Abandon hope, all ye who read this review.
For a movie that was based on a Disney theme park ride, 2003’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was a lot better than it probably deserved to be. That’s not to say that it was a particularly great movie, but it was certainly entertaining enough to gross over $650 million worldwide, thanks to beautiful tropical vistas, lots of swashbuckling fun and an excellent Oscar-nominated performance from Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.
Now Captain Jack is back with the rest of the gang - including co-stars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, co-writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski - for more box office treasure in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (which was filmed simultaneously with a third “Pirates” flick, due for release next summer). But the breezy fun that infused the first film is smothered by a number of factors in this over-indulgent sequel - particularly a convoluted story, an excessive running time and a mind-numbing level of CGI that borders on overkill.
More or less picking up where the first movie left off, star-crossed lovers Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) find that their wedding plans have been interrupted by the further misadventures of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Unless Sparrow can find a way to break a blood oath that he owes to the evil Captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), he will be forced to serve Jones and his creepy crew on the Flying Dutchman for all eternity. But what does the fabled Dead Man’s Chest have to do with Jones, and how will finding the key to it break the curse? It’s up to Will and Elizabeth to find the answers, or Jack Sparrow will spend the rest of his life (and beyond) in underwater damnation. You savvy?
As with the first film, “Dead Man’s Chest” features incredible scenery, well-staged action scenes, clever nods to the theme park ride and another scene-stealing performance from Johnny Depp. But the story that ties it all together is far less interesting and a lot more confusing than it was the first time around. For starters, the “King Kong”-style sacrifice that takes up the first 40 minutes doesn’t have much to do with the actual story, and once it really gets started, it’s disjointed and hard to follow. It’s also darker, more violent and less romantic than the first movie, and with a running time of 2 hours and 31 minutes (10 minutes longer than the original film), it’s just too darn long.
In addition, the charming chemistry that made “The Curse of the Black Pearl” so much fun to watch is severely lacking in “Dead Man’s Chest,” if only because Depp, Bloom and Knightley spend too much time apart. Depp easily fares the best of the three, since his appearance alone is enough to elicit a few chuckles, but Knightley is not as prominent and disappears completely for about 30 minutes, while Orlando Bloom is as bland as ever. But despite being covered to an unrecognizable degree with squid-like tentacles all over his face, Bill Nighy seems to relish playing Davy Jones as the type of bad guy you love to hate, while Stellan Skarsgard gives an effective performance as Bloom’s long-lost father.
“Dead Man’s Chest” wanders aimlessly and drags for a bit, but at least it gets better as it goes along and features a great cliffhanger that paves the way for next summer’s final chapter. Hopefully part 3 will be an improvement over part 2, which would put the “Pirates” series in line with the “Back to the Future” trilogy. That franchise started off strong and had a messy middle chapter before rebounding nicely with a fun final film. Otherwise, it could end up more like the “Matrix” trilogy, which shot out of the gate with a spectacular first movie before indulgence and franchise fatigue completely derailed the last 2 chapters.
And if the latter happens with “Pirates 3,” then the filmmakers should be forced to walk the plank!