversary in Dark Shadows, other than the fact that it’s delightful, is it caused a major change in the plotting of Dead Men Tell No Tales. According to regular POTC franchise co-writer Terry Rossio in a personal blog post, “My version of Dead Men Tell No Tales was set aside because it featured a female villain, and Johnny Depp was worried that would be redundant to Dark Shadows, which also featured a female villain…Sometimes it just takes a single decision by a single person, often just a whim, to destroy years of story creation and world-building.”
Apparently having constant male villains in the POTC series and movies in general isn’t redundant, though.
No need for Disney to do a live-action remake of its most recent animated feature, because Dead Men Tell No Tales is close enough. Well, not really, but both Moana and the latest POTC sequel involve young women in possession of a precious gem that needs to be returned to its special spot, and she travels the seas to do so while also seeking a mythical character’s magic staff. Both movies also have a pompous companion aboard the ship she’s on, as well as pirates, ghosts, parting seas, and a fight against an adversary at the bottom of the ocean. The biggest difference might be that the girl in Dead Men Tell No Tales has a love interest.
There’s also the unfortunate matter of the new POTC movie likely being a bigger hit. And a more recognized one. Moana actually wound up grossing almost $250M in the US and $642M worldwide, which isn’t Frozen or Zootopia money but is slightly better than how the last POTC installment did domestically. Its success has mostly gone ignored because it had a slower, steadier, stealthier gross.
Disney should be more focused on wholesome, empowering, enchanting, and riveting stuff like Moana, though, than the sexist, convoluted, and crowded mess that Dead Men Tell No Tales is, whether live-action or animation.
Because I’m coming full circle on this list with the sea-set Disney animated films, I also suggest checking out the list of movies to watch after you see Moana, which includes the King Neptune-influenced The Little Mermaid and the original Kon-Tiki.