PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST

 

Review by Mark Walters

 

Like most folks out there, I really enjoyed the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie.  It was fun, imaginative, and just different enough to be unique.  Disney actually pulled off transforming one of their most famous rides into a big-budget summer blockbuster.  While it wasn't without its faults, the overall experience of that movie was a great pleasure.  Considering the wide appeal and box office success, it isn't shocking that they were in a hurry to make a few sequels, and hopefully quite a few more bucks in the process.  Just about everyone involved in the first outing came back too.  Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski return, along with stars Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley.  Since the studio wanted two sequels, it was decided they would be filmed back to back, and released one year at a time, much like THE MATRIX and BACK TO THE FUTURE sequels were.  But that's not always the best way to do things, and a franchise like this deserves the smartest treatment.  That said, does the newest outing work?

 Taking place shortly after the events in the last film, our story begins with an interruption to the marriage of Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley).  One of the higher ups with the Eastern Trading Company named Beckett (Tom Hollander) decides to hold Will and his bride to be responsible for their participation in the events of the first film.  Meanwhile Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) is up to his usual tricks, wreaking havoc and sneaking about in his ship the Black Pearl.  He is visited one night by Bootstrap Bill Turner (Stellan Skarsgard), who everyone thought to be dead.  Bootstrap informs Sparrow that he owes his soul to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), and that Jones intends to collect.  Will and Elizabeth separately go in search for Jack, not knowing the danger he's currently facing.  With the help of a mysterious voodoo lady named Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), Jack discovers that a hidden chest holds the heart of Davy Jones, which could become a strong bargaining chip.  But the three friends also reunite with Mr. Norrington (Jack Davenport), stripped of his Commodore rank for letting Jack escape, and he has his own plans for the sought after booty.

 I hate to say it, but the magic is gone.  This film falls into the same trap that THE MATRIX RELOADED and BACK TO THE FUTURE II did, and ends up being a less than satisfying lead-in to a third film.  You want action?  It's got plenty.  Special effects?  Sure.  But the end result is a pretty big letdown.  Gone is the chemistry between the characters.  And Jack Sparrow?  The character was so endearing and fun in the first film, but this time he's just there, barely coming up with one or two memorable lines.  Plus he's so self-serving and manipulative, it's hard to like him anymore.  Johnny Depp mimics all the looks and body language from the first outing, but the character doesn't work this time out.  I know, you're thinking "That's impossible, Johnny Depp would never disappoint, especially not with this!"  But I'm telling you, it ain't the same Jack.  And Orlando Bloom doesn't have enough good material to make up for it either.  Even Keira Knightley shows a really dark side to Elizabeth this time around.  It's as if all of these lovable heroes just turned into bland unlikable roles.  They're so busy fighting with each other and screwing each other over that we can't root for any of them.  And the story?  A mess.  It's never really clear what is going on or why.  The voodoo lady is thrown in I guess to give some exposition, but despite having a REALLY hard time understanding her dialogue, that character just seemed a little too weird to even include.  Just about all of the supporting cast is back.  I initially thought the inclusion of Norrington from the first film was pretty clever, and there are a few moments where his presence makes an otherwise boring scene somewhat interesting.  But after a while I got the feeling that they were trying a little too hard to include EVERYONE that was in the first film, rather than concentrate on the characters who were really important.  Heck, even that pesky little monkey is back!  Bill Nighy is pretty entertaining as Davy Jones, though much of the performance can be credited to the impressive CGI work done on his octopus-like face.  Stellan Skarsgard, who I normally love, doesn't even get many decent scenes as Bootstrap Bill, save for one rather painful reuniting with his son.  All of the plot points culminate to an extremely lackluster ending, in which we're supposed to be wowed by a surprise cameo intended to build excitement for what lies ahead.  While the amazing effects shots are enough to keep you glued to the screen, you'll wonder what the point of it all was by the time it ends.  Davy Jones uses a giant octopus creature called the Kraken (I guess that's how you spell it) to destroy ships and help him build his cursed crew.  Those scenes when the creature attacks are about as exciting as it gets.  The swordfights aren't nearly as rewarding as the ones in the first outing.  One major scene of swordplay at the end never seems to reach the momentum I'm sure they intended.  Even the music was pretty lackluster.  The first film featured an exciting score by Klaus Badelt, with phenomenal themes that made a soundtrack purchase an easy decision.  Top shelf composer Hans Zimmer (who I normally love) got the job this time around, and although he selectively injects hints of the first film's score, the rest of the music is surprisingly pretty uninspiring and forgetful.

 In many ways this feels like a remake of the first movie, only nowhere near as good.  And where the first movie had a big fight and payoff with the story's villain, this movie had NONE of that.  There is one ship battle at sea with Davy Jones, that ends almost as quickly as it begins.  The biggest problem here is that we're left wanting.  I understand that the third film will (hopefully) tie up a lot of these loose ends, but shouldn't there be SOME payoff in this one?  This was the same feeling I had after seeing BACK TO THE FUTURE II.  It was a property I loved, and was excited to see a sequel for, but in the end I felt like I had sat through an over-hyped springboard for a third movie.  I felt cheated.  I'm surprised that director Gore Verbinski failed to capture any of the magic that the first film had.  Couple all of this with the film's lengthy two and a half hour run time, and you've got a whole lot of nothing.  Maybe the third one will rock my socks off, and I'll feel like I was too critical here.  But for now I'm upset.  Sequels should be self-contained films, with a beginning and an end.  You can still lead into what lies ahead, but don't make me sit through a long-winded setup like this.  Maybe I'll be in the minority.  Maybe people will flock to the theater and love every minute of it.  Maybe I've been too harsh.  But from the perspective I had leaving the theater, this is one sequel that will NOT rank high on my list.  Note: like in the first film, stay until the end of the credits for a little surprise.

BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, I give PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST a 5.


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