At a certain reduced level, the secret to a sequel is easy: More, and better. The ugly fact, though, is that Hollywood doesn't necessarily know how to make 'better' ... and the uglier fact is that they often make up for the first ugly fact by adding twice as much 'more.' So it is with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, a big-budget sequel to the satisfying pseudo-swashbuckling of 2003's The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. I loved Curse of the Black Pearl about as much as you can love a film based on a theme park ride, even if the last act of Curse went drearily on with too much ship-to-shore to-ing and fro-ing, as if you were watching a filmed re-enactment of the logic puzzle about the fox, the chicken and the bag of wheat.
But when 2003's Pirates was good, it danced; Johnny Depp played Capt. Jack Sparrow as a cross between Dean Martin and Errol Flynn, and Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley gave us a nice balance of hot and heroic. This is why it's so sad to watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest -- a movie waterlogged and weighed down by plot devices and extraneous characters that's got all the sprightly grace of a man long drowned.
Dead Man's Chest starts with a bang, certainly -- with Bloom's Will Turner and Knightley's Elizabeth Swann both arrested for their complicity in helping Depp's Sparrow escape. But screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio take that nice, tight bump of a start and lard it with invention after invention, and succeed in boring the audience absolutely. There are unique keys; drawing of said unique keys; magical compasses; signifying tumors; magic jars of earth; official letters; disembodied hearts... The script for this film groans beneath object after object, quest after quest, complication after complication -- as if Elliott and Rossio had gone shopping for plot devices in the bulk aisle. It's not that Dead Man's Chest peters out in the final act; it's that it peters out in the first five minutes, with writing misfire after writing misfire. When I say 'writing misfire,' I feel obligated to give an example, so here's just one: I actually checked my watch when we had Depp, Bloom and Knightley in the same location: One hour and forty-five minutes into a two-and-a-half-hour film, and the leads are finally sharing a scene.