Monday, July 17, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean 2

Sequels are a risky affair. Even more so when the original film was one of the most unexpected financial successes of the year. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has already been touted as the "new Star Wars", although that's not entirely uncommon (remember The Matrix??), so it had a lot to live up to.

The eagerly anticipated sequel kicks off pretty much were we left the first movie (plus a few months). Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) are all set to be married, only for the devilish Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) to clamp them in irons for aiding in Cap'n Jacks escape from custody. They are offered a deal, deliver a mystical item from Sparrow or face the noose. And so, before you can say "Where's the rum gone?" we are off on another adventure, g'aaaar!

I actually found it really difficult to write a review for Pirates 2, mainly because I couldn't completely make my mind up about it. One thing is certain, it isn't as good as the first film. Not by some distance. Don't get me wrong, when it's good, it's superb, but all too often the film get dragged in random directions by a very convoluted plotline.

It's a classic example of sequel weighed down by the sheer level of expectation thrust upon it. With the first Pirates movie, everything just clicked, so much so, that you could ignore the plot and just enjoy the swashbuckling action and witty one-liners.

Most of the problems are rooted in the length of what is, essentially, an action-adventure comedy. It's two and a half hours long and boy does it show. I probably loved a good 90 minutes of this film, didn't mind another 30 minutes, but was bored to tears with the rest. Much like this blog, it took forever to get to the point. A case in point is a 20 minute stint on an island of cannibals, in which the only reason for it's inclusion is to serve as a way of thrusting the old gang back together. While good to look at and full of some fun action sequences, there is nothing new there the entire sequence is on the whole pointless.

As for the characters, the same old gang are back and for the most part are superb. Johnny Depp again steals the show as the infamous Jack Sparrow. Knightley is given far more screen-time and enough depth to make her character really stand out. Bloom does the job, but I still remain unconvinced of his star quality (Lord of the Rings aside). Bill Nighy (Davey Jones), meanwhile is suitably evil and does a fine job of trying to steal some thunder from Depp, but alas, he isn't given the screen-time his performance really merits.

However, and this for me is probably the most disappointing element of the movie, I was horrified at the direction taken by writers with regards to some of the characters, particularly Jack Sparrow. That might seem strange given how strong I believe Depps performance to be, but that doesn't mean I've got to like where the character is going. The problem stems from the writers decision to try to add further depth and meaning to the movie. In the first movie Sparrow was, for all intents and purposes, a lovable rogue; a survivor who was given the chance to redeem himself and did so amicably.

However in the sequel it's like the reset button has been pressed, only with an added kick. He again has to redeem himself and only really does so under duress. Plus at times Sparrow isn't a lovable survivor, he's a nasty piece of work; genuinely cruel and uncaring. While some might say "Duh... Pirate!", it doesn't fit with what we have learned from this character before. I'm all for nasty heroes. I love Mal Reynolds in Firefly (and he can be a right shit!), but it just doesn't sit right seeing Sparrow in that light.

Add to this the decision to add a random love triangle between the 3 main characters and I've pretty much explained my issues with this film. It's ironic that I normally expect sequels to try to do something different, but when this one does it I can't get passed the idea that the writers shouldn't have messed with a successful formula. By trying to move away from comedy action into a level of drama they find themselves completely out of their depth.

After re-reading that you've probably got the impression that I really hated the film. I didn't. I genuinely enjoyed it, but for the 30 minutes of chaff in the middle and the altering of Sparrows character. The final hour is superb, despite the writers incessant overuse of the best joke in the first film; "Where's the rum gone?!"...

In summary, when it's good it's fantastic, but it's overly long and seems to lack any clear direction. It's well worth seeing, despite the flaws. It has a wonderful array of monsters which never cease to entertain, while the characters manage to spark again albeit to a lesser extent. I was going to talk about the comparisons between this franchise and Star Wars, but The Guardian have provided a far more concise and less cumbersome review. It's pretty much sums up my feelings about the film.

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