Fourteen years have passed since the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. So it’s easy to forget just how fresh and funny Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow once was. Depp threw such a complete curveball with Captain Jack he could have won a Cy Young Award pitching for Pittsburgh. Instead, he earned an Oscar nomination.
That was then, and each swollen successor — “Dead Man’s Chest” (2006), “At World’s End” (2007), “On Stranger Tides” (2011) — has brought the franchise closer to a thudding now. It’s also brought Walt Disney $3.7 billion in global grosses — talk about buried treasure! — so once again Depp and Geoffrey Rush (the villainous Captain Barbossa) do their piratical thing. No-longer-young lovers Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, both of whom skipped “Tides,” make brief appearances, too.
As the demonic Captain Salazar, newcomer Javier Bardem does his beyond-the-grave best to make sure this is no Caribbean for old pirates. Salazar has a better haircut than Anton Chigurh’s, It helps that you can see through part of his head.
Much as Bardem enlivens things, the real source of zip is Kaya Scodelario (“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials”). Charming and spirited, she’s Daisy Ridley dialed up a notch. Her character, Carina, is an aspiring astronomer accused of witchcraft. Basically, she’s Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann rebooted. This makes sense, since Carina’s love interest is Henry Turner, the son of Bloom’s Will Turner and Swann. As Henry, Brenton Thwaites — now that is a name — bears a persuasive resemblance to the young Bloom.
Parenthood is almost as important to the movie as supernatural mumbo-jumbo is. Henry’s out to rescue Will. In his very different way, Salazar’s devotion to dad led to his present plight. And Carina’s an orphan. Consider the narrative possibilities. And you thought “Stars Wars” had father issues? The Skywalkers look like Ozzie and Harriet compared to this crowd.
Avuncularity being the next best thing to paternity, note the brief introduction to Jack’s uncle. Pay attention to the sound of his voice, since you won’t recognize him under all the Blackbeard facial hair. The casting is a bit of rock ’n’ roll whimsy that by itself justifies the movie, since in real-life he’s the world’s most famous left-handed bassist. Seeing how Keith Richards played Jack’s father in “At World’s End” and “On Stranger Tides,” this raises all kinds of interesting questions about a Beatles-Stones sibling rivalry.
Anyone who’s seen even one “Pirates” movie knows how important (and deadening) all that supernatural stuff is. Here it takes the form of the Devil’s Triangle, which a young Jack tricked Salazar into entering; the Trident of Poseidon, possession of which would solve everyone’s problems (hence everyone wants it); and Jack’s compass, which seems to be full of Mexican jumping beans. It hops around even more than that damn capuchin monkey whose loyalties Sparrow and Barbossa vie for.
Geoff Zanelli’s score is like pugil sticks for the ear: Bash, bam, you will submit. It’s a strange thing for a movie to get more quiet when cannons fire. Many of those cannons are on Salazar’s ship. It’s a marvel. Production designer Nigel Phelps has fashioned a vessel that manages to look both spectral and solid. If J.K. Rowling’s Death Eaters ever sailed the Spanish Main, this is the boat they’d want to crew on.
The credits take forever — no surprise there — but an Easter egg follows. One guess what that means. Dead men tell no tales? If they pull a franchise across the $4 billion barrier they guarantee a sixth go-round.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
Directed by: Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg. Written by Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio. Starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs, Jordan’s Furniture IMAX in Natick and Reading. 129 minutes, PG-13 (mild sexual innuendo, cruelty, sword violence, supernatural horror; taking a child much under 12 should be a misdemeanor).