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 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 pursuing.
Or they could have turned the series into something animated, as the films have been cartoons for years now.
But “Kon Tiki” directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg strike just the right tone, and found just enough heart left in this tattered 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 farewell, something the previous couple of films didn’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 the only thing that can break “every curse of the sea.” So those trapped in Davey Jones’s Locker, or the walking dead crew of murderous 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 almost the last actor “cursed” by these lucrative, career-swallowing pictures, ensnared by the big paychecks to repeat 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/sometime pal Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) must work out their differences, or betray each other 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, led this time 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 filled with baroque flourishes, such as Barbossa’s captain’s cabin, ornately decorated 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 player pirates — 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 new cartoon on The Disney Channel, even a violent one built around a funny rummy drunk.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content
Cast: Johnny Depp, Kaya Scodelario, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Geoffrey Rush, David Wenham
Running time: 2:09