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No treasure in Pirates of the Caribbean sequel

By Lady Liberty
web posted July 10, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

** out of ****

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's ChestIn 2003, somebody somewhere decided it would be a good idea to make a movie based on one of the rides at Disneyland. I went on that ride when I was 12. Even then, I thought it was stupid. Needless to say, I wasn't keen on the idea of a movie. I went anyway, and left the theatre with a grin a mile wide. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is one of my all time favorite movies. That's the main reason I dread writing the review for the newly released sequel. If I had to title it, I suspect I'd call it something like, "'Pirates' sinks under the weight of its own aspirations."

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest picks up some months after the end of the previous Pirates movie. Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) are just about to marry when their big day is interrupted by the smug Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). Beckett chats with Elizabeth's father, Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Price) briefly, and then flourishes an arrest warrant for the couple. It seems that the British authorities haven't taken well the fact that the two helped the notorious pirate and criminal, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) escape.

Beckett does offer Will a sliver of hope that he and his fiancée might yet live happily ever after. He tells Will that, if he can procure the compass that Captain Sparrow carries, he'll offer the couple a pardon. The Governor, who is the same dithering coward that he was in the first film, seems helpless to intervene. So Will takes the chance and, leaving Elizabeth behind in her jail cell, he leaves to track down the pirate and do whatever must be done to get his hands on the compass.

Meanwhile, Captain Sparrow has some troubles of his own. It seems that he became the Captain of the Black Pearl by cutting a deal with Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) himself. And now the time has come for Jack to make the agreed upon payment: his very soul. Obviously, he's not keen on this and, with his usual fluttering aplomb, schemes to find a way to back out of the deal. Unfortunately, the only way he can think of involves being able to find both a mysterious key as well as the chest it unlocks.

While Jack looks for the key, Will looks for Jack. And while the Governor looks for a way to free his daughter (and not incidentally get her away from Will of whom he still thoroughly disapproves), Elizabeth finds her own way out of jail and into even more trouble. Her problems are only exacerbated when she runs into the discredited British officer under whose watch Jack escaped. The former Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport) harbors more than a little ill will for Jack and Will, but he's also out of options and gets caught up in events despite himself.

Oh, and did I mention that there's a mysterious witchy woman (Tia Dalma, played by Naomie Harris) who offers up cryptic advice to one and all? Or that Black Pearl crew members Pintel and Ragetti (Lee Arenberg and MacKenzie Cook) are still unable to get along? Or that Gibbs (Kevin McNally) and his parrot are along for the ride? Or that the long lost Bootstrap Jack (Stellan Skarsgard) shows up? Or that there is an island somewhere in the Caribbean populated by cannibals? Or...

And therein lies the primary problem with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. There's quite simply much too much packed into the movie which means that nothing gets adequate attention, and that the numerous side stories detract from the plot at best, and confuse things immeasurably for the most part.

There are those critics who think that Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow is best taken in small doses. I disagree. Yes, he's still apparently gay, drunk, drugged, or otherwise not quite right, but he's also still as magnetic and lovable a comic villain that ever existed (that he's also drop dead gorgeous despite himself doesn't hurt his cause, either). Orlando Bloom does a pretty good job playing the earnest hero, and his sword fighting is once again just terrific. Keira Knightley is a pretty girl, and one who holds her own with the boys. And Bill Nighy is a shuddery delight to watch, what with his wet and slurpy speech from a face wreathed by writhing tentacles.

The special effects are, as you might expect, very good, but the first movie outshines this second installment in that regard as well. While I still marvel over the skeletons fighting on the ship in the original, I'd just as soon forget a few of the glaringly visible problems with some effects in this film. The sword fights are excellent, including one with some brilliant stuntwork and some special effects merged seamlessly into an exciting whole. But bizarrely, some simple shipboard scenes show obvious green screen work. Some glimpses of a sea monster are as real as can be, but others show the blurriness of composite close-ups.

Director Gore Verbinski is back, and he shows his same able touch in combining action with comedy. The writers of the original penned the script for the sequel as well (Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio will return as writers for the third and final Pirates movie due out in 2007). That's why I'm at a loss as to why the second film so lacks the excitement and the tight editing of the first. Much of the comedy falls flat because it tries too hard; too many scenes appear to be there solely to let the pirates mug or Will look brave. My own opinion is that the writers tried to meet the huge expectations for the follow-up, and in so doing, simply went overboard.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was okay. That's it. It was okay. Among the people I was with, though, were a friend's three teen-agers. When I asked them what they thought, the most outspoken of the three said (and I quote): "It sucked." Worse, his siblings agreed. Given the high hopes I had for the movie, saying that it was only okay actually does kind of suck. All I can do now is hope that Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End redeems the franchise. Meanwhile, I think I'll just pop in my DVD of the first Pirates long enough to remember why it is I'm hoping.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of adventure violence, including frightening images." I'd honestly be a little more concerned about younger kids being able to follow the many needless complications to the story than with the violence (though the littlest ones will doubtless be afraid of the sea monster). Smart ten year-olds should be able to keep up. Meanwhile, you'll likely be able to keep up, too. I just can't promise that you'll want to.

Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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