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Five films in, Pirates still leaves you feeling a lot like the Magic Kingdom ride it’s so famously inspired by: alternately thrilled, exhausted, and seriously regretting that last funnel cake. Johnny Depp is back in Dead Men Tell No Tales as the perpetually drunk Jack Sparrow, heroically holding cirrhosis at bay with a gold-toothed grin and a unique wobbly swagger; Geoffrey Rush is back, too, as his high-seas frenemy, the squirrely, grasping Captain Barbossa.
And with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise’s original young couple Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) sidelined — by an immortal curse, no more, no less — come two dewy new replacements: Henry (The Giver star Brenton Thwaites) as the really ridiculously good-looking result of Will and Elizabeth’s union, and Carina (Kaya Scodelario of the Maze Runner films), as the sort of plucky, stubborn proto-feminist whose proud familiarity with geometry and astronomy promptly gets her entitled a witch. Can these two crazy kids unite to find the Trident of Poseidon, the key to all the oceans’ powers? Will zombie Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his gang of putrifying crewmen beat them to the chase? Can Depp maybe just lay down under the palm tree for a bit and take a nice short nap?
Well, not yet. Because, firstly, he needs to rob a bank — like literally, as a whole bank, dragged through the streets of St. Maarten like tin cans on the back of a wedding Cadillac — followed by a whole bunch of deals about looking for a seaworthy crew and establishing a wary friendship (or at least a mutually beneficial stalemate) with Will and Carina. Then together, they must deal with the homicidal and highly motivated score-settling of Salazar and company, whose aquatic rot the special effects crew brings to remarkable un-life: dark coils of hair swing and undulate looking like seaweed; skin dissolves into bone, cartilage and air. (Even though their vocal cords appear to work just fine; dead men do, in fact, tell lots, lots of tales.) Unlike their human counterparts, a cursed hoard of deadly sharks seem unaware of their own decomposition — half-decayed jaws dropping, corroded tails whipping as they search for sweet, sea-salt-tenderized man meat.
If only half that beautifully detailed attention had leaned toward the storyline: Instead, what we get is the ordinary mash of swashbuckling nonsense and soggy mythology: There will be romance, and disclosures, and some goofy gold-plated cameos (hey there, Sir Paul McCartney! And whoops, farewell). After all of this, the Norwegian duo Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (the Oscar-nominated Kon-Tiki) look less like directors than shepherds, carefully coloring inside the lines mapped out for them so thoroughly by a $4-billion-dollars-and-counting series. Recent reports say the cliffhanger ending is merely a setup for a sixth and final outing, which depends on any number of box-office contingencies — but mostly, of course, on whether Depp and Disney are able, or more likely willing, to make one last sunset sail.