July 19, 2006

Walking the Plank

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Matt Watson – 3 out of 5 Stars

The first Pirates installment, Curse of the Black Pearl, was a smart, well-paced, thrill-packed adventure. In short the perfect summer movie. The second Pirates installment, Dead Man’s Chest is a slightly confusing, ill-conceived, too-many-plot-lines mess. In short a typical sequel. Thankfully that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing.

Dead Man’s Chest wastes no time in exposition or introductions, it’s on with the story. We find Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) sitting in rain soaked agony as her betrothed Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is arrested for aiding and abetting a pirate, namely Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Oh, and Elizabeth is arrested for the same offense. Jack is off stealing something from somewhere. There’s a new British officer in Port Royal and he’s after the magic compass that Jack possesses. Since Will knows Jack, it’s up to him to get it from him in exchange for a pardon. There might also be a pardon for Jack. Eventually Elizabeth goes after Jack as well, also with a pardon but I’m not sure who it’s for. Everybody got it? Good.

From here the movie throws together one action sequence after another sprinkled through with more pirates, cannibals, undead monkeys, swamp mystics, and supernatural ocean men. It seems that Jack owes his soul to Davy Jones. Davy and his crew were once men, but with their years in the sea they’ve become part men/part ocean creature. Davy himself, played by Bill Nighy, is more octopus than man, complete with prehensile tentacles. It’s up to Jack to get himself out of his debt. It’s up to Will and Elizabeth to not become casualties of Jack’s desires.

While the plot lines are confusing, the film does have some enjoyable parts. The action sequences are inventive and well done, there’s just nothing holding them together. The film continues to use Johnny’s slightly off kilter facial expressions and mannerisms for comic relief and there a few well timed jokes, especially the one involving the undead monkey, a birdcage, and a revolver. Davy Jones and his Crew are creepy and spectacular, but they never get to do much more that look cool, although Davy Jones does have an interesting Phantom of the Opera moment.

Director Gore Verbinski has all the right pieces here, but there’s no glue holding them together. We get a little character development in Jack and a little conflict in Elizabeth, but it’s not enough to bring everything together. At two and a half hours long there should certainly be more.

The luxury of a sequel is the groundwork has already been laid for the beginning of the story. We know the characters and how they relate to each other. The great second-chapter films expand upon that base to give the story some teeth. The audience wants to see how these characters grow and change. A good sequel will provide that story arc and build upon the foundation set up by the first film. At least that’s what you hope for. Dead Man’s Chest doesn’t quite deliver but it’s a fun ride that will tide us over until the third act gets underway.

3 comments:

Basil said...

You're much kinder to this tripe than I am. All I can say is that about 90 minutes in both the screenwriter and the director had simultaneous epiphanies: Swordfights. We've forgottent the swordfights.

So we get swordfights, nonsensical ones at that.

Nate said...

Must you condescend to everything, Basil? ;)

Watson said...

Basil,

I think I was able to overlook the problems with the film mostly because I thought Davy and his men were pretty cool. That being said, I agree with you the swordfights did get way too ridiculous.