If you’re a late-comer to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies – or don’t give in to the desire to watch the marathon every time TNT feels it’s been too long since they’ve aired the films – here’s a brief reminder: Jack Sparrow is a living legend among those called to the “pirate’s life.” He’s the wielder of the compass that points to your heart’s greatest desire; (former) Captain of the fastest ship on the high seas, The Black Pearl; an inveterate drunk, and magnet for all forms of trouble arising from the sea. Mayhem happens around him yet always seems to inexplicably leave him standing unscathed.
In a move that’s (pretty) inevitable, Dead Men Tell No Tales turns to its own past to see its way to creating a script (and possible future for its franchise). Henry (Brenton Thwaites) son of – unwilling captive on the Flying Dutchmen – Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), wants to free his father. In an opening sequence that sets the foundation of this adventure, young Henry refuses to abandon his quest and dedicates his life to the myths and legends of the sea looking for a solution. That solution, of course, involves yet another sea myth, a hunt for the ultimate treasure, and requires the assistance of an intrepid young female scientist in search of the origin of a legend for her own reasons. Pirates isn’t known for its female characters so it’s unsurprising that when the audience first encounters the pragmatic Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) her personality feels like a (re)boot of Kira Knightely’s character in the first film. She’s a progressive female out of step with her time yet somehow despite being pretty brilliant makes utterly stupid missteps just to further the plot.
In this installment, we find our haphazard hero Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) landlocked, down on his luck and seemingly out of moves. It appears the creators of the franchise know there’s no way to pretend they haven’t stretched his particular brand of slap-shtick to its outer limits up to this point. For the first time, Sparrow is more than just a vehicle for high jinks and one-liners. The consequences of his poor decisions and lack of regard for his obligations to his crew (and to fate) come back to bite him. His comeuppance is a real and pressing danger in the form of revenge-seeking Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem). One of the more successful parts of this film is the flashback to young Sparrow and his encounter with the pirate killer, Captain Salazar. The audience learns some sea lore, finally sees first hand what made Jack such an icon, and returns this tale to the high seas where it belongs. Despite some rather vicious moments featuring Bardem, it feels like Disney looked at dailies and had his character’s edge dialed back. His character is bloodthirsty, single-minded, and scary; just what you need in a villain arising from a simple story but they could’ve let him be so much more.
I don’t know if this is saying much to some people, but the fifth installment in the Pirates franchise is the best since the original. After going big (because money) and moving too far away from what made its original premise work so well, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales circles back to making a high sea adventure. The stunts are still loud and over-the-top, Sparrow’s still slapstick central, the story-line straightforward but with enough twists to support its cast size, and its comedic timing predictable but funny. The end result is a more balanced action-adventure that manages to use tying up side stories and lose ends to make an entire movie; it also provides a worthy explanation for why in the world pirates put up with Jack, and has more than a few comedic high points. I didn’t expect much from this one (given the direction of the last two films) and was pleasantly surprised. You leave sightly dismayed about the fate of a high value character and pretty certain that despite saying this is the final adventure, Disney’s left the door opened for new tales on the high seas.
Franchise fans will be happy and it’s a good pick for family movie summer fun.
Overall Rating: 2.75 out of 5