Five films in, Pirates still leaves you feeling a lot like the Magic Kingdom ride it’s so famously inspired by: alternately thrilled, exhausted, and seriously regretting that last funnel cake. Johnny Depp returns as the perpetually sozzled Jack Sparrow, heroically holding cirrhosis at bay with a gold-toothed grin and a wobbly swagger; Geoffrey Rush is back, too, as his high-seas frenemy, the squirrely, grasping Captain Barbossa.
And with the series’ original young lovers Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) sidelined — by an immortal curse, no less — come two dewy new substitutes: Henry (The Giver star Brenton Thwaites) as the really ridiculously good-looking fruit of Will and Elizabeth’s union, and Carina (Kaya Scodelario of the Maze Runner films), as the kind of plucky, headstrong proto-feminist whose proud familiarity with geometry and astronomy promptly gets her labeled as a witch. Can these two crazy kids unite to find the Trident of Poseidon, the key to all the oceans’ powers? Will zombie Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his legion of putrifying crewmen beat them to the chase? Can Depp maybe just lay down under that palm tree for a minute and take a nice nap?
Well, not yet. Because, first, he needs to rob a bank — literally, the whole bank, dragged through the streets of St. Maarten like tin cans on the back of a wedding Cadillac — followed by a whole bunch of business about finding a seaworthy crew and forming a wary friendship (or at least a mutually beneficial stalemate) with Will and Carina. Then together, they must fend off the homicidal and highly motivated score-settling of Salazar & Co., whose aquatic rot the special effects team brings to remarkable un-life: dark coils of hair sway and undulate like seaweed; skin dissolves into bone and cartilage and air. (Though their vocal cords seem to work just fine; dead men do, in fact, tell many, many tales.) Unlike their human counterparts, a cursed legion of murderous sharks seem oblivious to their own decomposition — half-decayed jaws snapping, corroded tails whipping as they hunt for sweet, sea-salt-tenderized man meat.
If only half that gorgeously detailed attention had gone toward the script: Instead, what we get is the usual mash of swashbuckling nonsense and soggy mythology: There will be romance, and revelations, and some silly gold-plated cameos (hello there, Sir Paul McCartney! And whoops, goodbye). Through it all, Norwegian duo Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (the Oscar-nominated Kon-Tiki) feel less like directors than shepherds, carefully coloring inside the lines mapped out for them so thoroughly by a $4-billion-dollars-and-counting franchise. Recent reports say the cliffhanger ending is merely a setup for a sixth and final outing, which depends on any number of box-office contingencies — but mostly, of course, on whether Depp and Disney are able, or more likely willing, to make one last sunset sail. B