The long, long plank

The joy that was Pirates of the Caribbean had a lot to do with the visual references to the delightful attraction at the various Walt Disney theme parks. It also played with the usual assortment of pirate lore clichés and then the icing was Johnny Depp’s marvelous performance. One reason his Captain Jack Sparrow was welcomed by audiences around the world (except my mother) had to do with everyone else around him playing things straight. Even Geoffrey Rush’s undead pirate captain was serious, even touched with some pathos as he could not enjoy his apples or wine.

Dead Man’s Chest offers more of the same but in a less satisfying manner. The long running time has been an issue for some and I don’t mind a long film if it does something with the time. Here, it does not use the footage wisely. Set pieces that echo the first film, are blown out of any sense of proportion and things seen once in the film get played again and again.

That sense of Captain Sparrow being the circular peg in a square world is even mentioned as a problem to be addressed. Yes, the world was changing and it’s interesting to see the rise of the first big business as a threat – the East India Company.

However, we then get the stereotypical island natives that revere Sparrow as a god and they’re played broadly and to a degree, I was offended. Sparrow’s escape is in competition with his crew’s as both are both stretching the imagination and go for cheap laughs rather than any sense of excitement. We get another swordfight and at first it’s interesting because it’s one on one on one but then it gets to stretching things out by putting them atop the water wheel. Sorry, one being good enough to stay atop the moving wheel might be plausible but all three, and fighting one another? Nope, sorry.

The kraken’s repeated arrival is also overdone until we finally look inside its maw in one of the film’s best images when we last see Captain Sparrow as he truly is, not performing for an audience.

The script does a reasonable job of creating a new problem that connects the first film to the third and works more than it doesn’t. The weakness, though, is that we really don’t learn anything new about Sparrow or even Will Turner. Elizabeth, at least, proves she doesn’t have a fear of heights, is a quick study at swordsmanship and is a master with a marionette. About the only thing new here is we finally get to see Sparrow work his wiles on a woman – Elizabeth – so we better understand why women thing well of him and still want to slap him for being a cad. The tension between Sparrow and Elizabeth is surprising and refreshing and what Elizabeth does towards the end is one of the more dramatic moments in the movie.

Will remains noble and swell and a fine catch as a husband but his reunion with his father as well as his first meeting with Captain Jack both fall flat. More should have been done in both cases.

Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones was an actually nuanced performance in a film filled with too-broadly played parts (including Naomie Harris as Tia Dalma). Kevin R. McNally’s Gibbs is another character who helps ground things before they spiral out of control.

The final set up leading us to a third and final film is particularly satisfying as was the final moment that had my audience cheering. (Not the bit post credits, which was cute but inconsequential as opposed to X-Men 3.)

Overall, I was entertained but wanted to be entertained and satisfied and that’s where the movie fails me.