I found Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales appallingly touching. I nominally resist the notion of a movie made “for the fans,” but then, if you’re not making a fifth Pirates film for the fans, I don’t know who you’d be making it for. Everyone else is gone: the people who liked the first movie on its own terms; the people who were surprised and delighted by twice-a-has-been Johnny Depp’s energizing turn in Gore Verbinski’s Curse of the Black Pearl; the people who turned up for Pirates 2 and 3 in drag expecting more of the same and who still aver to this day that those movies were terrible, to say nothing of Pirates 4.

I don’t know any more; maybe they were terrible. (Pirates 4 certainly was.) I didn’t care much for Pirates 2 when it came out, now that I’m thinking about it, but of course I love it now. I love a lot of things now, mostly because I’ve given up resisting – I know deeper truths than everyone with their matrices and algorithms and Rotten Tomatoes scores. Actually, it was Pirates 3 that taught me those things, and they matter, fundamentally, to the way I understand movies (and myself). But that’s a story for another time.

Pirates 5 – known varyingly as Salazar’s Revenge (first time I saw it) and Dead Men Tell No Tales (second time) – is by any measure of the term perfunctory, as in “perfunctory epilogue.” This particular perfunctory epilogue is also not, by any rational application of the term, much of a good movie. At its best, it is aping better beats from earlier Pirates of the Caribbean movies. At its worst, it is either dull, unconvincing, or both. But I suppose, as a fan – and I mean as a true fan, someone who actually cared, and cared irrationally, about Jack and Will and Elizabeth, and did so for a long time – Dead Men Tell No Tales is the perfunctory epilogue I didn’t know I needed, till I was needing it in real time.

Pirates of the Caribbean began with a girl, singing wistfully on the fog-shrouded stern of a ship at sea; Pirates 5 begins with a boy, that girl’s growing son, drowning himself on purpose to try to find his father. It’s Will and Elizabeth’s idiot son Henry, of course, last glimpsed awaiting his father’s return in Pirates 3‘s post-credits stinger. In Pirates 5‘s prologue, he is perhaps a year older, and no longer content to merely wait. Like Will before him, Henry has it in his head that he needs to free his father from his curse; and, like Will’s dad before him, Will is having none of it. Henry lands on the deck of the Flying Dutchman only to have his crusty, steward-of-the-dead father tell him to bugger off back to dry land.

There are two historical ironies here. The first is that, of course, in an even longer version of At World’s End than we got (the 3-hour cut, rather than the 2-hour-and-45-minute one), there would have been no curse at this point. In the original version of that film, the Dutchman curse lifts if the woman is still waiting for the man when he comes back to dry land after his ten years at sea; this is the covenant Tia Dalma broke, and thus doomed Davy Jones to squidliness. So, in that Pirates 3 stinger, we’re supposed to be witnessing everything turning out all right: Elizabeth is waiting for Will, the boy they conceived that one fine day is by her side, and Will’s curse is lifted.

Except, Pirates 3 was super-long, so Verbinski & Co. removed a bit of text about the conditions of the curse, and suddenly my favourite (?) movie of all time concludes with the ultimate His Dark Materials ending: Elizabeth and Will love each other eternally, but can only be together for a fraction of time, once every decade. It’s the better ending, or so I argued in 2007; tragic and romantic and so oh-my-gosh ballsy for the last (at the time) film in a series. More to Disney’s purposes in 2017, however, leaving Will in hock to the Dutchman leaves a window open. Voila: instant sequel fodder.

And like I said, here is the epilogue I didn’t know I needed. The second historical irony is a personal one: as much as I loved that dire conclusion of Pirates 3 back in 2007, I had no idea in 2017 that my inner fanboy wanted to see Will and Elizabeth freed from that selfsame curse so badly, till I was finding myself emotionally overwhelmed in the theatre to see the couple liberated by their son in Pirates 5‘s final moments.

Sure, Elizabeth hasn’t aged a day and Will’s crusty barnacledom is never explained, and those things make about as much sense as 90% of Pirates 5, which unfolds with as much interest in its own internal logic as… actually scratch that, it has no interest in logic, of any kind. There’s some jive about Poseidon’s trident (a.k.a. “The Poseident”), and a lot of scenes where characters seem to have skipped large tracts of storytelling to arrive at wherever they are now (how, exactly, did Carina sneak into Henry’s hospital ward, dressed as a nun?). Sometimes this is even kind of awesome – I adore the movie completely eliding the story of how Jack’s compass made its way from the bartender to the witch, intentionally creating a literal plot hole, because honestly, whogivesafuck – but for the most part, Dead Men Tell No Tales is a brisk clustercuss of a story, scarcely hanging together as anything other than a thin excuse to create something vaguely Pirates of the Caribbean-y.

Except, in that latter regard, it succeeds pretty well, or at least, well enough for me. There are some cracking set pieces, the kind where the filmmakers and the audience seem to be in for equal kinds of fun. Jack nearly gets guillotined before that guillotine gets turned into a pinwheel, and Espen and Sandberg strap a camera to said pinwheel, and watch Johnny Depp’s disembodied head trying to deal with nearly getting further disembodied, every time the wheel goes round. A grand chase unfolds through a town with a safe towed by a caravan of horses, into which a Captain Jack as inebriated as any we’ve ever seen stumbles and un-stumbles. A lengthy flashback builds itself around a manifest Devil’s Triangle whose razor-sharp rocks can be used for hairpin turns, given an adequate supply of rope and a bit of CGI de-aging.

The latter de-aging is astonishingly poor, but then, so are a lot of the effects in the movie – surprising, given how long the project was on the shelf; or perhaps not surprising, given that Disney may have shelved it for all the other obvious reasons, and cut the VFX budget besides. It is both a disappointment and a relief, on that score, that Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow is the weakest, most inessential part of the picture. He has a handful of good moments – placing the ship-in-a-bottle Black Pearl on the horizon line, or (VFX notwithstanding), his youthful IDGAF-ness as he struts away from Salazar twirling his magic compass – but the Jack Sparrow comedy proper doesn’t land (his lines are horrible this time around), and Depp elects to play better than a third of his scenes so mealy-mouthed drunk that they’re nearly indecipherable.

As reckonings go, this was the toughest for me. It’s small fry in the grand scheme of White People Problems, but Captain Jack was a kind of hero of mine for a good long while, and the recent revelation that Depp is a wife beater problematizes the already-problematic placement of the Michael Jackson of pop actors in a role that is half Pepe Le Pew, half psychopath. Recent footage of Depp-as-Sparrow flailing about in front of unsuspecting tourists on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney completes a kind of weird circle for the character and actor: fifteen years ago it was utter madness to let this washed up ’90s heartthrob take the lead in a franchise built off an amusement park ride. Now it merely seems madness to let the old fool get so close to kids and parents who’d probably just as rather never see him again.

But – and I suppose this applies to Pirates of the Caribbean as a whole, and is the reason my heart took hold of Dead Men Tell No Tales so willingly – it seems I needed to say goodbye to him, and them, nonetheless. At World’s End is the proper narrative ending of a saga and cycle I cared deeply about; all debts are paid, and “happily ever after” is, as in life, still a horizon away. And yet, here it is, 2017 – ten years later – and I am forty, not thirty. 2007 came back to life for me in a weird, personal way. I’ve moved past “happily” as an “ever after” but responded so vividly to this fantasy nonetheless, where Will and Elizabeth’s son slogs through the awkward plot of a fivequel to give those characters more than just one day together; more charmingly, Barbossa’s daughter pops into the adventure alongside him, giving Geoffrey Rush’s grand character a whole new range to play in a series that has given him more notes than everyone else combined. Death is broken, curses are lifted and love wins and wins and wins. It’s all patently sappy and perhaps even defies the concrete narrative terms of its predecessors; it may even defy my personal beliefs about narrative itself, and why and how narratives work. But dammit – I cried anyway.