In 2003, I gave Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl a mixed review. (Two-and-a-half stars, to be exact.) Not once but twice in my review did I say that it ďjust wasnít fun enough for meĒ and I said it felt like ďa retread.Ē Because of that review, I have received tons of grief from friends, family members, acquaintances, and radio listeners (who heard me say pretty much the same thing at 50,000 watts). In fact, Iím still taking grief over not liking the movie. Just last week, two employees of my local cinema chided me for not loving Pirates. One of them even jokingly said he would no longer speak to me.
In preparation for the sequel, subtitled Dead Manís Chest, I decided to take another look at the original on DVD. Maybe I was wrong, I thought to myself. A second viewing showed the film to be a little more charming than I remembered, but my overall opinion didnít change. It was just okay for me. I liked Dead Manís Chest even less. The difference is that even though the film is a foregone box office smash, I have a feeling that more people are going to agree with me this time.
Everybodyís back: Orlando Bloom as heroic Will Turner, Keira Knightley as the lovely Elizabeth Swann, and Johnny Depp as wacky Capt. Jack Sparrow. Whatís weird is that the first thing the screenplay does is separate the main characters. This has the effect of causing the story to go in three separate directions at the same time. As Ali G would say, check it: Will and Elizabeth have been arrested and sentenced to death for helping Sparrow get away in the original, but Will is offered a pardon if he can steal a compass from Sparrow, so he sets off to the find the captain, who is trying to outrun a curse thatís been placed on him by the undead Davy Jones, and the only way to break the curse is to locate a hidden treasure chest containing Jonesís heart, and meanwhile Elizabeth escapes from prison and tries to find Will, who is trying to find Jack, who is trying to find the chest before Davy can find and enslave him.
My high school English teacher would kill me for writing a run-on sentence like that, but itís the only method I could think of to convey how frantic the movieís narrative is. To be honest, so much is going on all at once that I often got confused as to what was happening and why. It doesnít help that the sequel tries to find room for every single character who was in the original, so there are numerous other little subplots involving Jackís crew, Elizabethís former suitor Norrington (Jack Davenport), a mining company, and the Governor (Jonathan Pryce). New characters are added too, including Willís father, Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard).
The bloat is so great that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Manís Chest runs an unconscionable two-hours-and-thirty-five minutes. Like the Energizer bunny in an eyepatch, it just keeps going and going and going. And then it goes some more. The original was long too, but it was breezy enough that the extended running time was little more than a mild annoyance. This time, though, I wanted to scream for the movie to just wrap it up already!
Iíll admit that the film is intermittently amusing, but it also reeks of the dreaded ďbigger, louder, moreĒ syndrome that has undone many a sequel. Anything that was charming about the original has been amped up here. For instance, there were some clever special effects in the original; the sequel is loaded with wall-to-wall effects that swallow up everything in their path. The original had a witty, offbeat performance from Johnny Depp; Dead Manís Chest has so much of Capt. Jack Sparrow that he wears out his welcome. The Curse of the Black Pearl featured old-fashioned scenes of swashbuckling; this one takes the action way over the top with scenes that go on and on.
Thereís only one word to describe this movie: overkill. Itís too much of too much. I felt worn down and mostly bored by it all.
Some elements showed promise. Thereís a funny chase scene on an island, for example, that displayed wit. I also liked Davy Jones and his undead crew. Theyíve been underwater for so long that theyíve started resembling sea creatures. Davy himself has the head of a squid, another guy has the head of a hermit crab, and a third looks like a hammerhead shark. Bootstrap Bill has a starfish and some seaweed perpetually stuck to his face. These characters are at least inventive and fun to watch. (Too gross for small children, though, so parents beware.) I also had a strange affection for the giant octopus that occasionally pops up from the ocean depths to attack a pirate ship. Thatís pretty original.
Strangely, there is a 20-minute span near the end when Dead Manís Chest suddenly gets really good. Will and another character duel while running atop an out-of-control waterwheel. As this is going on, Elizabeth, Sparrow, and several others are all trying to steal the heart from each other. Itís an extended farcical sequence that represents what the movie should have been from start to finish.
You may have heard that the third Pirates adventure was shot at the same time that this one was. Like The Matrix Reloaded, which was also shot in tandem with its third installment, Dead Manís Chest ends with kind of a cliffhanger that wonít be resolved until the next sequel, tentatively set for Memorial Day 2007. Also like The Matrix Reloaded, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Manís Chest is a self-indulgent, overlong, not-as-fun-as-it-oughta-be chore to sit through. I like the actors, the creatures, and some of the other individual elements, but truth be told, I was glad when the movie was over.
( out of four)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of adventure violence, including frightening images. The running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes.
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