Film trilogies are a tricky thing. It of course helps your cause if you know, going in, that the film you’re making is going to be part of a triptych- one of three that doesn’t really make sense as a standalone- so you can leave it open ended. Or, conversely have one overriding plot that carries over into three movies that can exist as complete films on their own. Not following either of those paths is much like an incomplete sentence, an unfinished thought. And, this brings us to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl was an impossible film in so many ways.
Orlando Bloom as a pirate? Surely not. A 30+ year-old theme park ride as the basis for a film? Ludicrous. Various Oscar winners/nominees as pirates? In 2003? No way! And yet it worked despite it’s apparent roadblocks. 143 minutes of pure giddy excitement. Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow was simultaneously drunk, high, and maybe a little gay while swashbuckling his way though curses and zombie pirates galore while his impossibly gorgeous compatriots lit up the screen with romance and humor. It left you wanting so much more and after it’s opening numbers a sequel (and later a third) was assured.
Shot concurrently with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (the working title for number 3), Dead Man’s Chest picks up an indeterminate time after the first-one of many indeterminate things were exposed to- and then proceeds to devolve into a confusing over plotted mess. the first third of it’s 150 minutes (only 7 minutes more that the first but 7 minutes stretched over an eternity) is a mass of self-serious over dramatized grandiose crap, so much so that when you do get to the “plot” (about 70% into the film) you have no idea why you should care, that is if you understand any aspect of it. Dead Man’s Chest is several hours of setup for 2007’s At World’s End, and much like the second Matrix film views as a bloated heap, albeit without any uncomfortable nipple-laden cave orgies.
The film seems set up primarily to show pretty people vs prosthetic/CGI people sword fighting while speaking through such thick accents and prosthetics that dialogue becomes a non-issue. The snappy repartee of the first film is all but gone as the entire cast throws diction to the wind and falls madly into their childhood pirate fantasies. And then there’s the fismen. The crew of Davey Jones’ Flying Dutchman are cursed (yay, cursed pirates. How original) to serve and, I guess, absorb various oceanic aspects into themselves. What this means for the audience is that we spend much of the film trying to decipher what people are saying while speaking through incredibly elaborate coral reef masks. The result is similar to watching Spanish television without knowing the language-you sorta of get it through visual cues but you’re left wondering quite why it’s happening.
The Curse of the Black Pearl worked because it shouldn’t have. Nothing was in it’s favor and yet it was approached with such joy and excitement that nothing could stop it. Dead Man’s Chest doesn’t work because they know it will work. The unknown, the fear of making an enormous flop is gone and what were left with is is a far too serious overlong, set up piece that spends 2+ hours setting up exactly 2 plots for the third and doesn’t do either justice. That giddiness and verve of just 3 years ago is gone, replaced by actors earnestly trying to make the best epic film ever produced and forgetting what got them there in the first place- am incredible ride. B-/C+