In case you were wondering, there’s actually a lot to love about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Yes, it’s the fifth Pirates film, in a franchise that many might argue ought to have ended after At World’s End, and the ground that the new film covers ... well, it’s not exactly new, is it? Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) bobs and weaves around on land, a plucky, go-getting heroine sheds a dress, and a wide-eyed young man finds himself committing piracy in the name of the greater good. Having said that, Dead Men Tell No Tales is very fun, and surprisingly full of heart.
The basic premise, without giving away too many spoilers is this: Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, is looking for a way to break the Flying Dutchman curse that holds his father captive. Carina Smyth (a stellar Kaya Scodelario) is an orphan following the clues left behind in a book that belonged to her father, in the hopes of finding out the truth of who she really is. Jack ... well, Jack just gets dragged along for the ride. That, and he’s also being hunted by Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), a ghostly pirate hunter that’s been waiting years to exact revenge against Jack for effectively dooming him and his crew to a miserable undead existence. Look out for actor Anthony De La Torre in a flashback to young Jack’s origin as Captain. It’s actually pretty uncanny how much he looks like the drunken captain – so much so that this reviewer assumed it was a digitally de-aged Depp.
Our intrepid trio find their paths intertwining (in a hilarious scene where Carina and Jack are both sentenced to death), and set out to find a mythical treasure that will supposedly help them all, and bump into some very familiar characters along the way – including Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, who is great as always), Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally), Mullroy and Murtogg (Angus Barnett and Giles New, barely recognisable from their straight-laced appearances in The Curse of the Black Pearl, but as bumbling as ever), and Jack the monkey.
Carina and Henry find an instant connection with each other, owing to the fact they’ve both been chasing after their fathers their entire lives, and their fresh-faced determination in pursuit of their goals is a wonderful contrast to the ever-sarcastic, bitter old man-esque petulance of Jack. Their burgeoning romance schtick, however, feels a little forced, and like it was thrown in for the sake of having a romance. It never quite encapsulates the sweetness of Will and Elizabeth – but it also doesn’t overshadow other, more important relationships.
At just over two hours long, the film doesn’t feel drawn-out in the way At World’s End did. The storyline is much simpler, which works in its favour. Directors Joachim Ronnin and Espen Sandberg haven’t got quite the flair for action here that Gore Verbinksi (who helmed the first three in the franchise) did. This means that, while certainly fun (Jack’s first appearance and the ensuing chaos that follows is both over-the-top and typical Pirates mayhem), it doesn’t quite measure up to the grand scale showdown at the end of At World’s End.
Where they do flourish though, is in the big revelations that get made near the climax of the film, which add emotional weight and poignancy to the film, and that neatly answer many of the questions that the leads had at the start of their adventure.
Visually, the film is as lush as the movies that preceded it. The Caribbean ports are wonderfully detailed, the islands where the characters get stranded on are vivid and colourful, with the piece de resistance being the stage for the final act of the film. There’s an oddly unfinished quality to Salazar’s crew, which is obviously a deliberate choice, but does at first jar very much with the rest of the film – but maybe that’s the point.
While Dead Men Tell No Tales really doesn’t tell any, well, new tales, it’s the first film since The Curse of the Black Pearl to come close to capturing that special Pirates magic and charm.