PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg

Stars: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, David Wenham, Bruce Spence, Stephen Graham, Martin Klebba, Adam Brown, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Paul McCartney.

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Pirates just want to have fun! This is the fifth instalment in the successful film franchise originally based on the Pirates Of The Caribbean theme ride at Disneyland, and the series has so far grossed over $3.7 billion at the box office, making it one of the most successful film franchises of all time.

The focus of the series has been the reprobate and perpetually sozzled pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp) and his misadventures on the high seas. This time around Sparrow is enlisted by Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites, from The Giver, etc), the son of Orlando Bloom’s character, to find a mythical relic known as the Trident of Poseidon. The legendary artefact apparently has the power to reverse all curses, and Henry is desperate to find it and use it to rescue his father from his watery grave aboard the Flying Dutchman. Along the journey they are joined by the headstrong Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, from The Maze Runner, etc), an astrologist who holds the key to interpreting “the map that no man can read”, which supposedly will reveal the location of the trident.

Sparrow reassembles his crew and heads out to sea in the dilapidated boat The Dying Gull. But Sparrow is being pursued by his nemesis, the vengeful ghostly Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem). Once Salazar was a formidable and honourable sea captain whose mission was to rid the sea of all pirate ships, until he was bested by Sparrow. For years, Salazar and his boat have languished in the Devil’s Triangle, a particularly nasty area of the sea that has caused the disappearance of many ships. For a long time Salazar and his crew were condemned to a zombie-like status. A magic spell brings Salazar and his skeleton crew back to life and he sets out to wreak revenge on Sparrow. Also getting involved in the hunt is the scurvy old veteran peg-legged sea dog Captain Barbossa (again played with scenery chewing relish by Geoffrey Rush).

The producers have brought in a pair of new directors to handle the $300 million production. Norwegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, who are better known for the sea faring tale Kon Tiki, make their Hollywood directorial debut here. They throw everything at the screen in an effort to reinvigorate a franchise that had begun to grow tired. They mostly succeed. The duo injects a sense of fun into the early part of the film, although the later sections tend to grow a lot darker in tone.

One of the highlights of this film is the early sequence in which Sparrow and his crew attempt an audacious bank robbery that is an excuse for some Buster Keaton-like physical slapstick comedy and pratfalls, clever stunts, and large scale destructive set pieces. There is also some humorous dialogue here that lightens the mood occasionally, although the ribald double entendres would not have been out of place in a Carry On film. And there is some nonsense involving a guillotine and zombie sharks.

But the script, from Jeff Nathanson (Tower Heist, etc) and series regular Terry Rossio (The Lone Ranger, etc) is convoluted and crammed with too many subplots and characters.

Depp’s performance as Sparrow has almost become a parody of itself now, and the mannerisms, facial expressions and flair for physical comedy have become overly familiar as some of the same routines here are reminiscent of his turn as Tonto in the big budget flop The Lone Ranger. It’s hard to remember that he was nominated for an Oscar for his first outing as Jack Sparrow way back in 2003! Scodelario brings a suitably feisty, somewhat contemporary touch to her role. Thwaites is a rising star in Hollywood, and he does well as Henry, who is hardly the most swashbuckling of heroes, and he has plenty of charisma to spare. Bardem brings a hint of menace to his role as Salazar, although his character here is nowhere near as frightening as his Chugurh from the Oscar winning No Country For Old Men. However, his often mumbled dialogue means he is hard to understand.

There are some great VFX and special effects here, especially the visual effects that animate Salazar’s ghostly crew. But the climax, which takes place underwater, is eventually overwhelmed by the spectacular CGI effects. And despite this being the shortest film in the series, it somehow seems unnecessarily bloated. And the sound mix has been cranked up to almost deafening levels here.

The film was partially shot at the Movie World studios on the Gold Coast, and thus we get a few Australian actors including David Wenham, as an overly officious naval officer, and Bruce Spence popping up. Aging rocker Keith Richards played Sparrow’s father in an earlier instalment of the series, and here we get another famous British rock star in Paul McCartney to contribute a brief cameo as Sparrow’s uncle.

While the formula behind the Pirates Of The Caribbean series is a little stale, there is still some swashbuckling adventure, sea battles and generous doses of humour sprinkled throughout the film. This is escapist fare, and it will probably appeal to the popcorn crowd and do well at the box office.

★★☆

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