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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest

Usually when I write about a movie I make it a point not to read or listen to other peoples’ opinions beforehand because I don’t want to let them influence me one way or the other about my take on the film, but with Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest that was next to impossible since it seems at least half of Essex Junction and a third of Colchester were lined up at the Essex Cinemas last Thursday at midnight for the opening.

Since then everywhere I’ve gone everyone I’ve met has volunteered a review of their own about Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest whether I asked them to or not. Sorry, Superman, but you are so yesterday’s news. It seems that pirates are the new kryptonite and the public is mad for’ em. Or mad at ‘em. Like I said, everybody has an opinion, and they are scattered all over the place. As for me, I am mostly surprised to find that anyone wouldn’t like the movie. After all, it’s a sequel, and America lives for sequels.

I think of sequels like second children. Once you’ve had the first and loved it madly, and then you commit to a second, you should really be prepared to love it too, even if it isn’t quite as bright or clever or pretty as the firstborn. After all, it wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. So with this attitude I went into Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest with the best of hopes and found I quite enjoyed this not-so-little bundle of pirates gone mad even if it was a lot more slapstick and downright silly than the first.

This episode begins not long after the original, which was released in 2003, so hopefully your memory will be clearer than mine because while the characters may have only been away a few weeks in their universe, I’d visited a lot of other cinematic worlds in the interim and it took a few minutes for me to get up to speed on where we were in the story as there is no attempt to remind the audience who’s who and what ended where in terms of the characters and their place in this pirates’ paradise.

Once that becomes more apparent, the story picks up quickly as would-be bride and groom Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly; Pride & Prejudice) and William Turner (Orlando Bloom; The Lord of the Rings trilogy) are forced to flee for their lives from the wicked Lord Cutler Bennett (Tom Hollander; The Darwin Awards), who has orders from the Crown to hang them both for aiding and abetting in the escape of Captain Jack Sparrow, the notorious pirate who they helped flee from the authorities at the end of The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Their only hope to save themselves is to split up and find Captain Jack to retrieve his magical compass in order to trade it to Bennett in exchange for clemency.

Meanwhile said Sparrow (Johnny Depp; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) has returned to his piratey ways and when Turner first meets up with the Captain he finds him entangled with a tribe of cannibals who have decided that Sparrow may be just as tasty as turkey for Thanksgiving.

Things get rolling in more ways than one and William’s rescue of the Captain is only the beginning of trouble. No sooner are they safely back aboard the Black Pearl than Jack is visited by the undead yet dead Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgård; Beowulf & Grendel). Bill, a bit clammy from spending the past twenty years or so underwater, is there to pass on the news to Jack that his deal with the legendary Davey Jones (of “Locker” fame, not Monkee fame) has come due, and Davey himself is coming to take Sparrow and the Black Pearl down to the ocean’s floor and a watery grave. Obviously, this leads to complications. A particularly unexpected problem for Jack is that Bootstrap Bill is actually young William’s father, and Jack’s errant plan to swap William’s immortal soul for his own as payment to Davey is not going to work because William is far more interested in saving the barnacled Bill and getting back to his beloved Elizabeth than he is in keeping Jack from an eternity in Davey Jones’ Locker.

The high point of this episode has to be the appearance of Davey himself. This high-tech tentacled creation is a feast for the eyes. Much like last year’s King Kong, here is a villain made up of computer-generated magic layered on the movements of an actor, Bill Nighy (Underworld: Evolution). Davey is a walking, talking mixture of man, lobster, octopus, and who-knows-what lies beneath his own pirate duds. He is as creepy as he appears to be slimy, and, in true pirate fashion, he steals every scene he’s in, quite an accomplishment when you are sharing the screen with Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom.

Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest is mostly non-stop action, with sword fights galore, cannons booming, and ships rushing into battle and away from the enemy, but it does have its’ quieter moments as well, and there is where the script shows its’ threadbare weaving of the tale. Pirate stories are made for manly men and the wenches who love them, and they (and the audience who lives vicariously through them) aren’t interested in these lulls for touching dialogue about lost fathers and true loves. They are there for the cannibals and the monsters (and a whole lot of bad oral hygiene).

If I had even a tiny squabble with Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest it would be what I call ‘The Empire Strikes Back Syndrome’. Be prepared in case you didn’t already know. POTC2 is the second of a trilogy, with Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End due next Memorial Day weekend. That means POTC2, like The Empire Strikes Back, ends without an ending, leaving our characters in cliffhanging situations that won’t be resolved for another year. I heard a lot of grumbling about that from some of the young’uns in the audience as we were leaving the theater, but I wasn’t too concerned. After all, when you have that baby, whether it’s the first or second, you’ve got to expect to wait a while to see how they’re going to turn out. In this case though, we’ve got a Disney baby, so I’m fairly confident that everything will be fine. Now with Harry Potter I’m not so sure, but we can talk about that some other time.

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