The Fall of a Sparrow
Treading water on the high seas
BY JASON BLAIR
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST: Directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Cinematography by Dariusz Wolski. Music by Klaus Badelt. Starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Pryce and Jack Davenport. Walt Disney Pictures, 2006. PG-13. 143 minutes.
|Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp): Why take on just one opponent when you could have two?|
Johnny Depp caused a minor sensation three years ago as Jack Sparrow, the anti-hero of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Not since Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade (1996) was a misfit so beloved — or so imitated — and both Thornton and Depp earned Academy nominations for their performances. Depp's Sparrow was a woozy but clever scoundrel with a knack for outwitting and outlasting his enemies. With quotable lines in almost every scene — "You seem familiar. Have I threatened you before?" — Pirates isn't far behind The Princess Bride (1987) for its lighthearted treatment of the pirate life and the shady dealings among people of easy virtue.
The success of the first Pirates can't solely be attributed to Depp. The film embraces language like few mainstream films these days; characters parry and strike with verbal precision, using words instead of swords (occasionally both) to get the better of each other. Depp was a memorable Captain Jack, but the ship was seaworthy before it ever sailed: the sharp, crisply written screenplay should have been nominated for an Oscar, alongside the nods for sound and visual effects.
This time around, everyone returns for further adventures, including Barbossa's monkey, which I like to think is called Screech. Also returning are the talents behind the camera. Therefore I couldn't help thinking this crew might avoid sequelitis, or the tendency to try to "improve" a successful film by making a bigger, louder and dumber sequel. But from the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, it's clear this is a different enterprise altogether. Although the film finds its legs in the second half, at 2-plus hours that's far too long to wait.
Dead Man's Chest is a film about paying down debts, which is ironic considering it cost $200 million to make. Facing execution for freeing Jack Sparrow, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) must turn over Sparrow or face the gallows. Sparrow, naturally, is up to his neck in trouble: Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) himself has come calling for Capt. Sparrow, who made a wager with Jones for a certain ship years ago. Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) sets out in earnest to find Will, who's looking for Jack, who's looking for a chest, while British agents pursue all of the above. If we include the massive sea creature also chasing Jack, that's a total of five chases. When are five chases less than one? When they don't add up to anything special.
Many of the simple pleasures of the original Pirates are absent. Will and Elizabeth are now engaged, but they don't speak much and seem to need couples counseling. The men of the British navy, arrogant and stupid in the first film, are just plain greedy in Dead Man's Chest. But Depp suffers the most. What a long drop from the original Capt. Sparrow. Whereas before, the bon mots rolled easily from his lips, all he can manage here are "Ohs" and "Ahs" as if there's a tongue depressor lodged inside his mouth.
It's too early to abandon ship. There are some memorable scenes here, particularly when Davy Jones is onscreen. The third Pirates installment was shot concurrently with Dead Man's Chest, and it may well restore some buoyancy to this franchise. For now, it's sprung a leak.