Captain Jack Sparrow's (Johnny Depp) in more trouble than he knows when he's discovered asleep in Port Royal's new bank vault with the mayor's wife. The Spanish Naval Officer intent on obliterating all pirates whom he led into the Devil's Triangle as a young lad, has been set free with his ghostly crew and ship. Escaping Port Royal's Red Coats, Sparrow runs into Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, Andrea Arnold's "Wuthering Heights"), a young astrologer intent on finding the Trident of Poseidon with clues left about the map no man can read in the diary left to her by her unknown father. The Trident, the only thing that can save Sparrow from Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), is also being hunted by Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites, "The Giver"), who hopes to break the curse that holds his father Will (Orlando Bloom) in Davy Jones' locker in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales."
Well, blow me down - the fifth entry in a listing franchise is the best "Pirates" movie since the first. With a fresh screenwriter in Jeff Nathanson ("Catch Me If You Can," based on his and "Pirates" 1-4 screenwriter Terry Rossio's story) and Norwegian "Kon-Tiki" directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg on board, the film feels more spirited, less bloated. Sparrow himself is almost a supporting player here, Carina and Henry a Will and Elizabeth for a new generation. The film's theme park origins are still in evidence, visual effects supervisor Gary Brozenich ("The Lone Ranger") crafting Salazar's undead crew for double duty at Disneyland, but that's not a bad thing. Underlining the fact that these undead cannot tread on land, Salazar's broken face is framed with hair flowing as if he were underwater.
After dragging the entire bank building through the streets of Port Royal, only to find the vault's contents have scattered (Sparrow stealthily pockets the remaining one gold coin), he's informed he's lost his crew, his luck and his ship (the barely seaworthy Dying Gull, the Black Pearl having been imprisoned in a bottle by Blackbeard). Stumbling to the nearest drinking establishment, Sparrow trades his compass for a bottle - big mistake. But he, Carina and Henry find an ally in Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now incredibly wealthy but also in Salazar's sites.
Bawdy humor, such as the pirates' appropriation of the word 'horologist,' Carina's secondary expertise (they think astronomy means donkey breeding), is liberally scattered throughout. There are battles at sea, a hilariously thwarted guillotine execution, undead shark attacks, a sea witch (Golshifteh Farahani, "Paterson") and an overlong and familiar climax in Poseidon's realm that ends with a startling revelation. Family has become the theme-du-jour among franchises and this one finds its plucky heroine finding her father, Henry rescuing his, and Jack having an exchange with his uncle (Paul McCartney in a gratuitous cameo nowhere near as organic as Keith Richards'). The film's conclusion, featuring a surprise cameo, is touching and Jack sales off in his original ship and paired with an unwanted mascot. "Dead Men Tell No Tales" would make a most fitting conclusion for the series, but alas, a sixth is already under consideration.
The production looks great, its 3D conversion more impressive than "Stranger Tides's" real 3D. Costumes, hair and makeup are exemplary, effects top notch (Depp's flashback digital facelift excepted). Scodelario and Thwaites add much needed new blood, she strong and smart, he earnest and brave. Bardem brings real mystery and menace to his villain while the returning Rush digs deeper into emotional territory. Kevin R. McNally returns for a fifth outing as Jack's first mate, taking advantage of crewmate Scrum's (Stephen Graham) lesser intellectual abilities.
Robin did not see this film.
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