It’s easy to forget that Johnny Depp actually scored an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates of the Caribbean installment back in 2003. Though the franchise has made a combined gajillion dollars, its three sequels underwhelmed critics (each performed worse than its predecessor on Rotten Tomatoes), and expectations, frankly, were not high heading into number five.

But Dead Men Tell No Tales actually does alright for itself, partly because it clocks in with a running time almost forty-five minutes shorter than the other films, but also because it never takes itself too seriously, and it gets back to the swashbuckling and dry humor that made The Curse of the Black Pearl so memorable.

Depp, of course, is back as Jack, as is Geoffrey Rush as the peg-legged Barbossa and Kevin McNally as salty first mate Gibbs, but the balance of the cast is made up of faces that are fresh to the franchise. Javier Bardem leads the way as Salazar, an undead Spanish sea captain whose fate Jack sealed years before the events of Black Pearl (which we get to see unfold in a particularly nifty flashback). He’s now he’s hunting down Jack to get his revenge.

In the pre-title sequence young Henry Turner tracks down his dad Will (Orlando Bloom) and promises to break the curse that has kept him as the captain of the ghost ship The Flying Dutchman; Henry has discovered that finding Poseidon’s mythical trident will free his father. Fast-forward nine years, and Henry (Brenton Thwaites) teams up both with Jack and with astrologer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) to sail the seas in search of it.

Along the way they of course run into not only Salazar and Barbossa but also the Royal Navy, who never seem to have anything better to do than drop what they’re doing and chase after Jack.

Sure, parts of Dead Men seem very familiar. You can basically switch out the mythical item-of-interest (Davy Jones’ Locker, the Fountain of Youth, Poseidon’s trident), and you have the same movie over and over again, but franchise-newbie co-directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (2012’s Kon-Tiki) take the script by Jeff Nathanson (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and craft a surprisingly worthwhile movie. It pales in comparison with the original, certainly, but it far surpasses the wholly unnecessary On Stranger Tides.

From the super-slick visual effects to the cinematography by Dead Man Down’s Paul Cameron, the fifth Pirates pic works on almost every level. Even Depp is back in form after basically phoning it in for the past few go-rounds, and it’s almost worth the price of admission just to see Bloom and Keira Knightley return, albeit briefly.

Based on the quick post-credits scene, the Pirates franchise isn’t ready to head out to sea anytime soon. Hopefully Dead Men Tell No Tales is just the reboot it needs.


4/5 stars

Worth the 3D glasses?

There’s oodles of 3D goodness in Dead Men, not the least of which is the snazzy visual effects used on Salazar and his crew. There are also cannonballs headed straight for your head, gallons of splashing water, and did I mention the killer zombie sharks? Pony up the extra cash.