The Pirates of the Caribbean movies have sailed off course in recent years, but the latest entry, Dead Men Tell No Tales, puts the wayward series back on track with a rollicking, action-packed adventure that features terrorizing ghost sharks, undead pirates, thrilling sea battles, and a hilarious rescue during a dual execution that's one of the funniest movie scenes you'll see this year. All in all, Dead Men Tell No Tales is easily the best Pirates yarn since the original Curse of the Black Pearl.
Johnny Depp returns as the nearly always inebriated Captain Jack Sparrow, whose misfit crew abandon him after a failed -- but highly amusing -- bank robbery in which a huge bank building is pulled through the streets of St. Martin. Soon after, Sparrow unwittingly unleashes Salazar (Javier Bardem), the Butcher of the Sea, and his band of ghost pirates from the Devil's Triangle when he trades his magic compass for booze. Salazar wants Sparrow dead, because when Jack was a fresh-faced buccaneer he tricked Salazar into entering the deadly netherworld, trapping him there for decades. The only way to stop him is for Sparrow to get his hands on the legendary Trident of Poseidon, which possesses the power to break every curse at sea. Also after the Trident are Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), who wants to release his father Will (Orlando Bloom) from a watery grave aboard the Flying Dutchman; and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a daring astronomer, deemed a witch by some, who owns an ancient diary she believes holds the key to locating the artifact.
There are three essential ingredients to any successful Pirates movie: rousing adventure, riotous humor, and romantic sparks. Thanks to inventive directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (who earned their sea legs helming the Oscar-nominated Kon-Tiki) and clever screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, Dead Men Tell No Tales successfully pulls off this hat trick. There's plenty of swashbuckling derring-do and laughs to be found, while newcomers Thwaites and Scodelario make a fetching pair who, despite their characters' initial distain for one another (or perhaps because of it), are destined to fall in love. Also new to the franchise is Bardem, whose character -- with his fractured face, half-missing skull, and menacing intonations -- is truly frightening. When one pirate asks him who he is, Salazar hisses: "Death." And you believe him. (By the way, parents should take note of the PG-13 rating. While there is little blood, the body count is high, as characters are routinely and savagely thrust through with swords by Salazar and his vicious crew.)
Pirates regular Geoffrey Rush, returning as the peg-legged pillager Barbossa, is again a treasure; a cameo by Paul McCartney as Jack's imprisoned pirate uncle is fabulous; and an appearance by a one-time series mainstay ends the movie on a rapturous high note. The proceedings do get a bit soggy and convoluted in the film's latter stages, which include a parting of the waves à la The Ten Commandments and several sequences of supernatural hokum, but these are ultimately minor quibbles that don't detract from the story's high-seas hijinks and overall enjoyment. So, climb aboard mateys! Captain Jack is back!