Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales ***

It’s so nice to have a memorable “Pirates” movie again! 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

Where has this been? Why has it taken four tries and 14 years for a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie to come close to the enthralling success of the 2003 original? “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” isn’t just good, it’s really good – the action is creative, the visual effects are spectacular, and the story has elements that are ingenious. Sure it’s overloaded with plot, but darn if I couldn’t stop smiling while watching it.

Captain Jack Sparrow’s (Johnny Depp) big opening action set piece is a doozy. He’s stealing a bank vault. His men have tied the vault to a rope that stretches through the rear of the building; Sparrow is inside the bank, and the local militia is in the front, shooting at him. Sparrow’s men, in horse-drawn carriages, take off, but not just with the vault – the entire bank lifts from its foundation and is dragged through the island! This is a creative twist that makes an otherwise inconsequential action scene an absolute blast. More importantly, it sets a tone that the rest of the movie follows: It’s preposterous and unrealistic, but it’s done with a cinematic smile, and signals that the joy of the “Pirates” franchise has returned!

Most individual story components work well. Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson reveals how Jack Sparrow became a captain, has a few surprises up his sleeve, and nicely ties the narrative into the original trilogy. The only problem is the number of plotlines, as things do get convoluted at times. The basics: Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will and Elizabeth Turner (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley), seeks the Trident of Poseidon, as Henry believes it is the only thing that can free his father’s curse to live in the ocean. He teams with a horologist named Corina (Kaya Scodelario) and Sparrow to find it. Meanwhile, a Spanish officer named Salazar (Javier Bardem) wants the Trident so he can kill Sparrow and free himself and his men from undead purgatory. And finally, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) gets involved, playing both sides as usual.

For the fifth entry of a franchise, the action is brilliantly creative. Among directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg’s highlights: Cannon hopping during battle, ghost sharks, and a journey to the bottom of the ocean. None of this is possible without ample visual effects, the most impressive of which involves Salazar and his men. Notice the way Salazar’s hair, and the tassels on his shoulder, constantly sway as if they’re under water. The time, detail, and (no doubt) expense to render such an effect this extensively is admirable work indeed. 

The first “Pirates” was a critical and box office sensation, and of course had an excess of novelty that delighted us all. Now comes “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” and we’re reminded of what a great franchise this could be. For the first time in a long time, there’s good reason to look forward to the next “Pirates” movie.

Did you know?
Given the “Caribbean” of the title, it was of course shot in Australia. It’s the first “Pirates” movie to be shot outside the Caribbean.

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