Thursday, July 13, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

It’s been three years since the first Pirates movie burst onto our screens, buckling its swash with gay abandon, launching the international career of Keira “I need a sandwich” Knightley, and introducing one of the greatest ever screen characters – Captain Jack Sparrow. In a deservedly Oscar-nominated performance, Johnny Depp fired up the imaginations of teenage girls and everyone else alike, inspiring in all who saw it a desire to throw off their corporate chains, escape to the sea and spend the rest of their lives drinking rum to the tune of “Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me”.

With its incredible box office success, not to mention the acting credibility lent to it by the likes of Depp, and Geoffrey Rush as the villainous Captain Barbossa, it was inevitable the film would become a franchise. Thus we have Dead Man’s Chest, a spirited, if overly complicated movie, that acts as both sequel to Curse of the Black Pearl, and set-up for the grand finale, At World’s End, due out late 2007 (principle shooting on both films was done on location in the Caribbean at the same time).

It’s not a bad idea to re-watch Curse of the Black Pearl, so you’re up to pirate speed by the time Dead Man’s Chest begins. The film launches straight into the action, picking up where COTBP left off. What’s supposed to be a happy wedding day for Elizabeth (Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) soon takes a dramatic turn, when both are arrested and charged with helping Captain Jack escape justice. To win their freedom, Will agrees to track down Captain Jack for the new commander of Port Royal and poster boy for the East India Trading Company Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). Elizabeth also manages to break out, stealing pardons for Jack and Will and agreeing with Beckett’s request to find Captain Jack’s mysterious and magical compass.

Meanwhile Captain Jack has problems of his own. The cephalopodic Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) has returned to claim a debt Jack owes him – his soul. Jack and his crew make an escape to land, and after a run-in with the somewhat stereotypical natives (painted bodies, manic dancing, threats to boil Jack and eat him), tricks Will into taking his place on Jones’ ghoulish ship, The Flying Dutchman. There’s high-sea hijinks ahoy as Jack proceeds to double cross everyone in his quest to get a hold of Davy Jones’ heart, which lies in the eponymous Dead Man’s Chest, and is the key to controlling the oceans.

What weighs Dead Man’s Chest down is this bulky and convoluted series of plots, which are hard to follow if one loses interest even for a few seconds. The intertwining storylines all have to be dealt with, which results in the film being about half an hour too long. And yet there’s many questions never answered, and many characters short-changed – most notably Knightley, whose feisty aristocrat from the first film appears to have morphed into a pouty brat; her longing for freedom exchanged for her longing to get married. The movie’s fumbled attempts at setting up a love triangle of sorts between Elizabeth, Will and Captain Jack are also frustrating. I certainly hope they don’t trot out the “Captain Jack is saved by the love of a good woman” tripe in the third film. What makes Captain Jack so much fun to watch is his complete disregard for humans – even ones he likes – if it’s in his own self-interest and preservation. I’m sorry, but Keira Knightley just isn’t good enough to change that!

The film’s highlights are its visually interesting cast, stunning scenery, a few spectacular fight scenes and superb uses of CGI special effects. Davy Jones’ octopus beard is beautifully animated, although it’s a shame to lose so much of Bill Nighy’s wonderfully craggy face (although the man can do more with his eyes than Bloom can do with his whole face). His crew are a frightening mix of man-beasts, their heads having turned into various sea creatures such as hammerhead sharks and lobsters. The Kraken, a giant squid Jones calls from the deep to do his bidding (which mostly involves tearing ships apart plank by plank), is so real, you can see the water dripping off the suckers on its massive tentacles. A tri-cornered sword fight between Jack, Will and Norrington (Jack Davenport in a nice turn) is very well executed, even if does include a somewhat ridiculous joust atop a spinning mill wheel.

This movie includes references to the Disneyland ride on which it was based – most particularly a longboat ride through a creepy bayou to the house of a local mystic. The film ends here; with the gang gathered to pledge their support for yet another adventure, this time to rescue a beloved character, with the help of an old foe. It’s an understandable but unsatisfying ending, and makes it all the more obvious how much of a bridging film this is.

The star of the whole kit and caboodle is however, Depp, and his importance should not be underestimated. Though not quite as joyous as his first turn as Captain Jack (unsurprisingly as that was as much of a journey of discovery for Depp as it was for those of us watching), he still remains the lynchpin for the movie’s success. People would come to see two hours of Depp regardless of who else turned up on the day of filming. His macho posing is beautifully undercut by his cowardice and effeteness, and it’s easy to get lost in his kohl-lined eyes. (Sigh!)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is a rollicking, jollicking romp of a film – it’s about pirates, for goodness’ sake. It might be a bit much for very young kiddies, but otherwise it’s a fun few hours to spend away from the office, out on the high seas, singing “Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me”.


Anonymous said...

ok... i agree with the noticable difference in characters; i think some character shifts and plot "developments" (shall we say) are a result of both creating a franchise from an initial first movie, and about the time difference between the two.

overall, i dont think this is such a big thing: the film (whist having a great cast and excellent production team) was never gonna be about the development of the characters as much as it was about a fast-paced, entertaining, sfx enhanced, humourous ride about exaggerated pirate times.

i think the pirates franchise is a good one - it has a great cast for us cinematic analysts to delve into, and plenty of laughs for the pre-20s-ish, sfx-loving target audience.

i thought "that type" of role was ideal for orlando and he fit in well as 1 of the 3 main characters from the original; i think keira is by far one of the best around: holds her own if not screen-steals with ease from the johnny depps, mickey rourkes and adrien brodys of the world. johnny depp as captain jack - whilst i dont think johnny depp is hollywoods best or even most under-utilised actor, i couldnt imagine another actor playing that role as well. so all in all: job well done, good franchise, 2nd was good and i'm sure the 3rd will be a barrell of laughs!!

(ps. i was drinking rum long before captain jack ever came along, did anyone ever try to put me on a beautiful island with keira?! no! life sucks!!)


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