Despite almost zero positive word of mouth combined with universal critical derision, this latest voyage of the hugely overblown, staggeringly camp, and impossibly convoluted high-seas adventure sailed off into the sunset with over a billion dollars in booty nestled snugly in its hold. From tiny acorns and all that – this is all, lest we forget, based on a horribly outdated, rudimentary theme park ride. So profitable is the franchise that Disney has banned Johnny Depp from promoting his hard-R Hunter S. Thompson fable The Rum Diary on ABC and all local affiliates for fear that Depp’s drunken antics in the movie might damaged their brand – because Jack Sparrow never drinks or anything.

How all this happened is a total mystery. The plot is as nonsensical as ever; Jack Sparrow (Depp), his old flame, Angelica (Cruz), her alleged father Blackbeard (McShane), and series mainstay Barbosa (Rush), and the Spanish armada, all trying to chase down the mystical fountain of youth because, well, because. In something of an oversight, this is a MacGuffin that no one actually needs. And while it’s not quite the fun-sucking vacuum of dreariness Dead Man’s Chest devolved into, the whole thing is by now as mechanical and lifeless as it’s rickety inspiration. When at one point Angelica attempts to momentarily distract Jack by telling him she knows the location of a chest of jewels “that can command the winds and the tides” you have to wonder if she hasn’t just accidentally let slip the plot to Pirates 5.

Having jettisoned the bland romantic tangle that was Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s central romance (which, to be fair, has run it’s course), we were promised that this latest outing would be streamlined exercise of unencumbered narrative momentum. Sadly, what wasn’t jettisoned are the endless plot reversals, backstabbing, and double-crosses that have become a series staple and actively prevent you from investing in anything that’s going on because it’s never going on long enough.

What room they made by shedding fringe characters they just fill up with others, who are either less interesting than those they’re replacing or ushered off screen and out of the story before they are able to lend any meaningful impact. Stephen Graham is stuck doling out exposition (and there is a lot of it). Richard Griffith’s wonderfully effete monarch is wasted, and Keith Richard’s obligatory cameo so short it’s a wonder they even bothered with costume and make-up, while missionary Philip (Sam Claflin) and his mermaid love (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) are so bland they barely register. They’re only involved at all because someone, somewhere realizes that Depp and Cruz collectively muster all the chemistry of a first-grade science class. Geoffrey Rush tries his damndest, but is hamstrung by some two-dimensional characterization. Best of the bunch is Ian McShane’s as Blackbeard, who is essentially playing Al Swearengen minus the profanity, and is seemingly under the impression that he is in a much better film than this.

There are set pieces a-plenty, with the picture opening with a breathtaking carriage chase through London, followed up by a frantic scrap in a brewery, and a magnificently choreographed mutiny ably assisted by some seamless CGI. What is most curious, however, is the way that in the midst of all this frantic action Jack Sparrow has steadily become the legend that his character initially never was, which serves to do nothing except undermine the only good gag the series had left – that Jack was a cunning, conning scallywag who was in fact a really shitty pirate. Now, between the swashbuckling and the acrobatics, he is essentially Indiana Sparrow, an idea that is somehow nowhere nearly as much fun.

Blu-ray Special Features:

Spartan features (a deluxe edition will surely be coming our way) include the new Disney feature ‘Disney Second Screen’, which is an interactive experience that requires an ipad. Also included is a commentary track, a blooper reel, and a series of animated Lego shorts – seriously. Oh, and a DVD copy of the movie, too.

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