It’s been 6 years since the last adventure of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), the incredibly mediocre On Stranger Tides, but things have course corrected for the better with Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Picking up about 5 years after On Stranger Tides, Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of original protagonists Will and Elizabeth Turner, is obsessed with finding Poseidon’s Trident, an artifact that gives the wielder control of the sea and can break any curse, which Henry hopes will break the hold of the Flying Dutchman on Will (Orlando Bloom). Also looking for the Trident is Carina (Kaya Scodelario), an orphaned astronomer who is trying to follow clues left to her by her father in Galieo’s journal. Jack Sparrow gets drawn in when, close to rock bottom, he trades his compass in for a bottle of rum, freeing the ferocious Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) from his prison in the Devil’s Triangle and seeks Jack looking for revenge, as Jack tricked him into smashing his ship into the Triangle as a younger man. The plot is the typical Pirates plot full of shifting alliances, double crosses and magical macguffins but it feels closer to Curse of the Black Pearl in that it’s all mostly self-contained to this movie and it’s a huge step up from whatever the hell happened in On Stranger Tides (Fountain of Youth? Criminal wasting of Ian McShane?) Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario are a solid replacement for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly, a huge improvement over the attempt to replace them in On Stranger Tides that was essentially two cardboard cutouts, one of which was a mermaid. Carina is a much more active heroine and there’s a great runner of her constantly being called a witch for knowing science. Johnny Depp is doing his usual Jack Sparrow thing that is drunkenly sashaying around and making double entendres but it works better than the previous movie because he’s back to being a co-lead and not the entire focus. Javier Bardem devours scenery as usual as Salazar and the look of him and his crew, even though the basic idea is similar to the zombie and sea creature crews of the previous movies, is pretty cool as they are sea ghosts and they can run on and under the water but cannot step on dry land and some of the crew are just disembodied limbs. They also have ghost sharks and birds and their ship is basically an indestructible battering ram that destroys any ship in it’s way. The one dull spot plotwise and cast as is David Wenham as the latest evil British guy but he could easily be written completely out of the film and nothing would really change and he doesn’t do anything cool or interesting to justify why he’s there.
Action wise, Dead Men Tell No Tales tries to keep up the huge, ridiculous action sequences of, especially, the original trilogy but none of them really stand up to say the whirlpool final battle in At World’s End or the insane three way sword fight on a wheel in Dead Man’s Chest. There’s a fun spin on the finale of Fast Five in the beginning as Jack’s crew attempts to rob a bank and ends up dragging the entire building through a city, although physics wise it makes even less sense than Fast Five, and there’s a fun rescue sequence at an execution where Jack is in a precarious position with an guillotine blade. Dead Men Tell No Tales does feel like it’s lacking in the ship to ship battle or big swordfighting duels of the prior movies and the finale also feels a little anti-climactic, despite being set in a pretty awesome location.
Overall, Dead Men Tell No Tales shifts the Pirates series back towards the fun of the first couple films and fixes most of the terrible decisions of On Stranger Tides. All the typical Pirates antics you’ve come to expect are here from Jack’s bizarre mannerisms to sea magic to big set pieces, so, if you’re a fan, I would say it’s worth checking out but, if you burned out on the series, there probably isn’t enough new here to pull you back in.