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With the franchise's fifth chapter, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales," Disney gets some of its seafaring mojo back as it tells a rousing, action-packed tale of swashbuckling buccaneers and vengeful ghosts.
This new chapter firmly establishes that Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow is no longer the franchise's dashing hero but its convivial master of ceremonies. Jack sets the movie in motion when he loses his crew and trades away his beloved compass, freeing the ghostly spirits of the murderous Capt. Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew. After that, though, he's more on the sidelines.
The heroes of "Dead Men Tell No Tales" are the younger folks, two smart adventurers in search of a mythical treasure. Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) toils in a British Navy ship's galley and knows all the sea legends. Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) is being held prisoner as a witch for the crime of knowing her astronomy.
Henry and Carina both seek an artifact, the Trident of Poseidon, said to harness the power of the sea. Carina hopes the trident will lead her to the father she's never met. Henry wants it to free his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), from the curse that has trapped him as captain of the Flying Dutchman since the third movie.
Henry and Carina enlist a reluctant Jack into helping them find the trident while they engage in the sort of science-vs.-superstition banter we haven't heard since "The X Files" first aired. Salazar wants the trident, and wants his revenge on Jack, so he drafts the area's most prosperous pirate, Capt. Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), to join the pursuit.
The Norwegian directing team of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg know how to create excitement on open water; they made the Oscar-nominated explorers' drama "Kon-Tiki." Here, they mount some impressively big action sequences, mixing swordplay and stunt work with computer animation for impressively grandiose moments all within a trim running time, compared with the bloated 3-hour chapters before. It's hard to pick just one indelible image from the action scenes, though the half-decomposed sharks attacking Jack and Henry is a good one.
Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (sharing story credit with Terry Rossio, who co-wrote the first "Pirates" movie) deftly moves the characters around the board, delivering satisfying surprises along the way. He also gets deeper into character than most "Pirates" movies dare to, particularly with Scodelario's smart and spunky Carina, who is easily the strongest female character in the franchise.
For all the talk of curses, the biggest one "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" lifts is on the franchise itself. Disney plans on making a sixth film, with Rønning and Sandberg back to direct, and now that's not as dismal a prospect as it might have been.
'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales'
The franchise is back to full sail in this energetic adventure on the high seas.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, May 26.
Rating • PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence and some suggestive content.
Running time • 129 minutes.