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If ever you’ve ever had a soft spot for those scalawags, the Pirates of the Caribbean and that dopey/daffy/rum-drunk Captain Jack Sparrow, then Dead Men Tell No Tales the latest and perhaps last film of the franchise, is for you.
It’s not for the critics, who rightly point out its many failings. It’s long, repetitious — with every chase, rescue from the hangman’s scaffold, every sea battle straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean’s Greatest Hits. Even the title is a little too close to Dead Man’s Chest an earlier installment, and the latest film is more effects-driven and nautically inept than ever.
Truth be told, they could have abandoned ship a couple of Pirates of the Caribbean movies ago, back when Keira Knightley had the good sense to sail on and Orlando Bloom embraced a tabloid life more about who he’s sleeping with than what movie roles he’s following.
Or they could have turned Pirates of the Caribbean series into something animated, as the films have been cartoons for years now.
But “Kon Tiki” directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg nail just the right tone, and found just enough heart left in this worn-out tale. Johnny Depp escaped his Errol Flynn-like offscreen life of dissipation and scandal to don the dreadlocks and black eye liner one more time. And darned if this doesn’t add up to an affectionate goodbye, something the previous bunch of movies couldn’t manage.
Aptly enough, Jeffrey Nathanson’s script is about the pursuit of one last magical talisman — The Trident of Poseidon. Young adventurer Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) needs it to free his father, Will Turner (Bloom) from eternity on The Flying Dutchman.
And the only person who can interpret “the map that no man can read” is a very smart woman, so smart she’s labeled “a witch. Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) is a would-be astronomer — “Ahh, you breed DONKEYS!” — and “horologist” who has daddy issues of her own. And she has “Galileo’s Diary,” which has that map.
The trident is allegedly the only tool that can break “every curse of the sea.” So those trapped in Davey Jones’s Locker, or the walking dead gang of deadly pirate hunter Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) might be interested, too.
The one bloke who seems least interested in Captain Jack (Depp), and there’s a metaphor for you. He’s nearly the last actor “cursed” by these lucrative, career-swallowing films, entangled by the huge paychecks to reprise this role into eternity. Keira and Orlando and Jonathan Pryce and even director Gore Verbinski got away. Not Depp.
Captain Jack and his old nemesis/occasional buddy Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) must work out their differences, or turn on each other’s back one last time in a quest that has them fleeing the ghost ship and crew of Salazar, as well as the usual contingent from the Royal Navy, this time led by David Wenham.
Wenham makes a fine foil, or would have, had he been given more to work with. The dewy-eyed newcomers have pluck, especially Scodelario. And there’s pleasure in seeing Depp re-engage with the character, and in chewy scenes that square off Oscar winners Bardem and Rush.
The production is full of baroque flourishes, for instance, Barbossa’s captain’s cabin, ornately ornamented with human bones. There’s a ghostly gloom to the opening, giving way to a generally sunny romp as Jack and crew attempt a bank job and meet young Henry and young Carina.
“I’m not looking for trouble.”
“What a horrible way to live!”
I miss some of the supporting pirate roles — like Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook. The movies’ effects have “progressed” from having the sea’s living dead stalk across the ocean bottom to sneak up on the living, to having them sprint across the surface — not progress at all, really.
But getting the tone right and light is a big deal. Ask the boobs of “Baywatch” about that.
There are plans afoot to do a sixth film, with this one leaving just enough wriggle room for that possibility. If that happens, I take back every nice thing I’ve said here. For all involved, save the accountants, that would be a mistake.
This is as graceful a “Pirates” exit as can be hoped for. And if Disney and Depp are hell bent on carrying on, I’d suggest giving the job to animators. There’s always room for a brand new animated film on The Disney Channel, even a violent one built around a hilariously rummy drunk.