The Sunday Review: Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead Man’s Chest

Saturday 8 July (2006)

 yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, fifteen men on a dead man's chest - drink and the devil had done for the rest, fifteen men on a dead man's chest

(Big SPOILER warning.)

The original Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, was one of the best action-adventure movies I’ve ever seen. I mean God, I loved that movie – I had been anticipating it for well over a year, being as it was both Johnny Depp and pirates. See, I love pirates, which is part of the reason why I love this old computer game some of you may have heard of called The Secret of Monkey Island. That game was inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, which is also obviously where the idea for the movies came from. The debate will go on as to how similar movie and game actually are, and whether or not the similarities are related, but that’s another story – suffice it to say, I think there are at least three moments in this sequel which are more than a little similar to moments in the Monkey Island games.

But onto the film. It’s left me… torn. Torn because there’s a part of me (the part that was sat in the cinema with a mile-wide grin) that thinks it’s brilliant – fantastically entertaining, good fun and most of all piratey. Then there’s the part of me that thinks that the film has just one too many flaws; that the series has gone in a bad direction. I’m still undecided.

I’ll start with the first opinion. Wow! As the tagline says, ‘Captain Jack is back’, and he certainly is. This alone is reason enough to see the movie – Depp’s rum-soaked pirate is a joy to watch in every scene, even if the subtle nuance he imbued the character with in the first movie seems to be lacking this time. Indeed, all of the cast from the first movie return (thank God they didn’t go with ‘Captain Jack is back, with the rest of the pack’) and they all appear to be the same character they were before, which is good. They all manage to repeat their level of performance, too, which is good for some people and bad for others. A new addition to the cast is in the form of Lord Cutler Beckett, in a rather boring performance to be honest – I’m sure he will play a far bigger role in part 3 (At World’s End.)

The film has a lot more action than its predecessor, and the early scenes are filled with slapstick humour. This is fine in itself, but parts of the film are just ridiculously unrealistic – when Jack manages to spear dozens of pieces of fruit on a bamboo pole which is tied to his back I raised an eyebrow, and then when he pulls off a drunken polevault reality left the room – but it was, in a way, good fun, so I let this slide. When the movie finally gets going though, we are introduced to a fantastic new villian: Davy Jones. Jones is played by Bill Nighy, who gives him a strange Scottish accent, and the level of his performance is certainly up to that of Barbossa in the first movie (Geoffrey Rush) even if the character itself isn’t quite as good. In fact, when Nighy is on the screen you visibly see Johnny Depp raise the level of his performance, such is the quality of the acting.

The plot is as expected: convoluted, and with lots of backstabbing, but that’s not such a bad thing. Like the first movie, it’s long, but again I can live with that. Basically, Sparrow owes Davy Jones his soul, because Jones supplied him with his ship, the ghostly Black Pearl. The deal was: thirteen years with the ship, then Sparrow has to join Jones’ crew. To get out of this, Sparrow has to supply Jones with one hundred other souls – or, knowing how difficult this would be, find the ‘dead man’s chest’ which contains Davy Jones still beating heart. With this he can blackmail Jones out of fulfilling the deal, but first he needs the key to the chest – which Jones keeps tucked under his tentacle beard. So, in true pirate fashion, Sparrow tricks Will Turner into getting the key for him – Turner; who is there to convince Jack Sparrow to come back to Port Royal with him to save his and Elizabeth’s life after they are both arrested for helping Sparrow escape at the end of the original movie. Well, from here there are lots of swordfights and double-crosses, and some exciting scenes with the Kraken, which Jones can summon at will to attack other ships.

Now, onto the flaws. For one thing, no-one believes Sparrow when he tells them about Davy Jones and his ghostly underwater crew. This would be understandable if these weren’t the same people who watched Barbossa and his crew turn into skeletons before their eyes. For another thing, Davy Jones himself can’t walk on land (except for once every ten years) – so why the bloody hell does he bury his chest on land? He’s the only person who doesn’t have access to the thing! Why not bury it under the sea? Or keep it on the ship? And don’t get me started on the ‘Elizabeth starts to fancy Jack a bit’ scenario – Sparrow as a character is far more dislikable in this movie, because he has a lot more at stake – he’s willing to give 100 people over to Davy Jones in order to save himself. So if she doesn’t fancy him in the original, why now??

Another annoyance are the continual bad and unneccesary references to the first movie. “Why is the rum always gone?” is the best example of this; a line that was hilarious in the original movie and absolutely dire in the sequel. Will Turner getting slapped by the same women who slapped Jack in the original? Why? We get it! We understand that Jack goes around pissing people off. Pintell and Ragetti don’t need to be there either, really – they could easily have made another couple of comedy characters, but I suppose they didn’t want to go to the trouble of actually creating them.

But, on the whole, this is a good movie – it’s entertaining, it’s reasonably true to the original, it has some extraordinary action scenes with awesome special effects, and there’s a good piratey plot in there too. At the same time, it’s not quite the same as the original. It has deviated too far away from what made that movie so good in the first place, and as such it disappoints me. I loved it, because I love the whole pirate theme of it all, but it at once confirms my original fears about a sequel and denies them. It’s better than it could have been, but it’s just simply trying too hard, and relying on the audience to be just happy to see all their favourite characters back without having to give them any further characterisation.

It all hinges on the third movie I suppose. If that one surprises me and returns to what made the original great, then maybe I’ll return to Dead Man’s Chest and view it in a different light – after all, the ‘bridge’ movie of a trilogy (especially a contrived trilogy that wasn’t a trilogy at all until it started making money) is usually the weakest of the three. As it is, I’ll just enjoy this movie as a fantastically entertaining blockbuster, but not the character driven masterpiece that the original was.

So, roll on At World’s End – if only so I can see Geoffrey Rush again 😀


6 Responses to “The Sunday Review: Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead Man’s Chest”

  1. Sally Says:

    I disagree – both were fantastically entertaining blockbusters, but that’s all they BOTH are. If you want a character-driven masterpiece you should look elsewhere. The Pirates of the Caribbean films are purely for entertainment value, and in that they succeed phenomenally. I think you’re getting a little carried away by levelling such praise at the first film… but then, boys will be boys, and boys do love pirates don’t they! 😉
    I did like this 2nd one though. Good special effects. And I think Davy Jones was just brilliant 🙂

  2. stan Says:

    Why can’t a character driven film have action sequences, though? I’d say that both Die Hard and Raiders of the Lost Ark are character driven movies, which are also action / entertainment movies. Why does a character driven film have to be something that’s all dialogue or like Requiem For A Dream or something?

    You can’t just group all action movies together as ‘mindless entertainment’ or as you say, that they ‘are purely for entertainment value’. The fact is that the original Pirates movie was a film about characters, that happened to also have some action scenes.

  3. Sally Says:

    I’m not saying a character-driven film can’t have action sequences, of course it can – but by the fact that it’s character-driven this must mean it is more about character than action. It doesn’t have to be all dialogue, I can think of plenty of films that are more about character than action and yet they have plenty of action sequencs.
    Not all action movies are ‘mindless entertainment’ but naturally, by virtue of being action movies, they concentrate more on the action than the development and/or exposition of character. Most action movies are for the entertainment factor: it’s easy entertainment, we don’t have to think too much, we just have to watch the action unfold. ‘Pirates’ is essentially an action-based plot but with, admittedly, some well-thought out characters. Still the movie is more about the unfolding action than the unfolding characters.

  4. leon Says:

    This one wasn’t that great, just above average at best. The first was fantastic. For some reason this one felt longer, with more plotlines than was needed and the jokes felt forced. Having Knightly character find attraction to Jack just didn’t seem to work either…having said that having Barbosa back at the end was a brilliant twist!

  5. mr skin Says:

    Pirates 2 pretty much sucked compared to the first one. It had a few good parts, but I think it was just a prelude to the 3rd one. I hope number 3 is better!

  6. mr skin Says:

    Is it just me or does every woman have the hots for Johnny Depp? My wife loves the guy and everything he does. This guy must get hounded by females everywhere he goes!

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