Smartly there! Latest ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ picks up the pace

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Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” | Disney

When last we left Captain Jack Sparrow some six years ago, he was —

Ah, it doesn’t really matter. Some 14 years and five movies into the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, does anyone this side of Johnny Depp care enough about these movies to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of all the curses and kills and character arcs?

Strike that. I’ll bet not even Johnny Depp could walk us through the timeline.

I mean, we’re not talking about the “Star Wars” or “Alien” or Marvel Universe timelines here. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I don’t see the same level of online fan-person passion for the “Pirates” movies as we see for other movie franchises. Are there fan-driven “Cons” populated by devoted Sparrow-Heads, with Barbossa costume contests and couples dressed as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann?

Yet the “Pirates” movies are well liked. The first four movies have grossed some $3.75 billion worldwide, so here we go with entry number five.

And indeed, “Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” extends its tentacles into the past. In addition to Depp’s fifth turn as the heavily guy-linered, perpetually soused, comedically slurring narcissist pirate, we get the return of some beloved (and not so beloved) characters from “Pirates” past, and in each case they’re given the closure they deserve.

But even if you haven’t seen any of the previous entries in this initially entertaining but sometimes overblown and sometimes meandering Disney moneymaker, “Dead Men” works well enough as a stand-alone, swashbuckling comedic spectacle, thanks to the terrific performances, some ingenious practical effects, impressive CGI and a steady diet of PG-13 dialogue peppered with not particularly sophisticated but (I have to admit) fairly funny sexual innuendo.

Co-directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (Oscar nominees for best foreign film with the gripping “Kon-Tiki” in 2012) move things along at a brisk pace for a “Pirates” movie. (It’s about 50 minutes shorter than the interminable “At World’s End.”) From a ridiculous and wildly entertaining bank robbery scene early on when the entire bank, i.e., the building itself, is taken, through a thrilling finale involving a “Ten Commandments”-style parting of the waters, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” might as well have been titled, “Go Big or Go Home.”

So here’s your plot, such as it is. Brenton Thwaites plays Henry Turner, the teenage son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, the loving couple played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley in the first “Pirates’ movie.

Henry is on a quest to break the curse that has doomed his father to a ghost ship at the bottom of the sea. He eventually teams up with Kaya Scodelario’s Carina, an astronomer often accused of witchcraft, and Captain Jack Sparrow himself. They each have their reasons to find the legendary Trident of Poseidon, which grants all power over the seas to anyone that possesses it.

You know, that old story.

The great Geoffrey Rush returns as the one-legged Captain Barbossa, who has alternately been Sparrow’s ally and his enemy over the decades. Barbossa has become a wealthy fat cat of the high seas, lording over a fleet of 10 pirate ships and enjoying the spoils of victory, but his world is turned upside down by Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), an unhinged and quite undead pirate hunter who is about to kill Barbossa — until Barbossa offers up Jack Sparrow as a bounty in order to spare himself.

Salazar wants to kill Jack because Jack’s the one who trapped Salazar in the Devil’s Triangle, which turned Salazar into a creepy undead creature with parts of his face missing and flowing hair that moves around as if he’s forever standing in front of a Beyonce concert wind machine, so there you have it.

All the talk of curses and revenge and magical maps is the movie equivalent of roadies stacking the amps for the pyrotechnics to follow. Depp’s Captain Jack has become pure comedic relief, to the point where even his heroics seem like accidental slapstick, so it’s up to the next-generation players — Thwaites’ Henry and Scodelario’s Carina — to assume the more traditional action movie lead roles, and the actors are up to the task.

Also, we have Oscar winners Geoffrey Rush and Javier Bardem hamming it up beneath all the makeup and CGI trickery, and that’s a hoot. Bardem’s Salazar is a genuinely frightening creation.

Even the way Salazar says “Jack Sparrow,” making it sound something like “Yawk Where-Oh,” is fantastically weird. I’ll bet even the other undead pirates aboard Salazar’s ship spend their downtime talking about the Captain’s spooky eccentricities.


Disney presents a film directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg and written by Jeff Nathanson. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content). Running time: 129 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.

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