Sea-beasts, cannibals and cannonballs aplenty, then. And yet something’s amiss. Pirates 1 was an original, witty delight, full of surprises, and rumbustious action. Dead Man’s Chest, though, feels decidedly secondhand. It brings back most of the cast and assumes you know who’s who, taking little time to acquaint newcomers to the franchise. The Office’s Mackenzie Crook returns as the wooden-eyed pirate philosopher, as does Jack Davenport as the now down-at-heel and disgraced Commodore Norrington. Goodies and baddies were clear-cut in the first; but this one deliberately muddies the waters as characters develop and double-cross. Consequently it’s more confusing and scattergun. And here’s why – Pirates of the Caribbean 3 is out next summer and will presumably tie up all the tentacles left flapping about at the end of this one.
Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack is as watchable as ever, the right side of caricature. Bill Nighy earns points for his voicing of a Scottish-sounding squid. But it’s Tom Hollander who quietly eats the screen as the scheming bad hat. The action seems forced, though, with more damp squibs than fireworks – the stirring Hans Zimmer score finding no spark to explode it into full orchestration. Yet returning director Gore Verbinski (The Ring, The Weather Man) does stage a couple of grandstanding set-pieces. If cracking special effects float your boat, then the kraken’s sinking of one is a corker. And a three-way swordfight on a runaway water-wheel is the highlight – thrilling, comic and stunningly shot.
Dead Man’s Chest is not so much “blistering barnacles” – as Tintin’s Captain Haddock might have said – more a “mildly tasty fish-soup appetizer” to keep us hungry for part three. Preying on the patience and good will established by the first movie, you certainly feel the real pay-off is yet to come. It better had – as you don’t really get one here. Even the after-credits snippet misses a beat this time; before, a crucial plot-point was delivered, but here we get something – appropriately enough - more superficial. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was as fast-paced as the theme-park ride on which it was based. Dead Man’s Chest is mostly fun, sometimes terrific, but all in all a bit too soggy.