The newest Pirates of the Caribbean film begins with a lovely scene. A bride, left at the altar, sits amongst empty guest chairs in dismay. A torrential downpour soaks her to the bone, fills the tea cups that were meant for her happy reception with nothing but water, and washes away all her hopes and expectations of this day. Unfortunately, this scene is also an apt metaphor for viewer reaction to this film.
Dead Man’s Chest is the sequel to the excellent and enormously popular Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Even if you dislike Johnny Depp, pirates, filth, monsters, undead, and historicals-it’s hard to resist the charm of the original. The original was jam packed with witty dialog, clever plot twists, and vigorous swashbuckling. In that film, an unlikely, but captivating friendship arose between a proper English lady, a noble but poor blacksmith’s apprentice, and a wacky pirate captain.
And yet, in spite of the success of the original, the sequel all but abandons this winning combination. While Kiera Knightly, Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp all return to their roles, ostensibly to recapture the chemistry-the sequel calls for all three of their characters to go their separate ways for the bulk of the film. The screen time they have together is minimal, so Dead Man’s Chest is never able to reproduce the Swashbuckling “Buddy Film” ethos of the original.
It must be said that this time, Orlando Bloom exceeds expectations in the role of Will Turner, trying to save his lady love from the hangman’s noose, and his father from a fate worse than death. Even so, much of his story is spent away from that same lady love, and the depth of his story is lost amongst a convoluted storyline with more tentacled and barnacled monsters than you can shake an oar at.
Kiera Knightly’s character, Elizabeth, is mostly relegated to a supporting role as a castaway and bumbler, chasing her men around the seas. She spends much of the film disguised as a ship’s boy, dooming the innocent crew to eventual destruction with her antics. And while she does manage to save the day with a Judas Kiss, it’s no longer clear that she loves Will anymore at all. Their eventual reunion is decidedly lacking in passion, and when her (almost) wedding dress sinks with one of the ships, it’s hard not to think that it spells doom for the couple.
Johnny Depp reprises his role as Captain Jack Sparrow with élan, but the script calls for the once lovable rogue to be far less lovable. Faced with the peril of his immortal soul, based on a debt he owes the ghostly pirate Davey Jones, Captain Jack quite willingly delivers over his friend to take his place in a watery grave. While no fan would ever mistake Captain Jack Sparrow for a noble do-gooder, some of his dastardly deeds seem so far out of character that his fate interests the viewer less and less as the film goes on. It’s really only in his final scene of the movie that Captain Jack manages to recapture a little of what made him such an icon.
In addition to misusing its colorful cast, Dead Man’s Chest suffers from often incoherent dialog, and an overly complicated plotline. The entire movie is a giant shell game, with a beating heart as its prize, and the slap-stick nature of the chase is mind-numbing.
Then comes the avalanche of special effects. Admittedly, there was some visual genius. The way Will Turner’s father constantly leaked water was creepy beyond creepy. The swashbuckling atop a runaway waterwheel was fun. And even though the hanging bone cages screamed “Indiana Jones” they provided some excitement.
But mostly, the director focused on whiz-bang special effects to the detriment of the rest of the film. There are only so many times you can watch tentacles fling sailors out into the water before you stop caring about who dies, and your stomach starts rumbling with a craving for calamari.
Dead Man’s Chest goes on and on, far past the point of comfort, and just when you think it’s going to be resolved, you discover that it’s not a self-contained film. It might as well have “To Be Continued” printed on the final frame.
Ultimately, Dead Man’s Chest is a disappointment, leaving fans feeling just like that jilted bride, with dashed expectations, and empty tea cups. It may be time to dump Captain Jack and his movies for a new beau. When the third movie comes out, we might be better off renting it on DVD.