Disney's marketing claims that the fifth in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, "Dead Men Tell No Tales" (directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg), is the final. I'm not sure about that, but if it's truly the series' farewell, this chapter acts as a satisfying enough sendoff. That's mainly because the Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio's script wisely stations Johnny Depp's roguish Captain Jack Sparrow at the adventure's center.
I don't mean to demean the initial, three movies (the fourth one got it right, by the way), which will likely gain classic status as the years pass, but to me, as significant as Orlando Bloom's Will Turner and Keira Knightly's Elizabeth Swann are in that trilogy, they often invade Depp's precious space. In this fifth installment, Turner and Swan do return, but only enough to let their offspring, Henry (Brenton Thwaites), make his debut. (In truth, the couple remains relegated to cameos, with one coming only after the film's cliimax.) "Dead Men" remains Sparrow's story, therefore, though to be honest, there are times when Javier Bardem's Captain Salazar gives ol' Captain Jack a respectable run for his money.
Salazar seeks revenge on Sparrow for having entrapped him and his crew in the Devil's Triangle some years prior. (Sparrow did so because Salazar made it his life's mission to slay all pirates.) Though the now liberated, spectral crew (inadvertently released by Sparrow) is on the maddening hunt, our brave buccaneer has a clever card up his sleeve, even if he doesn't know it at first. It's through the mythological Poseidon's staff, the Trident, that Salazar and gang can be subdued, but how in the world does Sparrow hope to find this fabled object?
Sparrow enlists not only young Henry on his quest, but a spunky astronomer, Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), which leads to more meandering peril, with Salazar always in hot pursuit. Incidentally, Sparrow's companions are each in search of something of their own: for Henry, it's the chance to free his father from the Dutchman curse; for Carina, it's the chance to fulfill a dream of a father she's never known (and by the way, his identity proves quite a pleasant surprise).
Old and new friends appear throughout the journey, including Sparrow's affable Black Pearl buddies, First Mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally) and little big man, Marty (Martin Klebba). Old rival, Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is also on board, doing a dandy job of keeping the rocky seas even rockier. On the new cameo front, Paul McCartney plays Uncle Jack, honorably taking the reins from Keith Richard's paternal presence.
It's this eclectic blend of characters that make the film click. However, in this instance, the supporting players never once steal from Sparrow or his focused foe. Depp has full liberty to gobble the scenery (and engage in lots of humorous shenanigans), allowing Bardem to raise his persona to an eerie, earnest peak. Truly, the actor would make an excellent Count Dracula, if given the chance.
Like other "Pirates" films, this one defines the importance of fulfilling one's duty (that is, doing what's right), despite one's shortcomings. Sparrow isn't a bad guy. Never was. Never will be. He's human, but for any good cause, clever, suave and cunning. Again, he's the reason why we've tuned in. He represents all that we are and wish to be. "Dead Men" conveys this identifiable idea yet again.
Let's hope the film's box-office earnings give Disney pause before axing one of its most profitable series. As much as "Dead Men" gives us a glimpse of Sparrow as a young man via CGI, wouldn't it be great to see Depp mature further in the role, visiting the likes of Atlantis and Shangri-La, rubbing elbows with such memorable mariners as Long John Silver and Captain Nemo? There are far too many Sparrow tales yet to tell. What a rotten cheat it would be if they now ceased. Savvy?