Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Cursed pirates seek the Trident of Poseidon in the latest entry in Disney's hugely profitable series.
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It's back to basics for Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth outing in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Anchored in more ways than one by Johnny Depp, the movie replays the series' greatest hits for a new generation of viewers who may not realize how much they're being shortchanged.

Once a cinema icon, Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow has devolved into shtick and gibberish, the actor's dissolute mannerisms and garbled line readings a growing deterrent to enjoying or even understanding the story. Given Depp's reported personal problems, Sparrow's inability to respond coherently to his surroundings, his unbridled egoism and rampant lust all take on darker hues.

On the other hand, Depp's longstanding affection for silent slapstick, especially as practiced by Buster Keaton, has helped nudge the series into superb action sequences. Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon-Tiki) have filled this Pirates with extended chases, large-scale collisions, hairsbreadth escapes and giddy, elaborate, geometric pratfalls. Paul Cameron's cinematography at times achieves an intoxicating visual grandeur, buttressed by some genuinely inventive visual effects.

Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson basically repeats what fans liked in earlier episodes. Sparrow escapes execution, joins a quest for treasure, tricks murderous ghosts, battles old enemies, drinks rum. He cedes screen time to Oscar-winning hams Geoffrey Rush and Javier Bardem, who bellow and snarl but inflict little lasting damage (apart from dispatching anonymous extras).

What passes for romance in this Pirates comes from Brenton Thwaites, as Orlando Bloom's character's son Henry Turner, and Kaya Scodelario as a polymath frequently mistaken for a witch. They strike few sparks, mostly because Thwaites suffers from derring-do deprivation. Kids won't mind, nor will they understand what Bloom and his Pirates partner Keira Knightley are doing in the movie.

The rest is a blur of sea battles, sea rescues, undead sharks, sunken ships bouncing up to the surface from the ocean floor, visits to the Devil's Triangle, flashbacks to Turner as a boy and even to a young Sparrow, a gratuitous bit by Sir Paul McCartney, and the threat of a sequel. Like the Disneyland ride that started it all, these disparate, at times mismatched elements should still return a hefty profit to the studio.

If you've never seen a Pirates of the Caribbean, this one will pass the time nicely. If you have, Dead Man Tell No Tales may invoke déjà vu. During one sea chase the camera zooms into a section of a map marked "Uncharted Waters," something this outing studiously avoids.

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