MOVIE REVIEW- Jack's back: How much action can Pirates endure?
What was so great about Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl was the way it came out of left field, reviving the action-adventure subgenre of the pirate movie and winning Johnny Depp an Oscar nomination for his loopy, unpredictable performance as Captain Jack Sparrow.
What's less great about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is that it's totally expected. With audience expectations much higher they've tried to create something bigger! faster! longer! louder! with more more more special effects! There's never a dull moment, but too many exciting moments can have a dulling effect after two and a half relentless hours.
True, the Kraken (sort of rhymes with dragon), the tentacled, larger-than-a-ship "beast (that) does the bidding of Davy Jones" (Bill Nighy), is a marvel– they can do things with computer-assisted live-action they wouldn't have dreamed of doing in animated films a couple of decades ago– but how many times can you watch it destroy ships and crews before it becomes the same old/same old?
Dead Man's Chest pirates ideas from all manner of mythology, previously popularized by the likes of Tennyson (The Kraken), Wagner (The Flying Dutchman) and Stevenson ("the Black Spot" from Treasure Island). It's all woven into a plot that brings back most of the characters from The Curse of the Black Pearl and straddles a line between complexity and confusion.
The wedding of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) is interrupted by Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) of the East India Trading Company. He arrests the bride and groom for helping Jack Sparrow escape– a capital crime– but that's just an excuse to force Will to help him find Jack and get Jack to surrender his magic compass (and incidentally go to work for England as a privateer in exchange for a full pardon). Beckett thinks the compass will lead him to the chest in which Davy Jones keeps his own still-beating heart, as well as other chests containing items of value.
And I haven't even gotten to the confusing part. Also showing up are former Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), Elizabeth's former fiancée, and Bootstrap Bill Turner (Stellan Skarsgard), Will's father who abandoned him to go to sea. The latter allows for the father-son reconciliation subplot that's mandatory in all Hollywood films these days.
Davy Jones is feared because he makes his crew work for him for a hundred years at a time, sometimes in exchange for granting their heart's desire. Jack made such a pact and got to captain the Black Pearl for 13 years, but now Davy is after him to pay up. Davy's tentacled face looks like the mating of a human and an octopus. His crewmen also have physical aspects of aquatic life, in addition to being covered with barnacles. They're not frightening, just unpleasant to look at; and we have to look at them a lot.
The first Pirates had its share of special effects, but the most special of all was Johnny Depp. Drunk but lovable, effeminate but heterosexual, a total rascal whose heart was usually in the right place, he was forever catching viewers off guard with bits that shouldn't have worked but did. In Pirates 2 he does it all over again and is convicted under the law of diminishing returns. He seems to be used more sparingly this time, but he doesn't steal a single scene. Instead of being the star he's just a member of the ensemble.
For romantics in the crowd, Elizabeth is pursued by Jack and Norrington, even though her heart still belongs to Will, and she goes to sea dressed as a man to follow him– to rescue him if necessary.
The action is constant, like Raiders of the Lost Ark on speed, but there's too much of it. Imaginative sequences involving a water wheel and hanging cages keep things rolling, and there's a classic gotcha! moment when natives catch Will– but way more than enough is enough already. What could have been a great two-hour movie doesn't know when to quit, or when to send Davy Jones to his locker.
A couple of things about that Kraken: Does it have an eye in each tentacle? It's able to strike quickly and accurately with them when its head is not in sight. And there's considerable inconsistency about how it locks on a target. Sent after Jack, it destroys the wrong ship at one point because Jack's lost hat is onboard. Later it attacks the Black Pearl after Jack has abandoned ship.
The ending sets up Part 3 and, in the tradition of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, features a surprise cameo. It's worth sitting (or fast-forwarding) through the credits for a final gag, if you've sat through so much already.