Against all previously held concepts of either logic or reason, there’s still wind of the sails of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It’s no longer the gale force that propelled the first three installments to acclaim, but we’re now two movies beyond the original trilogy from Gore Verbinski and the breeze remains constant. Admittedly, it’s probably the residual effects of Verbinski’s bluster that keeps these ships afloat but, I guess, yo ho.
Dead Men Tell No Tales, which is inexplicably the fifth movie cobbled together from the basic precepts of a ten-minute-long amusement park ride, never quite lives up to the achievements of its predecessors, especially the original trilogy. For being an unnecessary sequel to an unnecessary sequel, it’s a surprisingly competent and entertaining entry into a series that was always better than it had any right to be.
Though by now these movies are beyond well-explored territory, whose nooks and crannies have all been mapped out and traversed, there’s something to be said about being taken on an expertly guided tour. It’s less pirate ship than cruise ship these days, so it’s not quite as lively as it once was, but there’s still a bit fun to had on these particular waters.
This outing finds Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) teetering on the edge of irrelevance. He’s got no ship to speak of, and only a handful of men who still claim loyalty to their once formidable captain. Soon, however, he meets the young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of the now cursed Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who seeks out the captain to help him locate Poseidon’s trident, a mystical artifact that can break every sea-faring curse. They’re helped out by the mysterious Carina (Kaya Scodelario), a young woman accused of witchcraft for being a scientist. Their mission puts them at odds with the cursed Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) who seeks revenge against Captain Jack for defeating him years ago, and leaving him cursed as a vengeful ocean spirit.
This isn’t a movie designed to win over new fans, and it probably won’t. Dead Men Tell No Tales is a film for the already staunch and forgiving members of the Pirates fandom. New ground remains unbroken as they wade in the most familiar of waters, but Depp and series co-star Geoffrey Rush (who is shoehorned in, but still somehow works) are by now so deft in their respective roles that it almost feels like a reunion with old friends.
While the new friends aren’t near as exciting as Bloom or Kiera Knightley were in the Pirates films of yore, they manage to bring back a bit of the flavor from the Curse of the Black Pearl days. Not much, of course. They’re kind of the margarine to Bloom and Knightley’s butter, but they work in a pinch and you can almost not tell the difference if you put your mind to it.
The real star is Bardem, who apparently didn’t get the memo that this was a wholly unnecessary entry into an arguably unnecessary franchise. That guy is seemingly incapable of giving anything less than a captivating performance, and he’s endlessly fascinating here. Every moment he’s on the screen is a blessing, and the film sails best when he’s at the helm.
To call it what it is, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is cinematic junk food, but it never pretends to be anything else. There’s something warm and inviting about the stale familiarity of it all. In the same way that your hundredth Big Mac will never be as good as your first, Dead Men Tell No Tales could never be as good as its predecessors. Sometimes a Big Mac just sounds delicious, though. There’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever, and if that’s what you want then you may as well dive right in.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is now playing in theaters everywhere.