[Argh! Shiver me timbers! I had just finished this post, when an accidental double-click conspired to send it to the depths of Davy Jones' locker. Ok, let's try this again...]

Given that it just enjoyed the biggest opening weekend ever and that #3 (World's End) is already pretty much in the can, I suppose it doesn't really matter what I thought of the relentlessly overstuffed Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest, which I caught last Friday with the rest of America. Still, for what it's worth, I found Pirates 2 both remarkably disappointing -- sadly, this film is yet another whiff in a summer full of them so far-- and literally stunning, in that the movie spends two and a half hours remorselessly beating the audience senseless with spectacle, to the detriment of plot, character development, pauses for breath, or anything else you might think to expect in a 150-minute flick. (AICN's best reviewer, Alexandra du Pont, hit the nail on the head on this one: "The movie is stimulating without being dramatic. Nothing is properly contextualized..") What we have here with Dead Man's Chest is a reasonably well-directed film brimming over with talented actors (Say what you will about Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, but Johnny Depp, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, and Stellan Skarsgard? That's a Murderer's Row), expertly crafted special effects, striking cinematography, and -- yes -- rousing action sequences, and for some reason it all adds up to so much less than the sum of its parts. Pirates' magic, this is.

So, what's the gist of Dead Man's Chest, besides all the furious running back and forth, and then back again? Well, that's most of it. Somewhere in there, a malevolent magnate of the East India Company (Tom Hollander, doing a Peter Sarsgaard impression) has decided to break up the wedding of Will Turner (Bloom, bland and pretty) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley, pretty and bland), in order to send them out to locate the formidable Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp, even stranger than last time) and -- more importantly -- his magic compass. Sparrow, meanwhile, has run afoul of the unfortunately not-so-mythical Davy Jones (Nighy, by way of Serkis), the squid-headed commandant of a ship of lost souls -- among them Bootstrap Bill Turner (Skarsgard), Will's dad -- that he has retrieved from shipwrecks (and who are now turning into sea creatures as a side-effect of their Faustian bargain.)

With the board thus set, the pieces move...and boy, do they. Jack and Will spend a good forty-five minutes running to and from natives, Elizabeth stows away on a "haunted" ship, Will serves some time with dear old Dad, the Kraken -- a ginormous creature of the deep -- attacks not once, not twice, but three times ("ah ah ah!), everyone stops in for a few voodoo sessions and/or swordfighting, and all the characters from the first movie drop by every once in a while for a pop-in or three. This all may sound fun, but trust me -- the frenetic result goes from intriguing to exhausting to mind-numbing in surprisingly short order. After a smile on my face for the first quarter-hour, I was starting to check out after forty-five minutes, trying to will my watch faster after seventy-five, and was ready to cut a deal with Davy Jones myself by minute one-hundred.

I liked the first Pirates, although I also said that it felt twenty minutes too long, Well, for almost its entire running time, Dead Man's Chest basically feels like being trapped in that extra twenty minutes. Still, I have to admit, it also feels like something of a watershed. Perhaps the best way to look at Pirates 2 is as [a] an homage to the action-packed, plot-irrelevant, somewhat nonsensical pirate serials of yesteryear and [b] a sequel to a movie based on a Disney theme park ride -- really, how good could it have been? And yet, in another way this really does feel like the type of flick film historians of the future might look back to as a signpost in the devolution of American film -- as the moment when the summer blockbuster ethos, Krakenlike, effectively swallowed the moviemaking process whole. (There may be something about the increasing caffeinization and decreasing attention span of America in there somewhere too.) I mean, when reasonably talented people get together to spend a whopping $225 million and hundreds of man-hours to make a "movie" like this, which, as DuPont also suggested in her review, is effectively a two and a half hour version of Indy running from the big ball in Raiders -- and then are so amply rewarded for it, to boot -- one has to fear for the quality of future film offerings. Can we turn this ship around, or are we just going to have to watch it run aground?

[First appeared in Ghost in the Machine, 7/10/06.]

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