Review by C.J. Bunce
Say what you like about the three sequels to 2003’s surprise Disney hit Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, if you love adventures on the high seas, you’ve had a place to come home to, with Dead Man’s Chest (2006), At World’s End (2007), and On Stranger Tides (2011). If you love the full scope of 3D technology, the series has revealed the potential beauty of the technology as the films provided some beautiful cinematography. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales truly brings pirate lore full circle, with Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, and more all coming back and as barnacled as ever. The fifth entry in the series is now streaming on Netflix and available on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, and 4K.
In a year that should see award shows celebrating 17 years of Hugh Jackman fleshing out the story of genre favorite character Logan, also known as Wolverine, 14 of those years saw Johnny Depp create the most memorable character of his career as Captain Jack Sparrow. Always coming back for more and playing the heart out of his stumbling, distracted, but savvy survivor of visits to the bottom of the ocean and back, Depp solidified what a generation (or two) will always think of first when they hear the word pirate. Taking a close second for that honor is Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Hector Barbossa, who also graced the screen in each film in the series as an equally interesting but different kind of salty pirate. When you think of great, modern, master thespians stepping into high-profile genre roles to make them compelling, Rush as Barbossa should be at the top of your list.
Along with the great costumes, weapons, ships, and locations, audiences will find even more Rube Goldberg and Charlie Chaplin-inspired physical comedy in Dead Men Tell No Tales. For the perennial dose of pirate gravitas, Academy Award winning actor Javier Bardem steps in to the guest star space filled in past adventures by the likes of Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Penélope Cruz, Zoe Saldana, and Stellan Skarsgård. Bardem is another perfectly cast actor, as a gritty, mighty captain condemned to death with his crew by a young Jack Sparrow. With some of the series’ best visual effects, Bardem’s Spanish Captain Salazar and his crew roam the high seas looking like they are walking on the ocean’s floor, complete with wet flowing hair and clothes–and missing body parts. They are ghosts, but a new–and brilliant–take on pirate ghosts (or are they ghost pirates?). Plus… ghost sharks!
With audiences and now home viewers showing up for more Sparrow, Barbossa, and new villainy, the film also has a through-line tying the stories of the past together. Kaya Scodelario (The Maze Runner, Clash of the Titans) plays Carina Smyth, a sweet and smart young orphan turned criminal who uses a mysterious book and science to attempt to find her long-lost father. She is joined by Brenton Thwaites (Gods of Egypt, Maleficent, 2018’s Titans) as Henry Turner, a mirror reflection of his father, Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner from the early episodes of the series. Henry has similarly followed a course in search of his condemned father, except using magic to find his way. Pop culture and music fans will love this chapter’s cameo actor playing Sparrow’s grandfather.
Not only do co-directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg find new material to keep us engaged for the duration of the roller coaster, the story has its own surprising twists and turns. The franchise always knows to stick to the most important part of all the action and antics–good, rousing, fun stories about exciting, established pirate lore and legends. On the other side of the doubloon, some of the year’s best CGI can be found in not only the new ghosts, but in recurring flashback scenes showing a young Johnny Depp as Sparrow, similar to what Hollywood’s wizards accomplished for Michael Douglas in Ant-Man and Kurt Russell in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. And this film’s big Rube Goldberg moment takes place during a heist, and it’s the biggest set up and giant-sized delivery of all five films.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales puts a bright red bow on a successful fantasy film series, possibly the biggest box office success for a series based on such an unlikely concept–a decades old amusement park ride that was Walt Disney’s final idea for a park ride, a take on the popular It’s a Small World boat ride at his theme parks. All signs seems to indicate this will be the last of the series. This entry makes the perfect final chapter.
Watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales now on Netflix, and its available on Blu-ray, Digital HD, DVD, and 4K here at Amazon (look for editions including the behind the scenes featurettes). The only detraction for fans of the 3D cut of the film is that Disney has held back on any American 3D home release–a great disappointment for what was likely 2017’s best 3D film.