Review: Johnny Depp's 'Pirates of the Caribbean' rights ship with 'Dead Men'
The most important lesson from the new Pirates of the Caribbean? Ghost sharks should have been added a long time ago.
After three movies of diminishing quality and a wholly forgettable fourth chapter, Disney’s buccaneer-filled franchise rights the ship with fifth installment Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (*** out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters nationwide Thursday night). Johnny Depp’s drunken Captain Jack Sparrow stumbles into yet another seafaring adventure, which has its rocky moments but also offers an engaging tale with family legacies, above-average swashbuckling and a fantastic new villain courtesy of Javier Bardem.
Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Bandidas), Dead Men catches up with Sparrow while he's down on his luck, with his shrunken flagship the Black Pearl tucked in his pocket. Jack’s plans to steal a bank safe in a colonial British village goes awry but his shenanigans introduce him to a pair of youngsters on converging paths.
Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) has been searching for Jack since childhood to help break the curse of his father Will (Orlando Bloom), doomed to captain the Flying Dutchman for eternity, while scrappy astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) is seeking the legendary Trident of Poseidon armed with a diary full of clues. The powerful Trident is Henry’s best way to get his dad back, though Jack finds it mighty helpful, too: The wobbly hero inadvertently unleashes the ghostly Captain Salazar (Bardem), an anti-pirate Spanish Navy officer who’s hellbent on killing Jack for sending him and his crew to a fiery doom.
The quest is a mélange of switching allegiances and random mutinies that bog down the film’s middle. Jack’s rapscallions have shifting loyalties, Pirates antagonist Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) returns, and Henry and Carina’s growing relationship drowns in this dizzying whirlpool of personalities, including a heavily bearded Paul McCartney.
To its credit, Dead Men makes sense of some dangling plot threads: Henry is the kid of Bloom and Keira Knightley’s characters from the first three movies, and Thwaites looks like he's being groomed to take the helm of the franchise (or at least co-captain with Depp).
Yet Scodelario wears the overall Pirates vibe a little better, with winning charm and feisty attitude as a lady trying her best to do some science while dude-driven society tells her no. After centuries of wenches and harlots being part of the Jolly Roger narrative, Carina does wonders for feminist piracy.
Action has always been a hallmark of the series, and Jack’s crew pulling an out-of-control bank — yes, an actual bank — through town reminds of some of the more thrilling set pieces in the original 2003 film. Meanwhile, Salazar and his men are spectacular works of CGI, their ghostly bodies acting as grim reminders of the violent way they died: One guy has half his head remaining, while Salazar’s hair looks like it’s swimming as ashes fall around him.
Their platoon of deadly phantom fish, with meat literally hanging off their skeletons, have bite, though not as much as the spitting venom and vengeance Bardem successfully lends to Salazar, who gives Davy Jones a run for nastiest guy Sparrow has ever met.
Pirates hasn’t jumped the ghost shark yet. What was once a past-its-prime franchise seems to have found new life with Dead Men.