Shiver our collective timbers, it’s been six years since Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Yet this be a age o’ reboots that we fine patrons of the cinematic arts are livin’ in, and Disney have seen fit to bring a Spring upon this behemoth. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES isn’t a change of course so much as it is a case of steady as she goes, with the franchise proving it is still a few fathoms away from Davy Jones’ Locker.
Despite being billed as ‘The Final Adventure’ in some promos, the latest installment has all the earmarks of the opposite of that. Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) hunts down myths and legends in pursuit of his cursed father Will (Orlando Bloom). His pursuits lead him in the direction of Trident of Poseidon, the only thing that can lift all the curses of the sea. Before doing so, Henry must track down Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), a captain without a ship who’s also being pursued by the dark forces of the vengeful Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem).
The basic concept runs parallel to the original Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, right down to Jack’s separation from his beloved ship. Pinging between some base-level wordplay and massive set-pieces, such as the one where a building is literally dragged through town, writer Jeff Nathanson (Tower Heist) isn’t going through the motions but he is highly in touch with them. Depp himself is a little bit of a microcosm of this approach, initially feeling like he is parodying his own performance with non sequiturs (“Spaghetti wolf!”) but ultimately settling into the iconic character. An extended bit involving a whirling guillotine is comedy gold.
Where the film attempts some departure is in the introduction of a new male lead. Unfortunately for the underwritten Thwaites, his vanilla presence is almost entirely forgettable, but at least this much is consistent with his character’s father. Thankfully the Hermione-esque Carina Smyth (Skins‘ Kaya Scodelario) is a sea breeze of fresh air, mirroring the Keria Knightley role as a strong presence. Touted as an astronomer and a horologist, many a gag is had with the pronunciation of the latter, but this is far more about poking fun of the dimwitted pirates. It’s the villainous Javier Bardem and the surprisingly emotional turn from Geoffrey Rush that ultimately steal the show.
Much of the charm of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES is in revisiting old friends, and many of the supporting characters (including Kevin McNally as the always wonderful Joshamee Gibbs) are back for the ride. Yet in a film that features cameos from one of The Beatles, and has a massive climactic moment that splits in the ocean in twain, we can forever be grateful that it found time to explore the world of zombie sharks. For that reason alone, the Pirates of the Caribbean series should earn an infinite number of sequels. Given the end-credits stinger, we can probably expect a few more.