Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 August, 2006, 12:00am

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy

Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Category: IIA

Gore Verbinski's second instalment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise begins under gloomy skies and amid choppy waves, as hordes charge landwards from their vessels - all bearing black flags printed with white insignia - with eyes set on a well-attired couple stationed on the shore.

However, these menacing images don't herald the return of Captain Jack Sparrow, the hair- tossing, finger-fiddling pirate who anchors the series. This is the emergence of the buccaneers of a new age: the colonialists that raid and raze with impunity, represented here by the semi-fictional East India Trading Company and the British soldiers it commands.

Not that Verbinski has suddenly found an urge to pad Pirates of the Caribbean with politics - this is, after all, swashbuckling entertainment inspired by a Disneyland theme park ride, and it remains safely in that realm. However, it sets the tone for Sparrow's travails this time round. According to the slimy colonial official Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), 'the world is shrinking'. And, rather than virtues, 'currency ... is the currency of the realm'. Pirates, he says, are desperadoes on their last legs in the New World.

And a sense of desperation certainly hovers above Dead Man's Chest, as Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his motley crew chase one loose end after another throughout the film's 150-odd minutes. While Beckett demands control of the seas, the pirates scramble on forever in pursuit of compasses, keys, ghost ships and treasure trunks in order to save their lives and those of their friends and lovers. And such hustle and bustle - abetted by fantastic computer-generated imagery - only serve to conceal the film's one major problem: the absence of a solid narrative.

The plot is convoluted enough: arrested at their nuptials and threatened with hanging, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) are forced by Beckett to hunt down Sparrow for his magical compass - which will lead to further treasures. Thus begin their separate treks towards that high-camp pirate, a reunion between Turner and his father (Stellan Skarsg?rd), numerous misadventures among cannibals and strange climes, and finally a showdown with Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and the monster he unleashes. It's apparent after a few of the film's Amazing Race-like episodes that Dead Man's Chest is just one big spectacle punctuated by a series of dastardly, but pointless, deeds.

Bright sparks are sporadic. Engaging performances from the cast could have injected the film with much-needed humanity. But Depp's overarching campness and the boyish Bloom's stiffness don't help. It must have been hard for them to put their hearts in it under the weight of the convoluted script - as evident by the constant conversations (or reminders to both cast and audience) between characters about what they should be doing next.

As Dead Man's Chest sails towards its rocky finale, the mind boggles as to what the third film in the series could possibly yield.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest opens today