Mike Davies reviews the latest adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow and friends...
PIRATES OF CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST * * *
Cert 12A 150 mins
For the first 40 minutes you wonder if it'll ever get started, for the remaining over-orchestrated but underdeveloped 110 you wonder when it will ever end.
Basically a quest movie with everyone forced to make decisions that will exact a heavy personal price, there's no arguing that the first of Disney's two sequels to the theme park ride-based swashbuckling romp has ratcheted up the effects and stunts to jaw-droppingly elaborate levels.
But it's equally hard to avoid feeling that it's all at the expense of a tight, coherent plot and the original's fresh exuberance, comic zip and smart dialogue.
Frankly, there's just not enough yo ho ho.
Bloatedly overlong and often clunkily aimless, padding out huge sections to pointless effect while simultaneously jettisoning chunks of narrative that might have imparted some sense to seemingly haphazard scenes, it also features perhaps the year's most thunderingly bombastic score.
Their wedding interrupted when they're arrested and condemned to death for helping Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) escape, Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightly) are thrown in jail by jumped-up East India Company rep Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander, disappointingly constrained as a supposedly returning character never seen in the original), only for him to offer their freedom if Will tracks down Sparrow and obtains his mysteriously single-minded compass.
Jack, meanwhile, is looking to find the physical version of a key drawn on a map, a key to a chest the contents of which can stop undead pirate boss Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) - who, in a conflation of seafaring legends now captains the Flying Dutchman and controls the Kraken - calling in the debt of his everlasting soul.
As the multiple pursuits laboriously converge into one focal purpose, the film variously reunites Will with his barnacle encrusted dead dad (Stellan Skarsgard), inexplicably sees Jack become God-King of a tribe of cannibals, introduces some hot voodoo totty (Naomie Harris), brings a disgraced Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport) back into the frame, and plays up the sexual tension between Elizabeth and Jack, before winding up (apparently) sealing the fate of both Jack and the Black Pearl.
It packs a lot in, but so much is repetitively padded you find yourself experiencing set-piece deja vu; around the half-way mark a crew of pirates career through the jungle in a spherical prison cage and, lo and behold, an eternity later director Gore Verbinski pretty much recycles the same stunt, only this time with a swordfight on a water wheel.
And, really, it does seem remiss not to credit Buster Keaton since the slapstick is surely inspired by his silent comedies.
Although Knightley's feisty Elizabeth gets to wield a sword this time round, neither she nor Bloom have anything like the screen presence or chemistry they displayed in the first film, and while Depp (who's surely sporting a better set of teeth this time) gleefully reprises Jack's permanently startled look, mincing camp swagger and deadpan delivery, the novelty has waned, the cool's down several degrees and there's nothing new in the bag to rekindle the spark.
Thank goodness then for Nighy who, despite acting behind a faceful of rubbery tentacles (the curse of being an undead pirate is that you apparently become part seacreature), brings the film alive with personality, wily humour and (in company with his deadly fish-men) the only real sense of dread whenever he's on screen.
Finally, building to a genuinely exciting climax in a truly spectacular battle against the humungous squid, things then grind to a halt in order to pave the way for the next instalment and the return of Geoffrey Rush's Barbossa to compete with Nighy and a Keith Richards cameo in the scenery-chewing stakes.
It's not dull and a lot does deliver the requisite blockbuster thrills, but you do walk out thinking that sometimes more is, well, just more really.