‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’
Directors: Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg
Stars: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem
2 (out of 5) Globes
Well, at least it’s short. Or, we should say, shorter. The fifth “Pirates” jaunt still runs a very long hair over two hours — a mere 15 minutes or so shorter than “Goodfellas.” Still, it is the quickest entry in a film series that tends to keep you in your seat long enough that you start to freak out over all those studies about how sitting will kill you. It’s a franchise we’re pretty sure takes longer to watch than it does to read all seven volumes of “In Search of Lost Time.” And Proust’s doorstop wasn’t based on a theme park ride.
Complementing the (relative) brevity isn’t the nicest thing you can say about “Dead Men Tell No Tales.” As ever, it’s handsome. Paul McCartney has a genuinely funny cameo — his finest screen work since “Give My Regards to Broad Street,” and one that handily trumps Keith Richards’ mysteriously joyless swing-by in the third “Pirates.” (The Beatles over the Stones, indeed.) There’s some amusing slapstick between Johnny Depp and a spinning guillotine, which has the added bonus of the once genius, now relentlessly bothersome leading man potentially losing his head.
The fifth "Pirates" is an attempt to return to the good old days, namely entry number one, before the franchise-runners mistakenly assumed everyone came not for piratey business and Depp’s initially delightful saboteur work, but for plots so convoluted and byzantine following them was harder than doing the Saturday crossword puzzle. Instead, it's a simple revenge tale, with Depp’s Captain Sparrow pursued by one Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), an old foe who seeks revenge for being turned into what is essentially a sea zombie. But, this being even a comparatively modest "Pirates" movie, nothing is remotely simple.
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Bardem is a delight, though, wheezing and lurching over ship decks, hunks of his body missing, his hair dancing in the air as though he were perpetually under water even when he’s above sea level. (It's so cute that he’ll only play villains if he can look like a freaky, menacing grotesque, or at least have terrible hair.) There should be more of him, frankly. But if “Pirates 5” tries to get back to basics, it can’t fix another series bug: It’s still stinks at storytelling. It takes a ton of plot, too many characters and scene after scene after scene of people explaining the pointlessly dense plot to each other to get Salazar and Sparrow back together. And when they do it just pelts us with relentless CGI nonsense.
There are charms other than Bardem, though. The winningly no-nonsense Kaya Scodelario (“Wuthering Heights”), as one of the too many characters roped up in this busy business, gets a lot of mileage out of complaining about stupid men and having to do action scenes in a dress the size of Winnebago. There are some nice distractions and passable set pieces and a “Trident of Neptune” that sounds cool yet turns out to just be a giant green slab when we see it.
The whole affair, though, only reminds you that, back in 1984, everyone complained that David Lynch’s infamous (and totally insane) movie of Frank Herbert's “Dune” was impossible to follow. It was. Now “impossible to follow” is the blockbuster norm. Judging by box office receipts, audiences don’t seem to mind. But the films are never as memorable (or as fun) as Lynch's "Dune." Let that sit for a minute: "Pirates 5" is not as fun as David Lynch's widely-despised, near-career-destroying "Dune." Still, at least the confusion doesn’t last too long — although 129 minutes is definitely way too long.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge