Can you believe it’s been fourteen years since Johnny Depp first took on the character of Captain Jack Sparrow, earning an Oscar nomination and the hearts of millions in the process? The film was a risky prospect at best but it was a success and sequels inevitably followed (although even financial success at the box office almost could not offset the price of making these films shooting with real ships on the water).
Now Disney and Depp have teamed up once again, allegedly for the last time, to bring us the fifth movie in the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. In the new chapter, Jack is without a ship (it’s decaying in dry dock) and barely has a crew, reduced to robbing banks instead of their usual pirating. It doesn’t go well, but makes for a spectacular opening sequence. After the crew mutinies, Jack turns to the only friend he has, a bottle of rum, trading his beloved compass in the process. But he doesn’t know the compass came with an edict — never betray it.
In the pre-title sequence, we meet young Henry Turner, son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan. He rows a boat out to sea and drops himself overboard, landing on the remnants of his father’s ship, raising it to the surface. There, Will appears and tells him there is no way to break this curse. Henry says he will find the Trident of Poseidon and break the spell. But the Trident is simply a legend … or is it? An older Henry (Brenton Thwaites), with the help of astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) — who is accused of being a witch because of her pursuits in the sciences — track down Jack and convince him to set sail to find the Trident. But the only map they have is one that no man can read.
And there is also one other complication — a cursed nemesis of Jack’s, Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), has enlisted the aid of Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to exact his revenge on Sparrow for driving he and his crew into the Devil’s Triangle, dooming them to forever be stuck at sea in their quite horrific state of decay. But perhaps the fabled Trident can release them from the curse, as it’s said that once it is broken all curses of the sea are broken as well. Which is why Henry seeks the relic.
There is a lot going on in Dead Men Tell No Tales, and while some complained that the story got too complicated for the third film in the series, this one manages to keep things flowing logically without getting overwhelmed with all of the various moving parts. It also gives us a chance to once again enjoy Depp’s performance, but of course he can play this in his sleep at this point. My only complaint is that Jack is too perpetually sotted this time out, slurring too much of his dialog (it is neat, though, to see a de-aged Depp as a young Jack Sparrow flashing back to show us Salazar’s backstory). It’s also great to see Rush again really class things up. He is just a magnetic presence any time he’s on screen.
Thwaites and Scodelario are an extremely attractive pair and they both hold their own very well with all of the goings-on, getting deep into the middle of all the action once everyone heads out to sea. The series has has its share of villains — Barbossa was the bad guy in the first film! — and the favorite has got to be Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones, but Javier Bardem really sinks his teeth into the ghostly Salazar, bringing real menace to what could have been a completely over-the-top charicature. He speaks each word with venom, making this a truly fearsome creature. The digital makeup job helps with a half decayed head and hair that constantly floats as if he is always underwater. It’s a great addition to the franchise and Bardem makes the most of it.
The film is, of course, full of spectacular action and special effects, the monkey is back and it’s nice to get a brief appearance from Orlando Bloom to tie thing together. There are the familiar faces of Jack’s crew and a surprise or two along the way, including a noble sacrifice that may have you needed a few tissues (yes, I got teary-eyed during a Pirates of the Caribbean movie — twice!). But is this really the end as Disney is advertising? If you stay through to the end of the credits, the answer to that question may be no. The real question is can there be a Pirates movie without Captain Jack Sparrow? We’ll have to ponder that at a later time. For now, ignore what the mainstream critics are saying — because they hate this kind of populist entertainment — and go see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales to escape reality for a few hours.
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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales runs 2 hours 9 minutes, and is rated PG-13.