Grade: B+
Entire family: No
2017, 129 min., Color
Action-Adventure Fantasy
Rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence and some suggestive content
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMI 7.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Amazon link

Our family loved Pirates of the Caribbean when it was only a theme park ride. So when Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl appeared in 2003, we happily climbed aboard. It turned out to be a fantastically original and fun film that felt like a ride, with Johnny Depp creating a pirate captain like we’ve never seen before: a rum-loving, slightly swishy ne’er-do-well who is simultaneously the worst and best pirate anyone has ever seen. Captain Jack Sparrow.

But success in Hollywood is a curse in itself, dooming actors in highly successful blockbusters to repeat their roles over and over. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the fifth in the franchise, and I will say this: our family liked it better than the fourth (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, 2011). Though some of the fantasy elements are still as confusing as they’ve been in other sequels, Dead Men Tell No Tales at least has some fun action scenes, some great special effects (like undead sharks attacking) and two very likable young leads that inject new blood into the franchise.

That’s a double-edged cutlass, though, because as filmgoers your gut tells you that this series ought to have stopped after the first trilogy. Now, with two new characters to drive the action, the series probably won’t end with #5—though it will never catch the all-time sequels leader, Godzilla, which has spawned 29 movie offspring.

But back to what makes the film work. Newcomers Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario are as refreshing as Felicity Jones and Diego Luna were in Rogue One—just the kind of jolt that a storied franchise needs. As an astrologer accused of witchcraft and the son of pirate Will Turner, both of them looking for fathers, they have good chemistry together and capture the light tone of the first film.

If you’ve kept up with the franchise, you know that Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is trapped on the Flying Dutchman as its doomed captain, an undead, barnacle-encrusted sad sack. But just as Will went looking for his father in earlier films, his own son, Henry, somehow (and here’s where the fantasy stuff starts to fuzz up a bit) manages to get the exact coordinates and method of finding the Dutchman and visits him to say he believes Neptune’s trident will free him from his curse. How? We don’t know. But we’re just supposed to accept it, as with the other fantasy elements—like, how is it that Jack plunking down his compass in exchange for some rum is enough to free an undead crew led by the Spanish pirate hunter Captain Salazar, the big villain this time around?

Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Barbossa, though he really isn’t as integral to the plot this time around. It’s the Salazar show, and Javier Bardem does a good job of bringing him to life—even if his appearance seems to be inspired by Alice Cooper or Edward Scissorhands, and he isn’t given as much to do as, say, Davy Jones. And while we actually see the flashback that explains why pirate hunter Salazar hates Jack Sparrow so much, the origin of Sparrow’s name seems contrived and the fantasy aspects remain as confusing as they were in previous installments.

But there are some cool high-concept sequences. Instead of a water wheel from an old mill that rolls along it’s an entire building that Jack Sparrow’s bunch “liberates” from St. Martin, and a comic sequence involving a guillotine. There are also some undead sharks that are mighty entertaining. Add it all up and it’s a sequel that’s better than On Stranger Tides, possibly as good as Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), but not as good as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) or the original film.

Language: A few mild swearwords
Sex: Some innuendo and an implied affair, but that’s all
Violence: Skewering, shooting, stabbing, hacking, and explosions, but mostly bloodless
Adult situations: Drinking and drunkenness
Takeaway: With new blood infused into the series, I wouldn’t be surprised if it continued, though #5 was announced as the finale