This weekend, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales," the fifth (yes, fifth) film in the most famous based-on-a-theme-park-attraction franchise of all time, finally splashes down in theaters after years of anticipation. (The last film in the series, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," was released back in the summer of 2011.) Johnny Depp is back in the iconic dreadlocks of Captain Jack Sparrow, who this time faces villainy in the form of Salazar (Javier Bardem), a former pirate-hunter turned ghostly, revenge-obsessed ghoul.
But what else do you need to know about the latest entry in the series? We'll let you in on what can you expect from the merry band of pirates and whether or not there will there be even more seafaring installments.
1. It's Epic
One of the first things that you get a sense of with this latest installment is just how huge it is. There's a flashback, an epic sea battle, and a sequence that can only be described as the "Pirates of the Caribbean" version of the vault heist from "Fast Five," all in the first few minutes of the movie. There are probably a dozen or so characters, who each have differing levels of dialogue/involvement, and at least two magical objects that everybody in the entire ocean seems to be searching for. In a weird way it makes you appreciate the scale of "Pirates of the Caribbean." There are a lot of big action and fantasy films, but few can conjure forth the kind of "How did they do that?" wonder that the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films do. These movies are old-school action extravaganzas and it seems, at least after one viewing, to be just as sizable as the other films and is head and shoulders above the fourth entry, which despite its massive budget felt like the "bottle episode" of a lavish television series. Thankfully, the "wow" factor is back.
2. If You Liked the First Film, Then You'll Love This
Even before the film started shooting, its directors were drawing a direct line between the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" and this film. And that's definitely the movie that it's closest to in the series -- the narrative is more streamlined, it's characters more understandable, and the supernatural elements are once again actually spooky (that opening sequence with Salazar's crew is a 10/10 jaw-dropper) -- even while handily referencing nearly every previous installment. (Some of these references are more explicit, and have more bearing on the plot, than others.) You don't have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise (like myself); you can just go along for the ride. Did you forget why the Black Pearl is trapped in a tiny bottle? It doesn't really matter! In many ways "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" is a soft reboot; the climax changes the franchise forever. And that's really exciting.
3. Javier Bardem Is Amazing
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" is mostly filled with great performances (the weak link being the two young people at the center of the movie) but the greatest performance comes courtesy of everyone's favorite sneering villain, Javier Bardem. As Salazar, he literally oozes menace. (It looks like he's chewing on the same black goo that came out of Danny De Vito's mouth in "Batman Returns.") But like most of Bardem's baddies, he takes joy in his tyranny. Sometimes he's downright gleeful. He's the perfect antidote to the boring white folk, too. Every time he shows up on screen, the movie goes electric.
4. The Effects Are Terrific
One of the things that makes Bardem's character so captivating are the visual effects used to bring him to life. It's totally Javier. There's no motion capture involved. But there are complicated effects, physics simulators and the like, which are used to blast away part of his face (he died in an explosion) and make his hair look like it's constantly swaying in the ocean current (he also died underwater). It's mesmerizing. And there are other cool flourishes, too, like the much ballyhooed ghost sharks and Salazar's living ship, which rears out of the water like a tarantula and whose masthead springs to life during a pivotal fight. It's wondrous stuff, through and through.
5. Johnny Depp Is Serviceable
Depp loves Jack Sparrow. He recently showed up to Disneyland and hid in the ride, frightening (and delighting) tourists and he often makes appearances at places like the D23 Expo (the Comic Con for Disney nerds) in full regalia. So it's kind of weird to see him so listless in the role this time out. It could be his age (Depp turned 50 before putting on his pieces of eight again) but, physically, he doesn't do as much swashbuckling as he once did. Still, he's great for a few zingers, and it's always fun to just see Captain Jack play.
6. You'll Want a Spin-Off for the Sea Witch Character
Of the movie's many surprises, one of the bigger ones was seeing Golshifteh Farahani, so terrific in last year's "Paterson" (she's also really great in Ridley Scott's weirdly underrated Middle Eastern thriller "Body of Lies"), playing sea witch Shansa, who forms an uneasy alliance with both Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbossa and the British Navy. With a shaved head and inky red tattoos, she's one of the more striking-looking characters in the movie, and her mysterious vibe will make you long for her return to the franchise (or an entirely separate spin-off movie).
7. There Aren't That Many Nods to the Ride
It's always fun to play "spot the reference" to the famous Disneyland attraction but there aren't that many in this film. Instead, there seems to be a sequence that has inspired part of the new ride at Shanghai Disneyland, "Pirates of the Caribbean – Battle for the Sunken Treasure." (Talking about what that sequence is would probably constitute "spoiler material.") Still, there are a few winks and nods to the original attraction, enough to make your geeky little heart go pitter-patter. Just don't expect too many explicit connections.
8. Um, Paul McCartney Shows Up
This isn't really a spoiler. Paul McCartney shared a poster of his character on social media the other day. His cameo is both weird and somewhat on-message, considering that Keith Richards has been in two of the four installments before this. In the film, he plays Jack's Uncle Jack, who is imprisoned in a cell next to Jack Sparrow. It's kind of cute, even if it goes on a little too long (you could say the same about the movie itself) and McCartney seems to be having an absolute blast. Paul is "Dead (Men Tell No Tales)."
9. Stay Through the Credits
While there are some pretty big shake-ups during the course of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales," it's also pretty evident that this is far from the final film in the franchise. And what really hammers this point home is the fact that there's a post-credits sequence that indicates that a formidable character from a previous entry is set to return. That's all we can say, but just know to stick around, especially if you want an idea of where the series is headed.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" opens on Friday everywhere.
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