Well, it’s not that bad, but it’s not a patch (arrr!) on the first one. Frankly, I’m terribly disappointed because I was looking forward to the visual thrill-ride of the summer. And I suppose it is a visual thrill-ride. Unfortunately, it’s not a lot else.
On paper it should be fantastic! All the essential ingredients are there: Keira Knightley; Johnny Depp’s superb swaggering, self-absorbed Captain Jack Sparrow; pirates; undead pirates (again); some stunning action set-pieces; more pirates; tribes of hungry cannibals; an enormous ship-guzzling sea monster; bleeding-edge see-gee-eye™ FX; buckle and swash; a search for hidden treasure; pirates… er, did I mention Keira Knightley?… Yep, it seems as if Dead Man’s Chest has it all.
So what’s wrong with it, then?
Pretty much everything else, really. For a start, there are very few laughs, especially when compared with the first film. It seems like the script is so weighed down by all the plotlines (see below) they forgot to leave any room for the funneh. Johnny Depp’s first-rate delivery manages to squeeze out a laugh or two; as does Mackenzie Crook, who’s back as Ragetti. Other than that, it’s a fairly straight-faced affair — apart from the jawdropping effects, of course.
My biggest beef with the film, though, is the plot — and, by the looks of Rotten Tomatoes, that’s pretty much everyone else’s problem with it, too. There’s just too much of it. It’s difficult to critique in detail without giving away spoilers, but suffice to say that there are about five or six major plot arcs which all intersect, diverge, and then come back together at various points throughout the film. Pretty convoluted for a summer blockbuster, right? I mean, we’re talking Jerry Bruckheimer, not Robert Altman here. But even that’s not the problem; I can handle convoluted. The trouble with POTC 2 is this: by the end of the film none of these plots get resolved.
Let me give a little spoileriffic example of just how convoluted things get: The movie opens with Will Turner (yet another simpering pseudo-dish performance from Orlando Bloom) and his fiancée Elizabeth Swann getting thrown into jail by the evil head honcho of the East India Trading Company, Lord Bennett, and sentenced to death. In reality though, Bennett just wants to get his hands on Jack’s magical compass. Keeping Elizabeth in jail as leverage, Bennett sends Turner to find Sparrow and retrieve the compass.
Meanwhile, Jack’s got himself in a spot of bother with Davy Jones (a practically unrecognisable Bill Nighy on top form). He’s calling Jack in to repay an old debt with 100 years of service on Jones’ undead pirate ship. To save his skin, Jack’s trying to find the key to Davy Jones’ chest (using the aforementioned compass). Now, while Will’s looking for Jack and Jack’s looking for the key, Elizabeth manages to get out of jail — eluding a shadowy assassin sent by Bennett — and stow away on another ship to try and find Will. Once aboard, she disguises herself as a man and uses her empty dress to covince the crew that the ship’s haunted so they’ll sail to Tortuga, which is where Jack ends up trying to recruit a crew to find an alternate method of repaying his debt to Jones. But Will, who by this time has already got the 411 from Jack, is aboard Davy Jones’ ship, searching for the key to his chest. Still following along?
Bear in mind that this is all just a preface to the main body of the film, which also includes several subplots, and you begin to get an idea of just how complicated things get. And, as I’m fond of saying in relation to computer games, complexity does not equal depth. Or fun, for that matter…
Understandably, given all this baggage, the film clocks in at a butt-numbing 2 and a half hours. Sure, the first one was pretty long, but it never felt like it, partly because you always knew where it was going. However, I rarely knew where Dead Man’s Chest was heading (and not in a good way), and most of these plots within plots within subplots are just left hanging at the end in anticipation of the sequel next summer. As one reviewer put it, the whole thing’s nothing more than an “overture to yet another sequel”.
Related to the plot problem is pacing. POTC 2 is all over the place. One minute it’s dragging its heels as a sassy voodoo witch tries to imbue Will Turner with a sense of “destiny”, the next you’re enjoying a stunning set-piece as Jack makes his escape from cannibal island. Once again, the film isn’t terrible; there are some memorable moments and jawdropping scenes, but it struggles to sustain interest where its predecessor did so effortlessly. 5/10.