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It’s been an interesting and rather uneven ride with the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie franchise. The first film became an instant audience favorite, but the second film lacked the same charm, the third film was just plain weird and bloated, and the fourth film felt like the whole thing was shot on a sound stage. Despite the rocky sequel quality, Disney knows these movies will undoubtedly make big money, and this weekend welcomes the fifth attempt with PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES. This time out Jack Sparrow must face off with the evil Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his band of ghost pirates from the Devil’s Triangle. In some ways this is the most ambitious of the films yet, hoping to explore some of the untold origins, expand on specific characters and their back story, and wrap up some unresolved plot points from previous outings… all while introducing some new characters to potentially carry on the saga for the next generation of moviegoers.

The story opens with young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) who hopes to find a way to free his dad from the curse of being linked with the doomed Flying Dutchman ship (remember the Davy Jones story from the earlier sequel? It’s okay, I don’t much remember it either). As Henry gets older, he finds himself aboard a classy vessel, where he dares to second guess the captain when warning him of treacherous waters, which ends up getting him thrown in the ship’s brig. That boat is taken over by a band of ghost pirates, led by Captain Salazar (Bardem) who is searching for Jack Sparrow. Elsewhere, we meet Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a crafty girl who is too smart for her own good, so much so she’s though to be a witch. Eventually we’re reunited with Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), as he and his men hilariously attempt to steal a town’s giant safe. These three players find themselves teaming up to hunt down the Trident of Poseidon, as Henry believes it can break his father’s curse, all while Jack is now trying to stay a few steps ahead of Salazar. Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) also finds his way back in the mix, once Salazar takes over his ship and forces him to lead the way to Captain Jack. Along the way we discover how Sparrow got his infamous compass, where Carina really comes from, and more monumental plot points that almost find themselves tripping over each other.

The newest installment is directed by Espen Sandberg and Joachim Rønning (KON-TIKI) with a screenplay by Jeff Nathanson (INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL). Let’s face it, these movies live or die based on how endearing Johnny Depp can make Jack Sparrow feel, something that’s definitely been inconsistent in previous outings. This time around, it feels like classic Captain Jack, like they really worked hard to recapture the charm and fun aspects of the inaugural film. It’s easy to forget that Depp has been playing this role now for fourteen years (the first movie opened in 2003!), but there’s a chameleon-like quality to his makeup that sells it in an almost fountain of youth sort of way. It’s interesting to see Orlando Bloom back as Will Turner, though his infrequent scenes here are more of a glorified cameo than co-starring role. Geoffrey Rush always seems to find a good balance in playing Barbossa, who has some nice glory moments in this outing that feel long overdue. It’s always good to see the Captain Jack crew of Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs, Stephen Graham as Scrum, and Martin Klebba as Marty, and they’re also given some fun comedic beats to solidify their place at the table. I actually would have liked to see more of Jack and the men just having banter back and forth, being likable pirates as it were. Kaya Scodelario (THE MAZE RUNNER movies) and Brenton Thwaites (MALEFICENT) do their best to shine next to Depp, and have the potential to be interesting characters if explored further, but here I just felt they were an obvious tug at the younger generation – an effort to perhaps keep the franchise more “all ages”, as most of the original film’s fans have aged considerably at this point… heck, there’s even a flashback sequence that shows a CGI-enhanced young Jack Sparrow, which might actually be Disney’s way of showing they could make “Young Captain Jack” movies if they wanted to. Javier Bardem gives an admirable take on the villain role here, but some of his dirty deeds feel almost matter-of-fact instead of calculated and horrifying, which a character like this really should have been.

This is the shortest of the PIRATES movies, still clocking in at two hours and nine minutes, and they really do pack a lot of story into that time frame. Some of it is pretty convoluted and a tad messy, but this also happens to be one of the most fun of the films, and that helps make up for the shortcomings. One thing that’s definitely back in this outing is a sense of grand scope and epic presentation. We get major ship battles, sleek nautical moves, big action set pieces, and action adventure antics a plenty. At this point we’ve seen all this before, so the only way to have it truly work is to make it as entertaining and exciting as possible, and this sequel is very heavy on the wow factor. As these films go, this is definitely one of the better ones, even if the formula is starting to feel a bit tired. I’ve often wondered, could they actually get away with making a PIRATES movie that didn’t have Depp in the lead? Would audiences go for it? Hard to say, but if this installment is any indicator, a move like that could really sap out the more fun aspects we’ve come to expect. Now then, where did I leave that bottle of rum… ?


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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.