Johnny Depp seems to be phoning it in lately, and I certainly expected this fifth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series to fizzle after franchise fatigue nearly consumed the previous entry, On Stranger Tides. Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon-Tiki), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is lightweight but surprisingly entertaining. The Norwegian directors reduce the bloat of previous, bladder-bursting epics and up the humor to create something not far from the entertaining first film. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer returns and Jeff Nathanson writes the screenplay, which takes Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), on an adventure with Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) to save his damned father from the purgatory of a cursed Flying Dutchman.
Henry Turner seeks the Trident of Poseidon to break his father's curse, and locates an expectedly drunken Sparrow, who is not keen on helping the young Turner. After being accused of mutiny by the British Royal Navy, Turner meets astronomer and horologist Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who is accused of witchcraft, while awaiting execution. Sparrow trades his magical compass for a drink, freeing the crew of Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), an undead pirate still reeling from the misdeeds of his enemy, Sparrow. Turner, Smyth and Sparrow manage to escape execution and murder and set sail for calmer waters, while Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) cons Salazar into sparing his life by promising to help him find Sparrow. Shenanigans ensue across the Caribbean, allegiances come and go, and Salazar challenges Sparrow for the trident in an attempt to bring himself back to life.
The plot is needlessly convoluted, as are most of the narratives in these movies, but Dead Men Tell No Tales at least moves at a decent clip, wrapping things up right around the two-hour mark, which is a refreshing change of pace for this franchise. There are some laugh-out-loud funny scenes, too, like the dizzying spectacle of Sparrow spinning perilously along with the guillotine meant to kill him. The action is a bit different, too, and it feels grittier, which is not surprising if you've seen Kon-Tiki. For better or worse, this film brings back a lot of fan-favorite characters, and its coda promises more returning faces in the inevitable sixth film. That's OK, as this entertaining bit of nostalgia is not unwelcome. The film adds to the series' mythology appropriately, and earns its title from the warning given to riders on the Disney attraction as they set sail.
Ironically, it is newcomer Bardem whose character is least original. Although the pirate and his crew are digitally rendered with nifty and horrific exposed skulls and creepy, rotted flesh, his Salazar is terribly generic and reminiscent of every other villain in franchise history. Sparrow tricked Salazar into sailing into the Devil's Triangle, damning Salazar and his crew, so it is understandable the pirate is upset with Sparrow. Depp appears more involved here than in the last go-round, and both Thwaites and Smyth give energetic, committed performances. The digital effects and on-location shots are especially impressive, as is Paul Cameron's cinematography. Five films in, there are worse problems to have than being forgettable entertainment, and in that regard Dead Men Tell No Tales succeeds.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Disney's second 4K Ultra HD release presents the film with a 2160p/4K/HEVC/H.265 image at 2.39:1 and offers HDR10. The film was finished at 2K, so this is an upscale, but the 4K image nevertheless offers advantages over its 1080p counterpart, namely a gorgeous HDR pass and deeper black levels. Fine-object detail is strong and improved over HD, and texture is abundant, particularly on the weathered decks of the film's ships. The HDR pass allows bolder, better-saturated colors, though viewers will noticed this 4K version appears significantly darker than the HD image. Black levels are strong, and shadow detail is noticeably improved in 4K. Flesh tones are warm, but contrast remains steady. There are some wide shots that appear slightly flat, and I did notice a bit of noise and aliasing here and there. This is not a reference 4K presentation, but it is a solid outing for Disney. Fans should have no problems with the included Blu-ray, as that 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is excellent in its own regard with the few, aforementioned differences.
The disc's Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is excellent, and takes full advantage of the surround stage to render this swashbuckling adventure. This is obviously an intricately designed mix, and it fully immerses (and submerges) the viewers in 360-degree action. There are constant action and ambient effects that roll through the surrounds. Water crashes around the sound field, explosions rock the subwoofer and water gurgles through each channel. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and is no less impressive in the center channel than in the surrounds. The bass is intense, the range is impressive and the score is layered expertly amid the chaos. Each element feels perfectly in place, and this is a theatrical quality mix. English, Japanese, French and Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus mixes are included, as are English SDH, Japanese, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the 4K Ultra HD disc, a Blu-ray and codes to redeem iTunes and UltraViolet HD digital copies. The discs are packed in a black Elite case that is wrapped in a slipcover. The extras are found on the Blu-ray: Dead Men Tell No Tales: The Making of a New Adventure (47:50/HD) is a seven-part making-of piece with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and cast interviews. You also get Bloopers of the Caribbean (2:58/HD); a Jerry Bruckheimer Photo Diary (1:40/HD); and four Deleted Scenes (2:59/HD).
Disney continues to impress with its second 4K Ultra HD offering, which provides noticeable improvements over the included Blu-ray presentation. Dead Men Tell No Tales is forgettable but entertaining, and is a marked improvement over the last few, bloated Pirates of the Caribbean films. The 4K Ultra HD platter offers strong picture, reference-quality sound and some decent extras. Recommended.