Pirates II -- Chaos on the High Seas

Posted: Jul 11, 2006 12:00 AM
Pirates II -- Chaos on the High Seas

This is one review in which I will never have to issue the warning, "Spoiler Alert". Oh, sure, I could reveal a few minor shifts and surprises, but it would be impossible to give away the ending to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest because it doesn’t have one.

What it does have is a lot of pratfalling, a lot of swordplay, and a lot of special effects. And interestingly, while it has also has a lot of plot lines, it doesn’t have much of a story. This isn’t to say that Pirates redux is without its charms—any film that showcases the phenomenal acting talent of Johnny Depp is bound to hold some appeal—but it certainly doesn’t match its predecessor for sheer enjoyment value.

Much like the first film, undead sailors are once again hot on the trail of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) get mixed up in the pursuit. Arrested on their wedding day for previously helping Jack evade the long arm of British law, influential officer Lord Cutler Beckett of the East India Company (Tom Hollander) assures them they can earn a pardon by retrieving an enchanted compass in Jack’s possession. Jack, however, is of no mind to give the treasure up as it is the only thing that can keep Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and his crew of half-men/half-fish from dragging Jack down to the squid skipper’s mythical locker.

After this the film piles on subplot after subplot involving island cannibals, voodoo priestesses, and Will’s pirate father, all intersecting and dissecting each other like a mass of wriggling sea serpents. If only so much energy were expended on the players, who, with the exception of Bloom, bring a sense of exuberance to the production despite being bogged down in relentless displays of big-budget effects. Nighy as Davy Jones ramps up the fun every time the tightly choreographed action allows him a moment to breathe, as does Mackenzie Crook as a one-eyed tag-along pirate with a philosophical bent, but unfortunately those moments too far and few between.

The biggest problem is that writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio assume we’re already in love with their characters, and therefore waste no time giving us a reason to fall for them again. They give us a lot of Captain Jack (Depp gets plenty of screen time) and also not enough Jack as he spends all that time engaged in high-action pursuits that never allow us chance to reconnect with his loopy charisma. Rather than focusing on the quirky characterizations that made the first movie a hit with audiences of all ages, director Gore Verbinski falls back on the Bruckheimer-ism that big crashes and big spectacles are what put tushies in the seats. And while that is true to a certain extent, when a film is nothing but action sequence after action sequence, no matter how big the bangs, it can get a bit wearing. (It’s never a good sign when the desire to check your watch overwhelms the desire to see a giant CGI sea monster attack a ship for the third time.)

All of this is tolerable and, unfortunately, expected in a sequel. However, what is not tolerable is an ending that fails to tie up even one of the threads the previous two hours introduced. Does Elizabeth still love blacksmith-turned-pirate Will or is she now enamored of Jack? Will tentacle-face Davy Jones succeed in hauling Jack down to the briny deep or will Jack find a way to outsmart him? Does the wormy Lord Beckett take control of the seas? I’m not saying none of these questions get answered…Well, yes, actually, that is exactly what I’m saying, and if it’s a spoiler to reveal there’s nothing to reveal, so be it.

It’s one thing to end with a cliff-hanger in a film that was always part of an acknowledged series, ie., Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Godfather. But Pirates I was no first installment in a trilogy. It was a story complete and unto itself. Therefore, when Pirates II introduces a whole host of new stories and characters and doesn’t bother to wrap any of them up, its likely that many viewers will leave crying, “No fair!”…But they’ll also pony up another 8 to 10 bucks to find out how it finishes in the next episode, and maybe that’s what Bruckheimer and Verbinski were counting on.

Dead Man’s Chest has already pillaged the box office for $132 million, as well as broken several major records. Unfortunately, while an acceptable summertime amusement, it certainly doesn’t earn that kind of booty. Perhaps its successor, to be released in Summer 2007, will.