I was surprised when "Pirates of the Caribbean" became an enormous box office hit three years ago, and mystified by people's ardent, enthusiastic love for it. Sure, Johnny Depp was funny. But wasn't the film too long and too plot-heavy? I wrote at the time, "You keep watching because it's neat to look at and is often good-naturedly silly, not because you really care what happens next." It seemed like a movie you like, not one you love.
The sequel, "Dead Man's Chest," is more of the same. It's slightly longer, slightly more plot-heavy, and slightly less compelling. The novelty has worn off. It's fun, but in a labored sort of way, like trying to cram too much diversion into one day of a vacation.
It begins with lovers Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) in hot water for helping Jack Sparrow (Depp) escape the law in the first film. Soon we have a host of characters with a variety of goals: Jack, out at sea with his scurvy crew, has a drawing of a key that he hopes will lead him to the actual key, which he hopes will lead him to a treasure chest; the weaselly Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) wants Jack's compass, which seems to have supernatural powers; Will wants Jack to help him save Elizabeth from the gallows; and Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), the mythical fiend of the deep, has a claim on Jack's soul.
Davy Jones is one of the film's more interesting creations, a mostly CGI entity with tentacles for a beard and huge, lobstery claws. All of his doomed crew members are grotesque in some way, including Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard), a man with a waterlogged face who turns out to be Will Turner's long-lost father. Aboard Davy's ship, a face growing out of a wall comes forward to provide details about the source of Davy's immortality. When the face leans too far forward, we see its brain, meshed with the wall itself.
Details like that give the film (again directed by Gore Verbinski and written by the duo of Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio) a sense of macabre whimsy, and such imagination goes a long way. The fact is, Verbinski and company know what a pirate movie needs. Here we encounter cannibals, monkeys, cages made of human bones, and men climbing masts while holding their knives in their teeth. People fight with swords and fire cannons at one another. There are, dutifully, a few specific references to the Disneyland ride the films are based on.
But heaven help me, it still just doesn't do much for me. I laughed at Johnny Depp again, and I was mildly thrilled by a few of the many, many action sequences. But that's as far as it went. The film runs 2 1/2 hours and feels, yep, 2 1/2 hours long, with little in the way of pacing or climax. It's one bright adventure after another, assembled in what might as well be random order.
People call flicks like this "popcorn movies," but I think cotton candy is a more accurate comparison. Popcorn comes from an actual food product and has some substance to it. You could live on popcorn, at least for a little while. Cotton candy is light and fluffy and not only has no nutritional value, but doesn't even really fill you up, either. That's how these "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies make me feel: a little dazzled and amused, but not in any kind of special or memorable way.