Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest directed by Gore Verbinski, written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, with Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Bill Nighy. 105 minutes. A Walt Disney Pictures release. Opens Friday (July 7). For venues and times, see Movies, page 99. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
Yo ho ho, a pirate's life for me. Of all the bad boys who lure good girls to their doom, none is so exciting or romantic as the pirate, as everyone from James Barrie and William Goldman to Jerry Bruckheimer knows. Jerry Seinfeld's ridiculous puffy shirt looks a lot better on Orlando Bloom or Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.
Yes, Jack's back, just where we left him in 2003 at the end of The Curse Of The Black Pearl. In Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and her betrothed, Will Turner (Bloom), are arrested by Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) for having helped Sparrow escape.
Beckett offers Will a choice: get Jack Sparrow's compass or be hanged. This same compass was notable in the first film for not pointing north. Now we learn that it points to your heart's desire, and Beckett's heart desires the better-than-it-sounds Dead Man's Chest.
Jack's heart doesn't have time to worry about Will or Beckett, since he's having a small spot of bother with the Devil, one Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). In an odd conflation of legends, Jones captains the Flying Dutchman and sets on Jack's trail a huge CGI monster that, if it has a decent agent, should soon play a titular role in Godzilla vs. The Giant Octopus
Davy Jones replaces Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbossa as the central villain, and the new picture suffers from the absence of an actor who can chew the scenery with as much gusto as Depp. Nighy does his best, but he labours beneath miles of computer-assisted latex, looking like a cross between Futurama's Dr. Zoidberg and something Luke Skywalker could have met at that cantina in Mos Eisley.
There are a lot of Lucas-ish touches here, actually: the hero (in this case Will) growing up awfully fast, giant rolling cylinders, multi-fanged beasties, the love of special effects as ends in themselves.
The result is a lot more noise and bombast and - tragically - far less sword fighting. If you're going to make a movie about pirates, dammit, they should swash and buckle until their arms fall off.
To draw another Lucasfilm analogy, Curse Of The Black Pearl was a surprise smash, much like the first Star Wars. Now, the pressure is on to repeat that success. The first film was wonderful because it was so obvious that everyone was having a lot of fun. The second act of a three-act play is rarely as lighthearted as the first, and the humour here seems strained, as though Verbinski and crew have begun to take themselves too seriously.
But, if the final scene - which caused cheers to erupt in the theatre - is any indication, the third instalment is guaranteed to bring back the fun. Stick to the swordplay and it'll be clear sailing from here to the horizon. Drink up, me hearties. Yo ho!