On the one hand, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” — the fifth installment in the highly successful Disney franchise — has all the ingredients for another enjoyable adventure on the supernatural high seas.
There are entertaining occurrences, dazzling visuals and, last but not least, Johnny Depp as rum-swigging, Keith Richards-inspired pirate Captain Jack Sparrow.
On the other hand, it really feels like we’ve been there, plundered that at this point.
So, as they say, your mileage may vary with “Dead Men Tell No Tales.”
It doesn’t seem possible, but this latest battle between the “good” pirates and the ghostly men of the sea comes a full six years after the fourth film, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” Like that so-so movie and the two bloated affairs that came before it, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is chasing the glory of the first, the extremely fun romp that was “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” released way back in 2003.
The first order of business in “Tales” is to set up that one-time series hero Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is still bound by a curse to captain the damned ship Flying Dutchman, the dark magic taking a visibly physical toll on him. He is found by his now-grown son, Henry (Brenton Thwaites of “Gods of Egypt”), who tells his dad he will find a way to free him of his curse, a notion of which Will tries to free him.
We also meet Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario of “The Maze Runner” movies), a young woman of science who studies time — when she will later tell pirates she is a “horologist,” they very much get the wrong idea — who is obsessed with a map “no man can read.”
And what of Captain Jack? He is found sleeping in a large bank safe, along with a bottle of booze — and an important man’s wife. As his crew begins to haul away the whole bank building in a fun sequence, a groggy Jack recalls he is there to rob the bank.
All is not well after the heist, though, and Jack’s crew abandons him. Worse, he soon trades a compass he has been carrying around for some time for another bottle of booze, a move that frees a former enemy of his. Thanks to Jack, the ghostly Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew of walking dead are now free to leave the watery prison of Devil’s Triangle with the expressed purpose of killing him.
Also in the mix, as always, is Geoffrey Rush’s generally delightful Captain Hector Barbossa, Jack’s greatest frenemy. Barbossa makes a deal with Salazar: If the latter lets the former live, Barbossa will lead Salazar to Jack.
Jack aligns himself with Will and Carina, of course, writer Jeff Nathanson (“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”) and story co-creator Terry Rossio trying to recreate the formula from the original trilogy. The dynamic isn’t as strong as the original, but it’s a passable forgery.
Directed by Norwegian tandem Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (“Bandidas”), “Tales” is a little herky-jerky. It’s blessedly shorter than the previous films and generally keeps things moving at a nice pace, but the action sequences sort of keep you at arm’s length and allow your mind to wander as they get bigger, increasingly digitally enhanced and sillier. It’s hard to get all that caught up on them. (That said, some scenes do impress, such as an inventive sequence in which Jack repeatedly avoids a guillotine’s blade in a manner you couldn’t have imagined.)
Plus, while Thwaites and Scodelario are fine — she’s the more interesting of the two, just as Keira Knightley brought more to the table in the earlier movies than Bloom did — it’s just difficult to become invested in what obviously will be a budding romance.
Having portrayed what is now an iconic villain — Anton Chigurh in 2007 Oscar winner “No Country for Old Men” — a lot was to be expected of Bardem. Salazar, with his flowing ghost hair and missing pieces, is a big presence on screen, but his creepy death whisper, while cool-sounding at times, can border on unintelligible and grows tiresome.
And, again, what of Captain Jack? It’s tough to say whether Depp has lost his fastball when it comes to the character or that Jack’s seeming increased rum intake has rendered the character less interesting. He still provides a few laugh, to be sure, but maybe we’ve just had our fill.
If, after “Tales,” you haven’t had your fill of the “Pirates” franchise, rejoice. While some promotional materials have billed this as the “final adventure,” there is strong evidence this is, perhaps, the first half of a last voyage for Captain Jack, for better or worse.
So be it. Pass the rum.‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’
In theaters: May 26.Rated: PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content.
Runtime: 2 hours, 9 minutes.Stars (of four): 2.5.