"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
" was a surprise box-office hit in the summer of 2003. What on first glance appeared to be destined for disasterit was based on a water ride at Disney World, for goodness sakeimmediately gained a lot of support from audiences and critics alike upon its theatrical release. I was not one of them. Although more mediocre than outright bad, it suffered from a needlessly protracted running time, repetitive variations on the same scene, and a rooting momentum that lost its way before the first hour was up.
By comparison, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" is very much a bad film, all the problems of its predecessor magnified five times over while presenting a new set of missteps. As with any sequel, returning director Gore Verbinski (2002's "The Ring
") and screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (2001's "Shrek
") have chosen to go the bigger, faster, louder route, but in doing so have only put their efforts into a grand-scale train wreck, its confused plot as rickety as an old pirate ship and its chaotic action sequences as jumbled as Captain Jack Sparrow's slurred speech after a bottle of rum. Moreover, what was once a cheerful adventure with comedic overtones has now become an excruciatingly unfunny slapstick farce where the characters are immortal from all danger and the stakes they find themselves in not worth taking seriously.
Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) are moments away from being wed when they are suddenly arrested and sentenced to the gallows, charged with interfering in the earlier death sentence passed down to drunken seafaring pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Desperate to save his life and the life of his beloved, Will makes a deal: if he is able to retrieve the compass owned by Jack and bring it back with him, their charges will be dropped. As Will sets off on his mission and Elizabeth makes her own escape from jail to track him down, more dire troubles are afoot. It seems Jack owes an unpaid debt to legendary captain of the Flying Dutchman
Davy Jones, a watery half-man/half-octopus whose broken heart is locked away in a buried treasure chest. If Jack is unable to locate the chest before Davy does, the price to pay will be his soul.
Watching the butt-punishing two-and-a-half-hour "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" is an act in which the images shoot through the viewer's eyes and are zapped into oblivion before they reach the brain. Overplotted to the point of monotony and yet as empty as a tank out of gas, the film is a garbled mess with little style and no sense of rhythm. Endless exposition meets endless forgettable action set-pieces and too many slimy otherworldly creatures to count. Even so, the overall endearing characters of the original picture are now unctuous cartoon figures prone to exaggerated hand-waving mannerisms and frequently indecipherable motivations; the action scenes are clanky, frenetic, boring and poorly filmed; and the creatures are missing personalities even if they are splendidly animated with top-of-the-line visual effects. Exciting only once (during a sequence set on an island of cannibals), never funny, not nearly as scary as the ghostly pirates in "Garfield's Halloween Adventure," and with no inherent jeopardy being faced (when a character plummets from a cliff, hits the solid ground, and walks away unscathed, all bets are off), the movie finally grates on the nerves to the point where you feel like hitting the "off" button on the projector.
The sparkling performances from Johnny Depp (2005's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
") and Keira Knightley (2005's "Domino
") in the first film are regrettably lost here. As the side-switching, out-for-himself Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp is entertaining to a point, but one can sense him straining for laughs. As the tough and resourceful Elizabeth Swann, Knightley seldomly get more to do than yell and run around. It is beginning to sound like a broken record, but Orlando Bloom (2005's "Elizabethtown
"), reprising his role as Will Turner, again turns in a performance of stunning amateurishness. Bloom has to be the luckiest A-list actor working today, because he continues winning parts without any detectable talent or charisma. The supporting turns are better, with Bill Nighy (2003's "Love, Actually
") eating up his screen time as the malevolent, ghastly Davy Jones. His is a villain that deserves a better script. Lastly, Naomie Harris (2003's "28 Days Later
") steals her two scenes as swamp witch Tia Dalma, building an intriguingly quirky character that feels like a true original.
The last few minutes of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" are easily the highlight, introducing a few cliffhanging surprises and provocative complications that will climax in 2007's "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End." Alas, they arrive too late to save the rest of the film from irreversible harm. Director Gore Verbinski has swapped atmosphere for smarminess with this far inferior first sequel, sure that audiences will eat up whatever derivative, high-priced junk he throws at them without taking the time to think out the story he wants to tell and the point he wishes to make. All the millions of dollars put into the effects, costumes and sets are for naught, however, since they are at the mercy of half-baked ideas and disastrously realized action going nowhere fast. Treasure isn't the only thing pillaged in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"so is the moviegoer's wasted time and money.