Review by Drew Bittner
Basically: The franchise goes out on a rather high note, with plenty of resolutions amid a final grand adventure.
In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, we are introduced to Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), who as a boy cast himself into the sea in order to visit his father, the cursed mariner Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Will is captain of the Flying Dutchman and cannot set foot on land more than one day every several years. Needless to say, Henry is not happy with that.
Years later, aboard a British warship chasing a pirate, Henry attempts to warn the captain of a terrible cursed site—and is thrown in the brig for his troubles. The ship is then attacked by ghostly sailors under the command of Capt. Salazar (Javier Bardem), who lost his life battling pirates in those waters. Henry is given a message for Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Salazar promises that he will break free of “the place” he is confined and then seek vengeance on Sparrow. Henry agrees to deliver the message to Jack, who, it turns out, might be able to help him lift his father’s curse.
Cast into prison once ashore, Henry meets Catrina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a woman of science whose diary may hold the secret Henry needs: The location of Poseidon’s trident. This fabulous artifact is said to have the power to break all curses—including that upon the Dutchman and its crew. He persuades Catrina to help him, despite her skepticism. His pleas are assisted by the fact that the British consider her a witch and want to kill her.
Jack has problems of his own. With no ship—the Black Pearl itself now trapped inside a bottle by Blackbeard’s magic—and a restless crew, he’s fallen upon bank robbery. This leads to an action set piece, where Jack and his crew smash their way through a port city, evading (and sometimes running over) British soldiers. The crew casts Jack aside, causing him to hock his precious magic compass.
With all parties seeking the lost trident, will it be a pirate’s life for Jack or the watery depths of Davy Jones’ locker?
Depp once again breathes life into Jack Sparrow, summoning up reserves of enthusiasm—now that a possible ending is in sight. He is much as we’ve always known him, quipping relentlessly, full of rum and ego. Depp does not have much opportunity to add more depth to Jack, but that’s well enough; he’s not necessarily a character who benefits from digging into whatever depths he might possess.
Thwaites and Scodelario make an appealing couple as Henry and Catrina, who bicker over their different views of the world—Henry is more mystic, while Catrina is empirical—even as they discover value in each other’s worldview. They are, in more ways than one, the next generation of this story and carry it forward well.
Bardem brings great menace and intensity to his role as Salazar. He tells us his father and grandfather were both lost to pirates, so he dedicated his life to hunting them—a pursuit he continues after cursed waters destroy his ship. He is murderously playful and definitely fun to watch in action.
Geoffrey Rush brings back a Barbossa who is both at the peak of his success and unbearably world weary. And it turns out that he has a secret that becomes rather important late in the story.
In the end: Dead Men Tell No Tales feels very much like a closing of the Pirates of the Caribbean story; it is full of wonder, spectacle, frights aplenty, and real heart. Those ready to say farewell to Jack and company might very much enjoy this movie, which truly does pay off all that came before. (Including a special cameo at the end.)