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MOVIES: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales - Review

25 May 2017

Six years after Captain Jack Sparrow's last voyage, Disney is dusting off the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with a fifth installment, no doubt hoping to continue their recent box office hot streak. From a business perspective, it makes sense - the previous four entries have grossed a combined $3.7 billion worldwide, and this one is likely to open north of $200 million over the four-day weekend. But a character whose shtick was tiresome two films ago and a star in the midst of some very public personal and legal woes are just two of the many things plaguing this latest effort, Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Trying to make sense of the film's haphazard plot is an exercise in futility, but the broad strokes are that Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) is searching for a magical artifact in order to free his father (Orlando Bloom) from the curse of the Flying Dutchman. To find this artifact, Henry will need the help of Carina (Kaya Scodelario), a plucky, headstrong astronomer accused of witchcraft, and the legendary adventurer Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who exists in a perpetual state of drunkenness as he attempts to outrun the ghost of a fearsome pirate killer named Salazar (Javier Bardem) with a connection to Jack's youth.

Despite being the universally recognized face of the Pirates franchise, Depp is the weakest link here, reducing the character of Jack Sparrow to little more than a series of pratfalls and facial tics, occasionally punctuated by jokes that elicit no laughter. Aside from the costume, this Sparrow bears little resemblance to the eccentric swashbuckler that captivated audiences in Curse of the Black Pearl, having been replaced instead by a bumbling nincompoop whose every success is borne out of sheer coincidence. It's quite often painful to watch, and the film would have benefited greatly from a significantly reduced role for Captain Jack.

On the other hand, the ghostly Salazar is a superb addition to the series mythology, a menacing villain with a well-crafted backstory whose motivations are crystal clear, and Bardem is seemingly having the time of his life devouring every piece of scenery within reach. The visual effects that bring Salazar and his crew of rotting corpses to life are Dead Men's most impressive feat, and that's a sincere compliment for a film that looks as consistently gorgeous as this one does. Also keeping this rickety ship afloat is Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now resting on his laurels as one of the wealthiest pirates in the world, but more than willing to set sail once again to seek out untold riches and cross paths with his old nemesis.

After cutting their teeth on the water-based historical drama Kon-Tiki, Norwegian directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg prove they're more than capable of handling the demands of a blockbuster studio franchise known for its larger than life action setpieces. From massive ship battles and fiery explosions to crossed swords and cannon fire, Dead Men Tell No Tales is no slouch in the thrills department - although it's worth mentioning that the first act's lengthy bank robbery borrows (read: brazenly steals) from the Fast and Furious series, who pulled off a nearly identical stunt with far more entertainment value.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is easily better than the previous installment, and might even be the best entry since the original - not that the bar has been set very high, mind you. Audiences looking for a big, loud adventure stuffed to the gills with swashbuckling and seafaring will almost certainly come away feeling as though their money was well-spent, provided they can put up with Depp's monotonous and wearisome portrayal for two hours.