Rating: 4 of 5
The first time I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest I didn’t know what to expect, so I was paying all sorts of attention trying to figure out what I thought and why. I saw plenty of flaws and expressed the following criticisms…
The first deficit in the second Pirates is that it’s the second one. By default it draws comparisons to the first. Normally with sequels they take what worked and just do more of it. I think they tried to do that with 2; but I think they missed what worked in 1 so…
The easiest way to understand why 2 didn’t work is to look back and see why 1 did; which is easier now that I have 2 as a comparison. The story in 1 was flawless. Every moment played into the story – the depth of character, the humor – and wove back in on itself surprisingly and cleverly. It was brilliant, seamless. And secondly the characters that inhabited that story were well drawn, had depth and resonance and incredible balance. Even though the 3 main characters didn’t spend hardly any of the film altogether you never got the sense that any of them were missing. Beyond the main 3, there was a vast array of characters that, even though they were supporting characters, were distinct, supported the overall story but didn’t feel overwhelming or distracting.
1 really was brilliantly flawless.
And it’s unrealistic to expect that to be achieved again. flickfilosopher.com said it perfectly
“A sequel would have to take different chances, go new places, up the ante, not be afraid of taking a darker and scarier and gloomier route, not be afraid of maybe even throwing in a bummer of a cliffhanger of an ending, while all the while still being uniquely funny and swashbuckling-sexy and crammed with adventure and romance…”
It’s the sort of thing that becomes even more difficult with with time constraints of actor/director/producer timelines and other projects demanding their attention. But 2 severely lacked the balance of 1. It didn’t draw us into the story as easily or quickly. The story was fractured; it seemed to jump around rather than being seamlessly woven together. The cannibal sequence was entirely unnecessary, or if not unnecessary at least unduly elongated. It gave us a few humorous moments (really liked the whole swinging ball bit) but didn’t move the plot along or serve the story. All it did was bring Will, Jack and our B pirates (Pintel and Ragetti) together. That could have been accomplished quicker, easier and in a way that mattered to the story more.
Also, the characters were fragmented. Not in their portrayals but in their connections. This time you really felt when you didn’t see Elizabeth for twenty minutes and then Will for fifteen and then Jack and then… Plus the sub-cast of characters did distract from what was going on. The B characters didn’t anchor scenes or serve the story they way they had in 1.
The redemption in the mayhem of the story is the actors. Johnny Depp holds so much of the story together, no matter what garbled line they give him or what absurd thing they ask of him. He’s still engaging and fun and the thread pulling the whole thing along.
Kiera, I admit to not like as much this time. She wasn’t bad, but I didn’t feel she slipped into her role as a pirate particularly well or handled the tangled mess of a plot with the aplomb of Depp or Bloom.
Orlando Bloom is asked to take his character to new heights of strength and depths of resolve and it’s clear Will Turner has grown into quite a pirate. But he doesn’t forget the core of his story and in his silent moments portrays a sort of torn ache that reminds us how fiercely he loves Elizabeth.
The other advantage to being the first is that everything was surprising. Jack Sparrow is a truly brilliant, fun character. The magic of 1 is that we were surprised by that. In 2 we expect it. We needed him to surprise us again, take us as off guard as he managed to take Barbossa and Will and everyone else in 1 off guard. It’s harder when we expect it, when we look for it; but if you can pull it off it’s that much more gratifying.
Finally, there was a sense of the absurd. 1 was just close enough to plausible to be believed. 2, with the fruit shish kabob and that crazy leap from cliff to cliff and the extreme visualization of Davy Jones’ crew; it was so far beyond plausible to border on cartoonish.
Oh, but I loved the tangled messy emotions at the end between Will and Elizabeth and Jack. Very intriguing; we needed more of this. You can’t take the same old running jokes from 1 and try to make them work in 2 (which they didn’t do so I was glad for that). You almost need to reinvent the world in 2. Take what you have, but take it deeper and darker and further. Instead of endless chase scenes with cannibals tangle our characters emotions, confuse them, distract them, wound them, raise the stakes. Tell a story that delves deeper into the characters and matters to them, what drives them, in the midst of whatever story has been concocted. Then sword fights and visual effects and maybe even cannibals become more interesting.
The second time around I’d seen all the flaws, didn’t need to be concerned with them and really, really enjoyed the film. The colors are amazing. Gore’s shots are often spectacularily beautiful. It was fun and exciting and funny. Also, I think the brilliance of 2 will be understood once when we see 3. The second time around there were more things I picked up on that portend what will matter in 3. And I like that sense of a larger arc.