Friday 4 May 2007

Friday 4 May 2007
DIRECTOR: Gore Verbinski
WRITERS: Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio
CAST: Johnny Depp (Captain Jack Sparrow), Orlando Bloom (Will Turner), Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann), Bill Nighy (Davy Jones), Stellan Skarsgård ("Bootstrap Bill" Turner), Jack Davenport (James Norrington), Kevin McNally (Joshamee Gibbs), Tom Hollander (Lord Beckett), Jonathan Pryce (Governor Swann), Mackenzie Crook (Ragetti), Lee Arenberg (Pintel), Martin Klebba (Marty), Naomie Harris (Tia Dalma), David Bailie (Cotton), Dermot Keaney (Maccus), David Schofield (Mercer) & Alex Norton (Captain Bellamy)

I quite liked Pirates Of The Caribbean (2003), the surprise nautical hit based on a theme park ride, starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. It was a fun mix of pirate flick and supernatural adventure, with some family comedy stirred in.

The eagerly awaited sequel is bigger, brasher, brighter... and boring. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Pirates 2, hereon) is a classic example of an overegged pudding. The script suffers great pain in forcing all the characters back together, subsequently birthing more subplots than tentacles on a Kraken!

Will Turner (Bloom) has to find Jack's magic compass, who in turn is after a special key, so they can both find the dead man's chest, but not before Jack collects 99 souls in 3 days! As you can tell, it's very hectic and very confusing. After it's over, you sit back and wonder what Ms Knightley did in the whole movie -- beyond pout and disappoint men by ditching a bosomly dress for tomboy trousers.

Of course, there are some effective set-pieces amongst the dross. A pointless interlude on a cannibal island inspires brilliant physical comedy with Jack as a "human kebab", while the crew of the Black Pearl escape from giant skeletal cages hung from a rope bridge. It's all great fun and reminds you of director Gore Verbinski's skill in this department (see his underated Mousehunt). But once any diverting mayhem stops you're thrown back into the laborious story.

A prime example of the film's reliance on spectacle over logic occurs during a sword fight between Jack, Will and Norrington (Jack Davenport; back under the misapprehension audiences would feel cheated if he were absent). The fight is watchable enough, but the characters are just fighting for the sake of it, so it's never exciting. You don't believe Will actually wants to kill Jack, particular as he's giving a teary-eyed toast to the man just twenty minutes later! But, hey, it meant we had people duelling on a water-wheel that's trundling down a hill. So it was worth it. See?

On the positive side, Bill Nighy is wonderful as chief nemesis Davy Jones, squid-headed Captain of The Flying Dutchman, whose crew are all aquatic hybrids, covered in seaweed and coral. Nighy's great, but it's the CGI used to create his tentacled head that most impresses. It's phenomenal work, almost indistinguishable from real make-up.

Elsewhere, there's no denying the artists involved have done a magnificent job on this multi-million dollar production. Every second is crammed with beauty and impressive visuals. The Kraken, a giant creature from the deep, is just one of the many digital marvels to gawp at. It's just a shame the story is so unfocused, rambling and stiff.

Even Johnny Depp can't escape victimization by the script, with Jack nowhere near as memorable as before. After a promising entrance (though not a patch on his sinking ship debut) he just unspools his collection of facial quirks, lilting dialogue and fey mannerisms -- with nothing new to embellish his character. There's no development or fresh jokes, beyond a few throwaway lines and occassional slapstick, so he's very underwhelming.

The supporting cast are similarly forgettable, particularly Orlando Bloom's vaccuous pretty-boy hero, Keira Knightley's superfluous plucky lass, Jack Davenport's listless Brit and the improbable and unwanted return of "comedy duo" Mackenzie Crook and Lee Arenberg. Only fresh meat like the aforementioned Nighy and Stellan Skarsgård (as "Bootstrap Bill" Turner) make any kind of impression this time, with Bootstrap proving quite sympathetic.

Ultimately, Pirates 2 is a visual extravaganza with a shambolic story and too many characters jostling for your attention. This time the curse of the movie has nothing to do with Davy Jones' aquatic crew, it's in the bloated script by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio.
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End may fare better now the mountain of exposition is over with, but only if the story and characters don't play second fiddle to the visuals again.