PIRATES II: The death of Hollywood

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photo 15 hires PIRATES II: The death of Hollywood My one word review of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST:

Exhausting.

Not good. It was so not good that it made me wonder if we will ever see a great studio action movie again. Of course “great” is a relative term when PIRATES 2 has smashed SPIDER-MAN’s opening weekend box office record, and pummeled REVENGE OF THE SITH’s opening day record. It is the most successful opening in history. And it may spell doom. I realize that a movie review is a bit far afield for this comics-focused blog, but I believe the issues it raises are part of Hollywood’s entire move towards comics and nerdery as source material. (And yes there will be SPOILERS.)

In prep for watching PIRATES 2, I watched PIRATES 1 on Thursday. A breath of fresh air when it appeared, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN was smart, sharp and sassy. It surprised, not only with Johnny Depp’s Oscar® nominated turn as tipsy Jack Sparrow, but with an actual plot that was based on character motivation and twists and turns.

I had forgotten how much fun PIRATES was, and how refreshing is it to see a movie where the characters act intelligent. The best thing about it for me, is the sly, subtle way that it reinvents the traditional Disney Princess movie. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN is about Elizabeth, not Will, not Jack. The story opens on her, confined by both social expectations — her stuffy father’s desire she marry Norrington — and social conventions — her crippling corset. It’s her actions and decisions that drive the story, and her viewpoint we see most of the characters from. Of course, as in all good scripts, the other characters have their arcs, as well — Will’s desire to be recognized for his deeds and Jack’s desire to get his ship back.

photo 04 hires PIRATES II: The death of Hollywood
In looking at the movie, it’s clear that Elizabeth has to be the hero. Jack in particular is, like a shot of spiced rum, too rich, too special. While we understand his motivations, we laugh more at him than with him. While Will also undergoes the hero’s journey, he’s much more peripheral to the action. Plus, the annals of pirate lore are equally spilt between the Jim Hawkinses of the world who crew a boat, and the young girls of the world, abducted or stowed away. It’s one of the very few fantasies that woman get involved with in a fundamental way.

The entire core of the film — indeed, the entire core of the appeal of pirates — is the scene where Jack tells Elizabeth what the Black Pearl means to him:

Elizabeth: And you’ll be positively the most fearsome pirate in the Spanish Main.

Jack : Not just the Spanish Main, love. The entire ocean. The entire world. Wherever we want to go, we’ll go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails–that’s what a ship needs but what a ship is…what the Black Pearl really is…is freedom.

Why do people like dressing up like pirates and marching around anyway? Because it means freedom. Why do 99% of all pirate movies suck? Because it’s more fun to dress up like a pirate and march around than construct a movie that captures such a vague ideal. Because freedom is double edged. The finest scene in PIRATES is the one where the ghostly Barbossa greedily watches Elizabeth eating an apple; the undead pirate zombies may be free but too much freedom has cut them off from every aspect of life that gives it a savor — the taste of food, the feel of the wind, the touch of a hand. The life of freedom from responsibility ends in a prison, or as a tattered corpse doomed to helm a ghostly ship for all eternity.

At the end of PIRATES, of course, Will has proven his worth, Elizabeth has chosen a life of freedom, and the two of them act in concert to rescue Jack and send him back to his life as a trickster of the seas. The movie is a huge worldwide hit, NOT because of special effects — it was actually quite modest in that regard — but because it satisfies and surprises, giving movie goers the things they secretly crave most of all — a good story.

So then…to the sequel? With Elizabeth’s journey having been faithfully captured, one might think that the second film might feature Will’s journey — perhaps as he finds his father. And the third? Well, that might be where we finally dig in to Captain Jack Sparrow and find out whether he’s a good man or not?

That would have been a simple plan. Cunning and direct. And that is where it has gone so horribly, horribly wrong.

Disney, sensing franchise gold, decided to save money by filming two sequels at once. As the Matrix movies showed, this is not always good. As reports from the set showed, the shoot was a bit of a nightmare, constantly behind schedule, and the script for #3 hasn’t even entirely been written yet.

photo 24 hires PIRATES II: The death of Hollywood
PIRATES II opens enigmatically, with Elizabeth sitting in her wedding dress in a pouring rain. It seems that a prissy representative of the East India Trading Company has caught on to Will and Elizabeth’s illegal freeing of Jack, and they must pay the price. The scene doesn’t make any sense, as filmed –just why IS Elizabeth sitting in the rain in her wedding dress? — and for the next two hours, the film is like a video game of non-stop set pieces — Jack meets Bootstrap Bill, and learns he’s run afoul of Davy Jones, who owns not a locker but the Flying Dutchman; Will sets off to find Jack in order to free Elizabeth. There are cannibals, a crew of sailors who look like crustaceans, a voodoo priestess, and a giant squid. It all sounds like it could be great fun, but all of the connective tissue has been cut out of the film. There are no breaks in the action for such things as character development or plot or wonder. I would call it empty spectacle, but it isn’t even very spectacular — there’s barely a single memorable shot or tableaux — moments like the first appearance of The Flying Dutchman should be filled with mystery and awe, instead, it just shows up on the screen.

If this film were a mere hour and 45 minutes long, like a action flick should be, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s a bloated 2 hours and 24 minutes! OF NON-STOP ACTION, clowning and cgi. It’s horrifically tediously exhausting…I can think of no more damning comment on this film than to say that I wearied of seeing Johnny Depp as a pirate . At this point I might as well fill up my pockets up with stones and wade into the surf. Young skinny Elvis was sexy. Hollywood today represents old fat Elvis, clutching a sweaty handkerchee.

It’s not to say that there aren’t a few good things here. Depp, Bloom and Knightley nail their roles. Verbinski jumps right into the nasty, rum-sodden look of the world — everyone looks like they smell really, really bad. The last half of of the film actually stops for a few moments that are based on character — in particular Will’s relationship with his father, and Elizabeth being torn between Jack’s adventurous allure and Will’s steadfast love. But why did all this have to be stuffed into a half hour at the END of the movie? Wasn’t the love triangle the very CRUX of the film? Couldn’t the filmmakers have actually developed a story instead of just cramming it onto the screen in a queasy panic?

The answer, I think, was the pressure to make a “hit”…in which they have disastrously succeeded. Verbinski may be a talented director, and the filmmakers all have good intentions, but he is clearly out of his depth here. The CGI is piled on, as if that could solve everything. Action scenes go on and on and on without any clever gimmicks or business. There’s no buildup, no anticipation — everything is just shoved in your face, as if the audience can’t be trusted to think.

But maybe they can’t. In a world where CGI is the answer to everything, filmmaking has become an empty, joyless exercise. It’s not fashionable to like Steven Spielberg, but his superior filmmaking skills produced action films with stories. His films seem positively old fashioned nowadays. Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi stand apart as the only makers of blockbusters who are allowed to throw in moments when we see inside the hearts of their characters. And sadly, CGI seems to have driven Jackson, at least, insane, as the morbidly obese, grotesquely self indulgent KING KONG showed.

Raimi then stands alone; as I wrote at the old Beat, it was the wacky, pointless moments of the Spidey films — Peter Parker’s long monolog on looking into MJ’s eyes; the girl with the cake; the music montage — that make these films good movies, not just dehumanized mechanical encounters. But Disney is no Sony — they could never trust a filmmaker to know better than a board of directors. It’s a world of entertainment where truly global hits are few and far between because of all the competition from the Internet, but the answer isn’t more…but deeper.

Thus, even as Hollywood wonders more and more why people just don’t want to go to the movies anymore, they get more and more frantic. More and more action must be the answer. Where the real danger lies is that even intelligent movie-goers can no longer tell the difference between videogame action and good movies.

photo 31 hires PIRATES II: The death of Hollywood
Let me put it another way. You may have felt good when you walked out of PIRATES 2 or SUPERMAN RETURNS or BATMAN BEGINS…but did you really feel the way you did after you saw a truly GREAT movie that was about action? Like THE INCREDIBLES, or RAIDERS, or ALIENS?

BATMAN BEGINS is a case in point. Every man I know between the ages of 20 and 40 thinks this is the greatest thing ever. I thought it had some good action in spots, and was well acted, but had no dramatic spine after the first half hour or so. When questioned, they all tell me that the reason they loved it is because it gave them back “their” Batman. Fair enough, but just don’t debase the term by saying it was a great movie.

When questioned as to what *I* consider a great movie, I usually bring up Stephen Chow’s KUNG FU HUSTLE, an action comedy in which each and every bit of business pays off, each and every character has a chance for redemption and development, and the action always plays off of character. I would sit through that movie a thousand times. I would sit through THE PRINCESS BRIDE a thousand times (in fact I have.) I would sit through TERMINATOR 2 a thousand times — in each of them, the opening scene leads directly to the closing scene — nothing is superfluous in between.

In a great interview at Box Office Mojo, PIRATES screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, who have written some of the best movies of recent years, talk about the subtext that PIRATES 2 has that was lost in the shuffle:

Terry Rossio: The world wants there to be movie stars and, in a sense, the story becomes Johnny Depp—because people want that. In terms of understanding why he’s [created] an iconic character, the story becomes ‘Johnny Depp is brilliant’ which of course is true because Johnny Depp is brilliant. People are not necessarily as interesting in pedestrian reality. You still have a storyboard artist who comes up with a visual of Johnny first stepping onto the dock as the ship sinks. We wrote that [scene in which Jack Sparrow is introduced]. We wrote lines like: ‘you’re the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of—’ and [the response] ‘but you have heard of me.’ People quote those lines. If the character had walked on screen and just stood there and said, ‘hello,’ it wouldn’t be the same. So, clearly the screenwriting goes into the creation of the character. And I have to credit Gore Verbinski’s direction.

Ted Elliott: When we were writing and making the first movie, [we had in mind] the Sergio Leone [spaghetti] Westerns like The Man With No Name [movies]. The Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef characters are essentially gods compared to all these mortals. They can shoot better, they can ride better, they’re smarter, they’re faster and they don’t say much. To some extent, that’s what we were playing in the first [Pirates], that Jack and [Captain] Barbossa [played by Geoffrey Rush] are kind of pirate gods. They come into the lives of these two mortal characters—

Terry Rossio: —and we continue that into At World’s End—

Ted Elliott: —and, to some extent, Jack is the demi-god, the trickster. He straddles both sides. Is he on the side of the gods—is he opposed to the gods?—is he on the side of the mortals? He’s on his own side.

Captain Jack Sparrow is the trickster, and he is too powerful and exotic to ever see inside his mind. The reason the first movie was a surprise hit is that it touched on the archetypes of storytelling that all humans secretly yearn for. Pirates of the Caribbean the ride is full of mysteries that can never fully be explicated — the mysteries of death and honor and the pursuit of wealth over the pursuit of happiness. There’s ONE moment in POTC 2 that sort of touches on this — a shot of the three heroes walking across a deserted spit of sand in search of treasure. It references all the great artists of piracy and the sea, Homer, Wyeth, Pyle, whose works capture the magnetic, perilous allure of the sea–vast and deadly, beautiful and unknowable.

All great art is based on those kinds of moments. If PIRATES 2 is one of the biggest hits in movie history, it’s riding on the goodwill of an opening chapter that remembered that. But unless Hollywood understands that — and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting — we’re doomed to a world of empty, unsatisfying films that leave us wondering why we didn’t enjoy them more.

Comments

  1. “Let me put it another way. You may have felt good when you walked out of PIRATES 2 or SUPERMAN RETURNS or BATMAN BEGINS…but did you really feel the way you did after you saw a truly GREAT movie that was about action? Like THE INCREDIBLES, or RAIDERS, or ALIENS?”

    That was a great statement and while I loved Batman Begins, I didn’t love Superman. The Incredibles was…incredible in terms of what makes a good comic book movie, which is sad since it was an “original” creation and not derived from the actual medium. I will forever imagine a Justice League or even an X-Men movie done in their format just to see what can truly be done.

    But this review doesn’t bode well for me since I already didn’t like (or get) the first Pirates film. Thanks for the heads up on something I wasn’t fully eager to see to begin with.

  2. Wow. Great write-up, though it makes me a little sad, having loved the first one from literally the first minutes in. I’m still going to see it, but I know we look for similar things out of story-experiences (Kung Fu Hustle!!) and your review really sounds like the mustard wasn’t cut.

    Your article really is a sharp examination/indictment of Hollywood versus film/art versus commerce… and sadly enough, we’re all conditioned Hollywood wannabes that quote opening weekend figures like schoolboys used to quote baseball stats in the cafeteria.

    The money practically IS the culture now, as success=great and failure=crap to so many… and it falls (as ever) to the artists and storytellers of our time and their moments of greatness [consistent or occasional] to forever change the game and forcing the bottom-line juggernauts to keep up. Someday someone is Hollywood is going to figure out that great stories wow everyone.

    Or maybe it’ll happen on the internet instead. If we ever make it to an economy of Whuffie, it’s going to happen online first… wink wink.

  3. Hollywood is not as much to blame as the moviegoer. The emptiness you see in Pirates 2, I thought it was present in the first Pirates. The acting of Johnny Depp was the only thing I appreciated from the first Pirates. I was begging for that movie to end.
    But that’s the same dissapointment I felt for X3 and The Blade Trilogy. So Hollywood may be feeding tripe, but from my vantage, that’s always been the steady diet of moviegoers.

  4. Craig says:

    Seems a little strange that you make the comment that an action flick should be limited to 1 hour 45 minutes and then go on to reference the lengthy Terminator 2 and Aliens as great action flicks. Even worse is that you (and a responder or two) are sure that you’re the arbiter of good taste and that the general moviegoing public is just wrong. You may be surprised, but I’m sure there are some movies you like that most people think are absolute crap. Doesn’t mean anyone is wrong or that someone has better taste, just that you have different tastes.

  5. The Beat says:

    Carig:

    Yes, and that is why we DISCUSS such things. or as they said in school, “BE PREPARED TO DEFEND YOUR ANSWER.”

    I think POTC 2 would have been much better if it had been 120 minutes long. Then we could have looked forward to that extra footage on the DVD with glee. LOTR seems to have opened to doors to Fat Elvis epics.

    T2 was 137 minutes long, as was Aliens, according to the IMDb. POTC2 was 150. POTC1 was 143. Raiders was 115 minutes.

  6. I pretty much had the same reaction to the film as Heidi did:

    I thought the 1st and 2nd acts of the film were lackluster, but the 3rd act picked up the pace with some good action and physical comedy.

    I sort of got tired of Captain Jack Sparrow, and didn’t really feel much for Will or Elizabeth in this installment of the Pirates franchise. The film felt about 40 minutes too long to me, as well.

    I give it 2.5 stars, or a grade of C+.

  7. I’m not trying to troll hits to my site, but I was so irked at this movie that i had to bust out some blog posting.

    1. Effectively the pact between storyteller (that used to be the director) and the audience was broken. We were promised more character evolution that we were denied.

    http://stevengharms.com/?p=739

    2. “Empire Strikes Back” and Irvin Kershner got the bridging from the ‘this is just one movie’ to ‘this is a franchise’ right, whereas PII got it wrong:

    http://stevengharms.com/?p=740

  8. Heidi: Spot on, to true and hear, hear: Jack Sparrow is a side dish, and we’re force-fed him in this installment. I didn’t like it either, but your take was in concord with mine, and, apparetly, out of touch with people’s wallets (but I’ll bet all the money in my wallet right now — 11 bucks — that Pirates II has a … 55% or more drop-off in business. )

  9. Large-scale action filmmaking is schizophrenic, what with some studios churning out POTC2 while others produce Spider-Man 2. The budgets are similar, methinks, but the results are drastically dissimilar.

    By all merits, SM2 should have sucked, but I suppose its creative ingredients (Raimi, Sargent, and Chabon) made the case otherwise.

  10. for what it’s worth, i liked it better than the first, which for me dragged a lot in the middle. although: i HATED the ending. i think cliffhangers in movies should be punishable by lots of pain.

    but c’mon… the death of hollywood? this week? was it alive a week ago? out of your 4 examples of great movies, only 2 were released in the last 20 years, and only 1 of those 2 was made in hollywood.

    honestly as summer fare goes (for me), this year ain’t brilliant, but it’s better than most in recent memory so far.

  11. @ JDLombardi: how come “original” equates with “sad”? I’m much happier that Brad Bird did the FF/Watchmen/whatever riff in The Incredibles and managed to keep all the freedom he needed than if he just adapted one of those properties. By being saddened by originality, you argue in favor of Hollywoods questionable decisions that Heidi dissected here in so fine a way.

  12. My kingdom for a Gladiator…this summer or any summer. A real, adult vanguard of action cinema. That’d be nice, huh?

    And I’m most disappointed, as I usually am in these instances, but the script. Elliott and Rossio know what they’re doing; The Mask of Zorro is one of my favorite throw-back adventure films of the last 15 years. Because it all does come from the story.

    And you know why there are no good Pirate movies? Because it’s a world you have to live in. Not visit for 2 hours.

  13. Hollywood good studio action flicks died with ET and RAIDERS.

    BATMAN BEGINS was a good cop dama until it ended as a kid flick with a fight in a high location, as most Batman movies [wrongly] do… they can’t help themselves.

    INCREDIBLES was great… but not that much. it’s still the best FANTASTIC FOUR movie ever made, though.

    PIRATES 1: great! 2 I haven’t seen yet, as I haven’t SUPERSON CHRIS REEVES NEVER KNEW HE HAD.

  14. er… “dama” = “drama”

  15. I have trouble saying that the screenwritters are clear of the blame for this movie not being great. I enjoyed it, and it did advance the story in a fairly natural way. The action had some interesting moments (though yes, drawn out).
    But the most damning part of this movie was the lines. Think of the quotable lines in POTC2 – Elliott and Rossio had just about nothing in this film. Most of the lines were rehashes of lines from POTC1, and the few new and original ones were overexposed in the previews.
    It also should be noted that they cribbed one of the better lines, that when Jack is mentioning that he likes to wave at heroic moments, that it’s really a bastardization of a Douglas Adams line.

  16. Steve says:

    Heidi, usually I agree 100% with your reviews. Your review of Superman is what I e-mailed to friends. But I thought Pirates 2 was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed that at the end there was no main protagonist. Jack fights against Will who fights against Norrington. I kind of liked how nobody really had my sympathy. The first one also went through great pains to make everyone out for himself (except for Will and Liz, ho-hum). It’s the pirate ethos after all. Is this a new type of cynical storytelling? I like it.

    I also like the really fantastical elements. The big treasure is an actual dismembered, still-beating heart and the ultimate evil is really the East India Trading Co. I don’t know. Maybe these guys have too much story to tell, but I don’t think they’re being influenced by evil movie executives. The movie is much too weird for that.

    Also, I just want to say that Batman Begins sucked.

  17. I think POTC2 faced the problem of most sequels, namely that the story was finished and now another story needs to be tacked on. They clearly drew heavily on successful film trilogies in an attempt to avoid pulling a Die Harder and making the same movie over again (Empire Strikes Back and Temple of Doom, as well as Raiders for that matter, seem to be significant sources of inspiration).

    Elizabeth’s arc is clearly the heart of the first and the most interesting element of the second film and POTC2 failed by getting caught up in Jack’s redemption (which really should have waited for the third film anyway).

  18. Yes there were parts that dragged. But so did scenes in the first one. Personally, I loved the set pieces. The three way swordfight. Sparrow’s acceptance of his fate. Elizabeth’s betrayal. But more than that I loved the final scene reveal that leads into the sequel.

    Is it movie gold? No. But then I’ve not seen movie gold in a while. Superman wasn’t. Batman wasn’t – and sorry Heidi – but Terminator 2 was utterly f***ing awful.

    Would I see it again? Sure. It passed the time, had some witty moments. But it was a film for the MTV generation.

    Horses for courses.

  19. cool observation of P2, but it truly seems like you’ve become…old.

    I understand that your loved the action movies of the 70’s-80’s but it seemed reading this that you think it’s the standard, and that because pirates didn’t have a “emotional-dramatic” core that it felt flat. could it be that you just dont like that these movies are not catered to you anymore and more to a “impulse generation” that prefers style over substance?

    it just seemed like your like the old woman/man who says: “‘member back in the day when this was good, now it’s f’ed up”

    i agree w/ you todays movies I feel lack those things that it seems only spielberg can connect to now, but CGI is the way now, and not puppets. and before you cruify that movement you should really investigate why screenwriters seem to want to have CGI piled on movies. I never asked for the kraken in prirates, but they wanted to put the “amazing” in movies. you bash the instrument, without bashing the people who weilds it.

    all in all you did make me think, and thats always good. but does CD’s lack the soul of vinyl records, do live-action puppets bring more real-life moments than CGI. it’s the future, and the future always create people who are afraid and stubborn of it.

  20. Jonathan says:

    I think it’s an excellent review and in general a good assessment. I’m glad I’m not the only one that was left a little underwhelmed by BATMAN BEGINS. Great nods to other excellent pictures along the way as well; THE PRINCESS BRIDE is the third best film of all time (on my list).

    As for PIRATES 2 though… I think it’s fitting that you use the term “video game” more than once in your summation as that is precisely how my friend and I referred to the action in the film last night. As for characterless-driven action, unfortunately that’s true. The actors were just bodies that moved around on screen for our entertainment instead of characters. The “silliness” of the action didn’t bother me because I just wanted to see something fun and interesting up on the screen. While I believe the script had problems, there was something more going on than mere action for the sake of action.

    There’s actually lots going on regarding how one’s fate is dictated by the allegiances we make. Not only that there’s plenty discussion about how we take an active role in our destiny by which side we choose, or perhaps how we negotiate which side we’re on. Now these themes were not fully played out because there was such a lack of character exposition in this sequel. I also have doubts about how that will be played out in the final installment.

    In the end, despite my let-down by “the man’s” interpretation of this second episode in the series, I still had fun watching the movie. Yes, there was actually *too much* of Johnny Depp’s quirks and staggers and mumbling. Yes, the action became decidedly less realistic and much more senseless. But….yes, it was entertaining. Do I think the appeal of pirates and sea-faring can be shown on screen as well as they can in Patrick O’Brien novels? No, I don’t. As cool as pirates are (and we all know that they are), it seems they’re destined to be portrayed best in my childhood’s favorite of all media: Legos.

  21. Chris says:

    EVERY single guy you know? Gosh, I guess every single guy you know must be Batman nerds who collect all the action figures and keep them in their packaging. I’m a “dude”, and I thought BATMAN BEGINS was the biggest yawn fest this side of… well, pretty much every Batman movie ever made. So did my brother. I think you need some new male friends.

    More to the point, what bad Hobbiton weed are you smoking?? I thought this second Pirates was a lot more inventively fun than the first. All that “emotional core” stuff you were basing the goodness of the original were just a series of agonizing cliches. Elizabeth being forced to marry a rich, snotty(of course) Englishman when she’s in love with the poor, honest (of course) Will was a serious statement against social restrictions? Seriously, you’re joking, right? The Black Pearl symbolizing “freedom” is what gave that movie “substance”? What is this, High School Creative Writing 101?

    I LIKED that the second film was devoid of such cringe-inducing, juvenile attempts at “meaning”. It’s a movie about PIRATES, fer christ’s sake! If I want “meaning” I’ll just go read Joyce. Sure, the movie’s uneven and long, and even boring in parts, but when it delievered, it really delivered. Yup, I agree with you that it’s no RAIDERS, but for a pirate movie, it was a damn good time.

  22. I don’t hate modern movies at all — as I mentioned, I loved the Spider-man films, LOTR (which you can’t really count since it is based on the most beloved book of all time) and such non-action fare as SUNSHINE OF THE ETERNAL MIND, most of the work of Wes Anderson (although LIFE AQUATIC was one of the best action yarns I’ve seen in some time) and various cartoons. I am pretty picky though.

    I admit to being a stickler for story, since it is the basis of all of the classics.

    >>>What is this, High School Creative Writing 101?

    But what is the alternative? Is there really no value in subtext? I reject that notion.

    I admit that I may be out of touch with the generations raised on video games and so on, but I submit that POTC 1 was a SURPRISE hit because of those story elements — otherwise it would have been like VAN HELSING, which was a costly flop.

    The new, post 2000 movie franchises that HAVE worked have all been based on other media — LoTR, Harry Potter, X-Men, Spidey, Narnia. These other media are story-based and that is the secret of their appeal.

    It’s no accident that POTC 2 suddenly got all serious in the last part. It’s the last part and its story hooks that will sell the third installment, with its exotic amputees and Keith Richards and Capt. Jack Sparrow frozen in his block of carbonite.

  23. Heidi, you nailed it — I was bored and restless throughout POTC 2 and could not WAIT to get out of the theatre. I was in bad temper for the rest of the day — what a let down! Even though my kids said they’d enjoyed it, we’d watched the first movie earlier in the week in anticipation and they all agreed it was much better, even if they couldn’t say why.
    Worst sequel since Matrix 2, what a waste of everybody’s $155 million. I wish I could get my $40 back.
    Rich!

  24. Nicely worded, well thought out review that I mostly disagree with. I find it refreshing, however, that you can voice your criticisms so well…some of the other negative reviews I have read are so vague about the reasons behind not liking it that I have to wonder if the reviewers actually saw the film.

    I am among those who honestly cannot understand how someone could enjoy the first film and not enjoy this one. I don’t think it is bloated nor was the action non-stop. There were plenty of calm moments between chases, fights, etc. that allowed one to enjoy the great look and feel of this film.

    As for the person who despises cliffhangers in films I have to say that, when done right (as I believe this one is) they are great. Empire is arguably the best Star Wars film and it was one giant cliffhanger. I actually thought this one had a very fun ending that still manages to set up the 3rd film very well.

    I joyfully lump myself in with those who enjoyed this one and look forward to seeing it again.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Peter Jackson is the worst filmmaker currently making films for a studio. He wastes every oppurtunity he is given with his bloated ego and over indulgence. He is evil.

  26. Julio Diaz says:

    Heidi, while your review is exquisitely written and well-argued, I agree with nary a word of it. I had a great time with every second of the movie, sat through the whole thing with a big, goofy smile on my face, and cheered at the end. I’ll definitely see it again, and am eagerly anticipating the third. Like “The Empire Strikes Back,” I think it actually improves on its predecessor. In fact, I think “Empire” is the perfect film to compare it to: both are darker then their progenitors, both end with the “scoundrel” character in dire jeopardy and his friends vowing to rescue him, both clearly pave the way for third chapters.

    I just had fun. I don’t need to analyze it. It’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year. More fun than Superman, X-Men 3 or Cars, easily (and I loved all three of those).

    It was also incredibly well made. In that regard, the only films I thought came close so far this year were Cars, Superman and V For Vendetta, and I’ll give POTC2 the edge over all of ‘em.

    Were I to really sit and analyze it, sure, I could probably think of a few places where it could have been trimmed and shortened a bit. But it didn’t “feel” long to me while I was watching it. Certainly, Superman felt longer, as did last year’s Revenge of the Sith and Batman Begins (both of which I also really liked).

    I do tend to have a fondness for middle chapters. In addition to “Empire,” I liked The Two Towers best out of the LOTR films and Back to the Future 2 is my favorite in that series. I’d probably also give Aliens a nod over Alien (though both are great) and T2 over The Terminator. And heck, though I enjoyed X-Men 3 far more than I expected to, X2 is still the superior film in that series, in my book.

  27. Excellent read and I agree completely about PotC 2 being a huge disappointment.

    The only problem is that I don’t really like it when people compare today’s “Hollywood” with some idealistic image of the past. Was there ever really a time when even a slim majority of the films being produced were worth watching?

    I don’t think so–No matter what year you look at, 95% of the movies released at that time were/are complete turds. It’s the good ones we remember and it’s why we still watch the Indian Jones’ and Princess Bride’s and forget all the junk we had to wade through to get to them. In a decade, people will pass movies like the PotC, the Incredibles and Kung Fu Hustle on to their children like treasured heirlooms, while the forgetable crap like Pirates 2 will be… well, forgotten.

  28. I work in a movie theatre.

    The real judge and jury was not at the midnight show.

    They are the millions of casual moviegoers who are not making any noise online. You know why? They don’t have time to waste typing apology letters for why this movie sucked. They just moved on. But trust me, there were a LOT of dissappointed looks on the faces of those casual moviegoers.

    These folks represent a huge majority of the people that will see this film (probably a good 90 percent). Trust me, they won’t see it again.

    What struck me about the post-movie reactions was the look af sheer boredom and utter confusion on the kids’ faces. I actually felt deeply for them. They were probably anticipating this movie more than anyone. This film is just too chatty and complicated for the younguns. They seriously looked let down. Poor kids…

    Anyhow, this is a pirate movie. I shouldn’t feel mentally fatigued by films’ end. I did.

    How can a movie like Pi be less mentally fatiguing than a pirate movie? In the case of Pirates 2, this is the case. It’s been 4 days…I’m still tired. Jesus.

  29. Love your review, Heidi, disagree with most of it.

    First off, the movie is a sequel. It couldn’t be a standalone. Therefore it’s confusing to anyone who didn’t have a working knowledge of the first movie, because the movie assumes you know all the players. I’m not making excuses, but sequels have that burden. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, one of the gold standards of the movie sequels in my opinion, suffers similarly when compared to STAR WARS. EMPIRE goes from Luke’s story in STAR WARS to a concern about Han’s fate at the end of EMPIRE. Both Han and Sparrow are the devil may care swashbucklers… The comparison falls apart after that, but the shift in focus to another character in the trio from one movie to the other in the sequel isn’t a brand new idea.

    There’s no question that POTC2 is much like a videogame, and the lack of slow moments for character development in the middle did hurt this movie, but I only think that harmed the development of Davy Jones’ character — not so much the rest of the crew. The whole island of cannibals could have been excised from the movie with the blink of an eye and noone would have been the wiser. That part alone seemed like a section that looks like it would be hard to beat in some videogame. So, yes, this movie seemed more like a videogame than movies based on them.

    But POTC2 shined when asked to perform what it was supposed to do: Put Jack Sparrow in danger, and have fun watching him scramble out of it. For a “popcorn flick”, this did the job. No longing and meaningful looks of love, no long embraces, just action. How often does a movie billed as an action flick perform exactly as just that? An ACTION FLICK? POTC2 certainly had more stunts than the last few James Bond movies. This is the reason the movie did so well at the box office in spite of the ratings. No doubt in my mind.

    But yes, plot to tie the pieces together? Seriously lacking. That the McGuffin is a living beating heart? Love the idea! Explaining how that heart would be so powerful? Oh, hell no. Nobody understood that. When comparing McGuffins to each other, try making a list of “popcorn movies” and the thing the characters are chasing after. Now, look at the sequels to the successful ones. What’s the big chase after in Mission Impossible III? What’s the rabbit’s foot? Is it mere laziness on the part of the writers not to have actually explained what the item is? At least in POTC2 there’s several unique ideas, and those ideas are up on the screen.

    So, I’m not so much defending the POTC2 so much as claiming that as a sequel, it certainly surpassed the job it was given: Get the audiences in the theater and tell them a story that has a great ending, and at the same time get them ready for the next story.

    As much as I loved THE INCREDIBLES, I’m pretty convinced that there’s a story there worth a sequel. THE MATRIX, as we all well know, should have been a stand alone movie simply because the story that came afterward in the next two installments was crap. ALIENS, on the other hand, had a few stories and great action. You’ve mentioned TERMINATOR. The first three STAR WARS (IV, V, and IV) were terrific — story and action. LOTR was already a set story where one couldn’t be without the other two. And of course, HARRY POTTER, the most interesting with regards to sequels because you’re dealing with young actors over a span of years.

    As with all movies, time will tell.

  30. Bryan says:

    I like what you had to say about Pirates and Sam Raimi. Though, I do disagree with your comments on both Batman Begins and Superman Returns.

    I think the biggest problem with Pirates 2 is how every one hyped it up as if it were the second coming of cinema. Seriously, even before it was released people acted like it was going to be one of the GREATEST MOVIES EVER. Let’s be honest for a second, the first Pirates is entertaining, but it is far from great.
    The filmmakers had no idea what they had with the first film, so it’s not surprising that it was more character/story driven than the second film. However, once it became a hit, the filmmakers had a find away to appeal to the core of fans in the second film. Hence, more action, more special effects, more ill-defined characters and a longer running time and that it’s only half the actual movie. Fans will have to wait another year to see the third film.
    I personally found the chracters in the second film rather unlikable, almost childish at times, like the three way swordfight between Jack Sparrow, Will and Norrington. Not only is it drawn out, but it’s hard to root for any of the characters. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is throwing rocks and screaming at them in half assed attempt to get them to stop. It was a rather obnoxious sequence, which got lots of “forced” laughter from the audience.

    I find it insulting that people are comparing this to The Empire Strikes Back. Empire took it’s time in developing characters and establishing relationships. It is a rather restrained and subdued sequel to Star Wars. It’s characters is what keeps it grounded; the story never gets lost in the special effects. Where as Pirates II, it’s really hard to give a damn what’s happening onscreen, because you are being bombard every five seconds with some bit of action.