Imagine the scene:
Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow flounces toward the screen, his earrings sparkling in the moonlight, the ends of the red sash around his waist waving slightly in a coastal wind. His unkempt hair swirls around the dark orbs of his eyes, accentuated by excessive, hastily applied eyeliner. He sashays toward the screen, until stopped by a bevy of worshipping, horny females. They proceed to rip his clothes off him and bend him to their will . . .
This is Pirates of the Caribbean 2 as I would have written it. Available in that back room of your video store.
Unfortunately, that is not the movie Gore Verbinski chose to make. And I will curse him until my dying breath for it.
That said, this is a damn good movie. Though it should have had more Johnny Depp in it. I, and my close girlfriend Casey, left feeling like there wasn't quite enough of the flouncing and sashaying we want from Captain Jack Sparrow in the film. Given that my husband didn't quite feel this way (though, props to him, he does say "I see how you could see it like that"), this may well just be that I was hoping for the Pirates: Captain Jack Sparrow and His Sword Conquer the World film described above. Which, given that the film is rated PG-13, and that Johnny Depp has not yet made his break into the adult film business (that I know of; if you know differently, please contact me), was likely just not meant to be.
Otherwise, the film has it all, pretty much. Extremely good special effects. Brilliant fight choreography. Believable and interesting romantic conflict. Solid acting. Witty script-writing. A sea monster. My only complaint, other than that there isn't enough of Depp and his sword, is that this movie's function seems mainly to be to set up plot elements that will be resolved in the third installment of the Pirates trilogy. There is almost no resolution of anything in this film. We'll talk about this more below -- but first, let's talk about all the reasons this film is great fun.
Dead Man's Chest
We pick up the film near the end of the first Pirates. Shenanigans, fights, betrayals, smooching all ensue. The special effects work from Industrial Light and Magic is cutting edge and highly convincing. It's hard to believe that we're really only a few years past digital work that looked like it was made on an Atari, used for horror film monsters that would have been better off had they been represented by a sock puppet. The digital work here -- used mainly for the captain and crew of the Flying Dutchman, including the naughty and evil Davy Jones -- is seamless and believable. It's also just nifty.
Davy Jones, his crew, and their ship suggest a merge between the human and the passionate, ungovernable sea that undermines the key-bad-guy Beckett's assertion that pirates are a dying breed. Surely we know better: there's something wild and ungovernable in all of us, an urge to take what's not ours and escape detection, that evolves right beside the powers-that-be's ability to detect and punish. There'll always be pirates, of one sort or another. Though, I imagine, your average college student downloading movies illegally doesn't look like Johnny Depp, and that is a real loss.
The fights are ingenious and hilarious. There's one scene in which the guys start fighting on top of a large mill wheel, when lo-and-behold the wheel breaks off and starts rolling down one very long hill. This scene continues for longer than seems possible, as all the potential facets of fighting-in-a-big-wheel are found and exploited. It even progresses into parody, the wheel winging its improbable way into other scenes, rolling by as other characters go about their own ass-kicking business.
The script is entirely clever: alternatively mischievous and morbid, and chock full of double entendres. Discussions of swords are often something else entirely. Elizabeth quips to Jack, "You do know William taught me how to handle a sword," Jack responds, "Persuade me." Me-ow.
Out of Your Depp
All the acting is at the least solid, and at the best a revelation of pure sexiness (a category reserved for Johnny). Keira Knightley does a fine job, despite looking something like an underfed muskrat. Orlando Bloom struts his honorable, swashbuckling stuff with considerable style. The supporting characters are all suitably funny or evil, as the moment requires. But I must reserve my most adulatory praise for the incomparable Mr. Depp, who manages to combine flouncy, eyeliner-wearing, sexually-ambiguous theatrics with dark-eyed swarthy raw sexuality in a way irresistible to those girls on the girly-man side of the eternal female sexual-attraction divide.
Allow me to posit that there are two different species of females when it comes to what flips our switches. Species One, apparently, likes a manly man, preferably asymmetrical, masculine, full of testosterone, somewhere out in the woods cutting wood and drinking cheap bear (yes, cheap bear -- he's out in the woods isn't he?). I'm likely shortchanging these girls -- it's a way of thinking that makes no sense to me, so I'm guessing a bit. I'm of the other variety -- we like our men spiced with sexual ambiguity, a bit too pretty for testosterone's comfort, preferably wearing a little makeup. To the girly-man species of females, at least if my friend Casey and I are an adequate sample, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is something approximating liquid sex.
Yes, Orlando Bloom is pretty. Though not devastatingly pretty, like he was as girly-blond hunk Legolas. He has beautiful facial structure, and when playing Legolas in The Lord of the Rings, with that white blond hair and no facial hair, he's purified down to a crisp, symmetrical, purely aesthetic beauty that is missing when you give him brown hair and scruffy facial growth, then make him sweaty.
(Not that I have anything against sweaty, brown haired men. Take Viggo Mortensen, who's best as a sweaty brown haired ranger: Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. Blonde Viggo = criminal. Cap'n Sparrow himself generally looks like his personal hygiene ain't so good.)
But this film picks up on some of the tension produced by offering an audience these two particular leading men and one as-yet-unmarried female. Yes, Elizabeth loves William. He's honorable, he's pretty handsome, he has pretty mad fighting skillz. But Jack slices, dices, and flounces like nobody's business. I know who I'd choose.
Pirates 2 is an excellent, entertaining film. Both for girls going for a Johnny Depp fix and for anyone else who likes good special effects, scriptwriting, and fight choreography. I promise, a good time will be had by all. Just don't expect resolution for anything. Cuz you're not going to get it. This is, finally, a bridge movie -- a patch between Pirates 1 and Pirates 3. And for this reason, it may be helpful if people re-watch Pirates 1 before heading out for the sequel; characters and plot elements tend to pop back in with little explanation or backstory. This may be frustrating for some people.
Note: There is a brief Easter egg at the end, which is amusing but not that exciting. Depp is not in it. Decide for yourself if you want to sit through the endless credits to see it.
Also note: Our wait for the third installment shouldn't be too long; Disney has announced a May 2007 release date for the film, subtitled At World's End.
However, since we all know that the execs at Disney read RevSF, I'll be looking forward to Pirates of the Caribbean 3: Captain Jack Sparrow and His Sword Conquer the World. And to tickets to the premiere.