Back on track with the LADathon with the second Pirates flick. More on the way.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) (Redux)
With Curse of the Black Pearl becoming a big hit worldwide, sequels were inevitable. Disney opted to film Pirates 2 and 3 back-to-back with Dead Man’s Chest being released in 2006. I’ve seen Dead Man’s Chest many times, but in rewatching it to do this redux, I realised that 1) I couldn’t remember large stretches of it and 2) it wasn’t as bad as I previously thought.
“Jones’ terrible leviathan will find you, and drag the Pearl back to the depths and you along with it!”
Following on from Curse of the Black Pearl, our two lead planks Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) are due to be married, but all is cut short when newly appointed Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) claps them in irons for aiding and abetting Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Sparrow has problems of his own, however, as his debt to the fearsome legendary Captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) is due to be paid and if he doesn’t comply, he’ll face the wrath of the massive, multi-tentacled Kraken, capable of sinking entire fleets of ships. Having my preconceptions when I sat down to review it good an’ proper, I had loaded my shitcannons and was ready to work the film over from the barebones up. Why are these characters doing these things? What’s her motivation? Is his story arc satisfactorily concluded? etc. However, it’s actually a well-constructed film. On a base level, there are very few criticisms that I could find to level at it. Motivations make sense, the story’s structured strongly and everything that’s set up pays off for the most part. So, why the three stars at the bottom of the page? Well, just because it’s functional doesn’t mean it’s brilliant. It’s way too fucking long at 151 mins and it’s as self-indulgent as mashing caviar on your nipples and ordering several exquisite eunuchs to lick it off. More of that in a minute.
Bloom and Knightley haven’t improved between films. Whilst their wooden “acting” got a free pass last time, it becomes more of a problem this time as both are given more to do. Of the newcomers, I love Tom Hollander’s Beckett who has free reign to be the bastard that Davenport’s Norrington wasn’t allowed to be. Bill Nighy’s octopus-faced Davy Jones is a cracking villain too. The production design on Jones and the crew of the Flying Dutchman, including the ship itself is remarkable. There are all sorts of odd sea creature/man hybrids to goggle at and they’re all fantastically realised. Whilst I like the hammerhead shark fella and the guy who just seems to have an oyster for a head and no discernible mouth, my favourite is the pufferfish lad. We don’t get to see him puff up when he’s stressed or angry though. Missed opportunity. I have to give credit where credit’s due, it’s refreshing that they didn’t try to just rehash Black Pearl and actually went for something a bit different. The merits of where they went with it is debatable, but in the age of a widespread “fuck it, that’ll do” attitude towards sequels, it’s a good thing. The scale and scope is considerably bigger this time round. The effects have been stepped up and at times border on the photo-realistic. The Kraken scenes are my favourites. Just the image of a ship being ensnared by huge tentacles is straight off an old nautical map. It’s great to see it on screen and it’s surprisingly unsettling.
I was racking my brain trying to figure out why this film isn’t as successful as its predecessor. There were things I noticed that didn’t work, such as the dialogue not being nearly as sharp this time round and some real weaksauce gags slipping through the net, but none of them were film killers. It all came to me watching the three-way swordfight between Norrington, Sparrow and Will. Firstly, the film is too convoluted and indulgent for its own good- so much so, that they have Mackenzie Crook’s Ragetti explain each man’s motivation whilst the fight’s going on as a refresher course to Pintel and therefore the audience. If you have to have a character dump exposition all in one go like that, you’re not doing a very good job telling a story. Secondly, and most importantly, I realised I was having fun as I watched the three men fight in and on a rolling waterwheel. Not only that, it seems like a scene that’d be completely at home in the first film. Dead Man’s Chest lacks the consistent sense of fun and swashbuckling adventure that Black Pearl had in abundance. Much like Jack Sparrow, the film doesn’t know what it wants and flits between all sorts of conflicting things. The tone is erratic throughout and as such you end up not quite knowing how to react to it.
“Life is cruel. Why should the afterlife be any different?”
Dead Man’s Chest isn’t a bad sequel by any means. It moves its characters on, brings in some great villains and takes us to new and exciting places. It just isn’t as enjoyable as it should be. A sense of fun can make up for a hell of a lot, but Dead Man’s Chest has it in fits and starts, coupled with some surprisingly dark shit for a family friendly film (the poor bastard who has his face sucked clean off by the Kraken comes to mind.) It’s entertaining enough, but it gets too bogged down in its own mysticism and taking itself seriously to really cut loose and live a little.