Thursday, July 20, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

There's still no power in my neighborhood so I've had time to think about this movie.

In a word: overblown.

The first picture was a real surprise to me. It was fun, fast-paced and surprisingly tight. It did everything the genre ever did well and did it better. This is not the first movie.

How do you make a good sequel? You have to take things one step further to top the first film. This movie takes too many steps. Instead of evil pirates with a flash of the supernatural, we get giant slimy cg sea monsters. As main characters.

I could buy Geoffrey Rush turning into a skeleton in the moonlight. It was handled tastefully and in small enough doses that it was a delight each time he transformed. But I can't buy Bill Nighy as a dripping fish man with venting tentacles. I don't believe him and therefore I'm not scared of him. Ditto for the crab men and squid men and starfish men. There is no way these creatures live in the same universe as the first film.

And the action also goes over the line. While the sequences are choreographed well and briskly edited, they would kill a human body in thirty seconds flat. I know action movies usually make their heroes superhuman. But there's a difference between Indiana Jones knocking a statue through a wall and Indy jumping out of a plane with a life raft. One stretches believablity, the other walks right over it. Guess which route Dead Man's Chest takes?

The characters get some good moments and we learn a little more about Jonny Depp's backstory but it's not enough. There's simply too little story in this film. Dead Man's Chest was written and shot alongside Part 3 and it shows. I get the feeling they had some more great ideas and saved them for the next installment. It didn't work for the Matrix, it didn't work for Back to the Future (though I like Part 2) and it doesn't work here.

I've always had a theory that you can't make a sequel to a comedy. When you want to top an action movie you make it bigger, louder and more expensive. To make a comedy sequel you have to make it funnier. And that's nearly impossible. The first film was a comedy, in the way Men in Black or Hellboy was a comedy. It took the threats seriously but had fun with the characters and tone. This one puts a serious tone on the characters for some odd reason. It assumes we'll have fun with the ramped up action. I didn't. I just left depressed and skeptical.

But dammit, the last minute makes me want to see Part 3.

Read what the other critics have to say.

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