Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Let’s go ahead and get the question everyone’s been waiting for out of the way: what is the definitive ranking of the Pirates of the Caribbean series (listing just the film number because the titles mean zilch)?
1 > 4 > 5 > 2 > 3
The latest installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales, falls squarely in the middle but is strong enough to warrant recommendation, unlike the bloated and godawful (respectively) initial sequels.
An infusion of the Oscar-nominated directing team behind Kon-Tiki – itself an aquatic adventure – helps, as does six years passing since the underrated On Stranger Tides. Also in the film’s favor is a fair number of the grand, inventive set pieces and distinct brand of winning humor that have made the series successful enough to produce five films (so far), though nearly as many sigh-inducing moments of familiarity undermine the gains.
Speaking of recognizable commodities, Johnny Depp takes another respectable spin as Captain Jack Sparrow, the character that – for better or for worse – vaulted him from art house hero to box office champ, a title he has since relinquished with a vengeance and much critical and public scorn.
While he remains the main character, the purpose of Dead Men Tell No Tales’ existence is jump-started by Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites, still not ready for primetime) – the son of cursed sailor Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) – searching for Poseidon’s trident in hopes of freeing his father from his sub-oceanic life.
Into Henry’s world and that of headstrong Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), branded a witch for her astronomy interests and thereby sentenced to death, comes Capt. Jack, making another memorable entrance as a simple bank robbery turns into something far larger.
Set pieces on shore and as the action moves to sea are reliably entertaining and bolstered by the series’ ongoing commitment to featuring some of today’s best character actors chewing the scenery as oversized saltwater legends.
Along with Depp and the return of Geoffrey Rush as his semi-adversary Capt. Hector Barbossa, Javier Bardem gets in on the fun as Salazar, an undead Spanish captain with his hair in nifty perpetual water-floating motion and a score to settle with Jack – the pronunciation of whose last name is unintentionally comedic.
Plenty of thrills await as their intertwined quests build to another impressive climax, but also a frequent sense that these players have been through something similar once or twice in the past 15 years.
New faces help, including Scodelario (who sheds her “well, Kristen Stewart is busy – who else ya got?” label from the Maze Runner films), Paterson’s Golshifteh Farahani as an actual witch, complete with a shaved head and facial tattoos, and poor David Wenham, who finally got to play a good guy in Lion yet is back to being pigeonholed as a villain.
Any more voyages with this crew, however, and a mash-up with the Fast & Furious gang will be in order.
Grade: B-minus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Walt Disney Pictures)