You have to hand it to a company who can maintain a massively profitable film franchise, borne of a 50-year-old amusement park ride. Like it or not, the Pirates of the Caribbean film series has made a big mark on pop culture and box-office records. Like the waters navigated by these bearded barons, there have been ebbs and flows in the strengths and weaknesses of each installment, and while Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is not perfect, it successfully revives this franchise after what has felt like far more than the six years since the previous 2011 film, On Stranger Tides.
Penned by Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio, directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, and produced once again by Jerry Bruckheimer, Dead Men Tell No Tales is more similar to the third film of the series, At World’s End than the more recent On Stranger Tides. It returns to more familiar characters and lineage, and reconnects to loose ends which the fourth film had seemed to largely neglect. Leading the cast are Johnny Depp, as the franchise-staple Captain Jack Sparrow, Javier Bardem debuting a new and incredibly enjoyable antagonist, Captain Salazar, and Geoffrey Rush reprising his role as the incomparable Captain Hector Barbossa. They are joined by Brenton Thwaites as now-grown Henry Turner (son of departed-by-curse Will Turner) and the gorgeous Kaya Scodelario as sexy-smart anachronistic stereotype-challenger, Carina Smyth. A host of supporting cast, new and old, join in the adventure, and we are treated to a handful of cameos, one of which is a fabulous surprise treat that I’ll leave spoiler-free.
A fantastic Geoff Zanelli score (lifting all the appropriate riffs from Klaus Badelt’s original pieces) accompanies an action-packed ride, accented by some very appropriate effects and gimmicks, which even play well in the risky territory of 3-D. It is clear that some intense stunt-work was employed in many scenes, and there are also some scenes which show their rough edges, such as a few fight sequences that seem poorly choreographed with the supporting cast. In general, the audiovisual spectacle of the film is on point, and satisfies the needs of the early-summer popcorn-cramming audience.
Our story opens on a young Henry, setting out to connect with his dad through the results of his deep study of all things mythological and cursed in the seas. We’re re-introduced to Jack, meet the fetching female lead of the tale, and get set up with the pecking order of the current Caribbean backdrop. The navy is ruling, alongside Barbossa’s privateering fleet (doing very well for themselves to the tune of The Donald when it comes to gold-encrusted belongings), and Jack remains a fugitive. We’re introduced to the undead Captain Salazar and his ghost crew, as well as the terms of their cursed status and related cure. Heroes meet, plots unfold, and we’re off the boat-races to resolve the question of who can use Poseidon’s Trident to rule the ocean (and break all curses — that one’s important). Development and closure are a theme of note, especially the in-universe plausibility of Salazar’s backstory and grudge against Sparrow.
There are predictable beats and telegraphed moments, but none that are inexcusable for the fifth film to set sail with inspiration from a bunch of animatronic pirates who may or may not have Walt Disney, himself, preserved in their basement. Dialogue is clever and acting is fully invested. The quips are witty and strike a nice balance of adult vs. entry-level humor. Dead Men follows the rules of the franchise’s universe adequately, and contradictions in the overall five-film lineup are very minimal.
Overall, Dead Men Tell No Tales delivers exactly what fans may have been missing since the last installment those long six years ago, and lives up to audience expectations during the kickoff of the blockbuster season. Go, get your swashbuckle on, and definitely stay through the credits to see what tales may be told in the forthcoming installments, if this one delivers at the box office.