‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ Heightens the Fun and the Spectacle

Disney certainly has the formula down by this point, because “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”—the fifth film in the franchise—offers everything we’ve come to expect (and love) from a swashbuckling blockbuster. Johnny Depp returns as the drunkenly swaggering Jack Sparrow in what may or may not be the final “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie (interpret that post-credits scene as you will), and he brings with him the usual menagerie of mythical curses, gorgeous Caribbean seascapes, and special effects-laden mayhem.

Co-directed by Norwegian duo Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” introduces a new rotation of characters out to obtain Jack’s help (or head). There’s Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites from “The Giver”), the perfect genetic mix of Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner and Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann. He seeks the mythical Trident of Poseidon to break the curse imposed on his now barnacled father, Will, at the end of “Dead Man’s Chest.” There’s Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario from “The Maze Runner”), a fiercely intelligent astronomer whose academically-inclined interests lead to charges of witchcraft. In fairness to the sexist British officers of the era, though, the only other female character in the film actually is a witch, played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. And Javier Bardem, adding to his villainous big-screen track record, takes on the role of Captain Salazar, a terrifying ghost with crumbling facial features and coloring like burnt lava. Salazar and his un-dead crew prowl the oceans and seek to kill every pirate on the seas—especially one Captain Jack Sparrow, responsible for dooming them to their cursed fate many years ago.

Jack, meanwhile, is once again down on his luck. His only ship, the appropriately named Dying Gull, is barely seaworthy, and his fiasco of a bank robbery leads to a dearth of riches for his disgruntled crew and immense infrastructural disaster for the island of St. Martin. To paraphrase a line from the original ‘03 “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, Jack is, without a doubt, the worst pirate anyone’s ever heard of, and that familiar and absurdist dysfunction is on full display over the course of his latest adventure. Along for the ride is Hans Zimmer and his unforgettable theme music, proving to be as triumphantly catchy as ever. (Composer Geoff Zanelli supplies new themes for the new characters.) And that’s what we’re all here for anyway, right?

Like its predecessors, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” boasts a delectable costume design courtesy of Penny Rose, who also worked on the four previous “Pirates” films. Plus, production designer Nigel Phelps envisions several stunning set-pieces that are rendered in staggering detail by the special and visual effects teams, including a gemstone-encrusted island and a coral-riddled seafloor revealed by the splitting of the sea. And zombie sharks, of course. Add in the 3D glasses (highly recommended) and the film experience feels just like a Disneyland ride—namely, a more rollicking, rip-roaring version of the ride that inspired the film franchise to begin with.

The pirate epic FX bonanza could have been enough to keep audiences sated, but “Dead Men Tell No Tales” offers some compelling character portraits as well. Salazar’s revenge quest is satisfying, as is his brief-but-exhilarating rendition of Jack Sparrow’s origin story. Henry, obsessed with ending his father’s curse, spent his youth studying myths and legends and now must clash delightfully with Carina, who—while working out daddy issues of her own—clings to the alleged certainty of science. Even Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) plays out a redemptive story arc, but to say any more about that would ruin the heartwarming surprise. Perhaps the pirate’s life is not so crooked after all. Savvy?

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” releases in theaters nationwide May 26.