Monday, 26 September 2016

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - review

2006 (USA)

Contains spoilers.
One bloody monkey. That's all it took to dictate whether or not Gore Verbinski (director) and Jerry Bruckheimer's (producer) second hokey Pirates of the Caribbean adventure would make for a zombie movie review or not. One bloody monkey. You see, I don't think Davy Jones's crew, though gnarly, dark and ugly, really make the zombie cut. I know they're century old degenerates, in both mind and body, and forced to an eternal servitude of murder, rape and pillage across the high seas, but for the most part they're cognisant, and seem pretty enamoured with their whole predicament. Now, like in my review of the previous film there's certainly some zombie ambiguity to the crew what with all the immortality and curses, and it is the Caribbean and voodoo with priests with funny bones and what-not; but there's just not enough groaning and mindlessness. It all comes down to one bloody monkey and you probably, like me, even missed his zombification at the end of the first film, where the long credits fade and it's Barbossa’s pet back with the cursed gold coins of Cortés in Isla de Muerta's. A thirty odd second bit of throwaway fun with the little shit stealing a piece, and wham, a zombie-monkey and here we are.

What to say about the film? It's every bit the triple-A bombastic multi-million pound spectacular it's billed as. It's Johnny Depp , Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley all doing what they're paid audaciously stupid amounts of money to do. It's wall to wall ridiculous and jaw dropping effects; an extravagant non-stop roller-coaster of fun, and a tremendous way to spend a family Sunday afternoon. It is perhaps a tad long, at two and a half hours and it's also perhaps a little more contrived and forced than the first; but the high jinx high-seas tale of treachery, redemption and friendship is strong and competent enough to deliver every bit the perfect level of low brain escapism.

It's also every bit the part of something greater. You see, Dead Man's Chest is part one of a two film story arc shot simultaneously with the third PoC instalment, At World's End. As such I've seen it compared to The Empire Strikes Back; an unresolved journey movie that leaves more questions than it answers. Whilst Davy Jones's heart is turned over to the East Indian Trading Company's Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), and the Kraken is overcome so that Elizabeth, Will and the crew can make their escape the film is chock full of hanging threads, none more so than the fate of Captain Sparrow, last seen being dragged to the depths of the sea. We could also, if we wanted to be cynical, strip the film down and argue that there's actually very little meaningful content, and that the film is really just a rather drawn out two and half hour long tease for a climax we'd have to wait another year to get. Also, that a great many of the long elaborate sequences, such as Captain Sparrow's capture and on the island ruled by cannibals, or the extended three-way in-fight on Isla Cruces are rather unnecessary contrived filler, and if merged with the second film and given a rather frugal edit they'd both benefit. I'm not sure though, for as much as the critic in me agrees with all this, I did actually enjoy all the superfluous goofing about and maybe that's what the film is ultimately all about.

So this zombie monkey. As I stated in the previous film's review, the curse is actually more about looking undead than actually being undead, and though appearing as a ghastly ghoul when the moon is out might not be everyone's cup of tea, the immortality and a imperviousness that comes with the condition probably more than compensates. So perhaps he's not quite a zombie; but Jack clearly calls him undead and demonstrates his unique selling point with a close quarters gun shot during a trade with obeah priestess Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) to discover the location of the Flying Dutchman. And its crew? Not really zombie either, with looks more akin to undersea creature hybrid mutants, and temperaments closer to the particular nasty and uncouth pirate crew their reputation alludes to. And also while they may well be under the command of Davy Jones, as said, they don't seem particularly upset about carrying out his wishes.

So not really a zombie film and even the undead monkey is perhaps probably a bit zombie suspect; still ambiguity is at the heart of zombie myth and Barbossa has come back, albeit briefly at the end, from a state that was most definitely dead. It's also the Caribbean and voodoo; and as I've said before, part four, On Stranger Tides does promise no question gut-munchers (well maybe not quite, as remember this is Disney and family friendly fun), and we're now at least one closer. Fully deserving of its accolade as fastest film ever to gross over $1 billion in the worldwide box office at the time, and fully deserving of all the popular plaudits I can't really fault it as a great pop-corn action spectacular, and recommend it wholeheartedly for a family treat. Albeit as said, have At World's End sat ready in the wing to finish the story, which I'll be no doubt doing too, and also hoping that bloody monkey has done one so I can skip another nearly zombie film - 7/10.


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