Ms. Alexandra DuPont has unexpectedly un-retired - again - to share her thoughts on the new adventures of Capt. Jack Sparrow, et al. As you read, it it might help to keep in mind the high adventure that categorizes Lexy’s own life.
The first time I met her she was a skinny punk pixie in a black miniskirt with maybe nine ounces of mascara under her giant Winona Ryder eyes. We were at a videogame expo in downtown Los Angeles, and she introduced herself by literally pushing me out the revolving doors to the valet area so she could talk about movies and smoke cigarettes. Her parents, she said, moved around a lot and she grew up without a TV and was just starting to devour Keaton and Kurosawa and Kubrick. She was in the middle of asking the last of maybe three dozen questions about “Killer’s Kiss” when she looked at her watch and changed the subject to passports and luggage restrictions and how her travel schedule was fucking with something about a doctoral candidacy.
The best news was the vixenish Lexy had only weeks earlier dumped her longtime boyfriend, a high-school baseball star turned part-time West Hollywood bartender who at that time had just landed on a short list for the male lead in an (ultimately failed) WB pilot. The bad news was she herself was about to hop a plane to Antwerp with her mom (who herself looked like a movie star and spoke maybe nine languages and had just quit the U.S. diplomatic corps to join the board of a very famous pharmaceutical manufacturer). A few minutes after Lexy's cab sped away, I was politely informed that young Alexandra DuPont was still months shy of her 15th birthday. "Ah," I replied, not at all wistfully.
The second time I saw Lexy she was drunk and half-naked beside her beautiful, drunk, half-naked lesbian girlfriend and maybe six other drunk, beautiful half-naked lesbian girlfriends at a party in Malibu, capably and repeatedly hammering away at The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” on somebody else’s vintage electric piano. It was almost three years later, she had grown something like nine inches taller and her face was about five weeks from finding its way onto the cover of Teen Vogue for the third time. When she finally got around to handing me her business card in the parking lot, it read “Dr. Alexandra DuPont,” thanks, I’ve since been told, to some extraordinarily helpful coherent light experiments she’d helped brainstorm in La Jolla for the Human Genome Project.
Lexy turns 25 in two months, which means she finally gains access to the bulk of what appears to be the planet’s 17th-largest trust fund. Her divorce, from a freshman U.S. senator she claims she’s spoken to exactly once since his term began, became final 11 weeks ago. She says the last thing she wants to do before she claims her massive inheritance is head down to San Diego Comic Con next month, slip into a Princess Leia slave-girl outfit, “and meet me some really nerdy nerds.”
A few minutes ago Lexy began to lose her signal as her signature black El Dorado convertible rocketed into some prehistoric patch of Everglades dead zone. “MAKE SURE THEY KNOW ABOUT THE SPOILERS, BITCH!” was the last thing she screamed into her dying cell. “GIANT!! SPOILERS! DO NOT!! FORGET!!”
You’ve been warned. Ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Alexandra DuPont:
Why I Kind of Hated
"POTC: Dead Man's
By Alexandra DuPont
Q. Uh, didn't you retire last year, slattern?
A. Yes. Consider this my postcard from Florida. Now. Is it just me, or is this basically the lamest, most inconsequential big-ticket-summer-movie season, like, ever?
Let's run down the list. Feel free to disagree.
1. "Superman Returns"? Handsome, reverent, well-acted, packed with ideas -- and a total failure at stirring my blood because of its too-languid, mopey museum-piece pacing. I believe a man can fly, but I also believe he can spend two-and-a-half hours moving around large chunks of real estate. Where was the joy? The wit?
2. I actually dared to enjoy "X-Men: The Last Kill-Off" as a big, stupid action spectacle with one great moral dilemma in its half-baked premise, I guess, but it had none of the sharp dialogue or dorky/sad LiveJournal poetry of the first two films -- and it gets more illogical and insulting the more I think about it.
3. I really liked "M:I:3" -- I thought it was lean and tense and goofy, and Tom Xenu Cruise remains my favorite underrated batshit-insane leading man -- but it also slipped right out of my brain, and even I have to admit in retrospect that it had a faint TV odor to it. (Not really an insult these days. But still.)
4. I love me some Pixar, but try as I might, I just could never get all that excited about "Chevron Cars: The Movie." (What does it tell me when "Over the Hedge" ends up being more fun?)
5. I admired "The Break-Up"'s ambition to take a relationship comedy to the dark places you never see in Hollywood movies -- but smuggling trenchant commentary on love into your comedy and smacking me about the face and neck with said commentary are two different things. And "40-Year-Old Virgin" went to most of the same dark places, but was funny about it. ("Break-Up" did make me want to see another Favs/Vaughn comedy pronto, though. And Vaughn's already got Tony Stark's drunk-bloat, so a girl can dream…)
6. What else? "Nacho Libre" turned out to be a Stay-Puft Marshmallow Fart Joke. "The Da Vinci Code" was, bar none, one of the most ineptly over-expository Hollywood movies I've ever seen, ever -- not to mention yet another film in which the hero does not act, but is instead acted upon. "RV" made me fear for the once-great Barry Sonnenfeld's will to live. "Click" made me miss anarchic-rageaholic Sandler. (Seriously: "Billy Madison" and "Happy Gilmore" are little absurdist masterpieces. They are.) And what's left? "The Devil Adapts Shitty Chick-Lit"? "The Fast and the Furious: Controlled Skid?"
(You know, a decade ago, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" would have been a big-ticket Hollywood buddy comedy. I've never seen it with an audience that didn't collapse with laughter watching it. Now it's tossed out in limited release like James L. Brooks' stuff is nowadays. What. In. Blazes.)
However. I've sort of bit my tongue, stayed retired, contented myself with smaller movies like "The Puffy Chair" and, I don't know, whatever's funny on You Tube, and bided my time -- because, like all of you, I was expecting "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" to totally save my summer.
Q. Oh, so we're finally getting to the review portion of our review, are we?
A. Yes. And please allow me to offer what will likely be a contrarian opinion in these quarters.
I didn't like "Dead Man's Chest."
Quite a lot, actually.
It's not that it's badly made. This isn't a "Matrix Reloaded" slap-in-the-face or anything. It's certainly diverting, and the directing, acting, tone, pacing, and eye for detail are very much of a piece with "Curse of the Black Pearl" -- and if you showed me any individual scene from the sequel, free of its larger story-context, I'd be absolutely blown away. (Imagine being shown only the car chase from "Reloaded." You'd assume it was the climax of a James Cameron fever dream.)
I'll also say right now that I'm not surprised that a lot of people are having fun with it. I expect it to make scads of cash. Scads.
But my problem is with the story. Specifically, with the beyond-aimless, vaguely nonsensical plotting. You see, this time around, all the gorgeously staged mayhem and little character bits serve a story that's pointless and overblown - and half-told - and the movie's full of moments where bits of operatic mega-drama are surrounded by so much freneticicsm, they get plowed under and cease to be important.
Q. "Half-told"? Oh, God -- they went all "Matrix"-sequel on us?
A. I'm afraid so. (Though with far less undergrad wanksposition.) This is, quite literally, half a movie. It ends on a cliffhanger, with a Special Surprise Guest Star walking out of the shadows, and you're expected to gasp and line up for "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" next fall to find out the point of it all.
Which is fine. But "Dead Man's Chest" only sort of explains where we're going with this two-film story -- and God help me, it didn't particularly compel me to care. Which makes it nearly as unsatisfying as "Matrix Reloaded" (though not nearly as problematic on a scene-by-scene, line-by-line basis).
Q. Huh. What's the story?
A. Some bland, Tom-Hulce-in-"Amadeus"-looking fool who runs the East India Trading Company walks into the governor's office on that island where Elizabeth and Will live, busts up their wedding, arrests our heroes, takes power, and sends everyone off to get Jack Sparrow's magic compass -- because this new guy I don't care about wants to use it to find something.
That something turns out to be the heart of Davy Jones. ("Dead Man's Chest" having a double meaning, apparently.) We're told later, in a throwaway line or two, that possessing Davy Jones' heart -- which is buried on an island, locked in a trunk with some random papers that no one bothers to read -- allows you to "control the sea."
Q. Well, that sounds fine, in a Lost Ark sort of way.
A. Oh, sure. Except that:
(a) It really makes no sense. Davy Jones ripped out his heart and buried it because he was heartbroken over a sea goddess or something, right? He runs a ship crewed by dead guys and can only set foot on land once a decade, right? Well, what the hell does that have to do with "controlling the sea"? Why can his barnacle-crusted chest-thumper be found and dug up so easily? Why, exactly, is Davy Jones still alive with his heart beating in a damn trunk in the middle of nowhere?
And (b) We never see anyone actually wield this much-sought-after Jones-heart power. We're just told that it exists, and that it's important.
Not fully explaining why your movie's MacGuffin matters is a weird omission, and it's especially weird here -- because in every other respect, "Dead Man's Chest" just piles on relentlessly. It's never content to do anything just once. Kraken attack? Great idea. Let's have three of 'em! High-stakes dice game with Davy Jones? Sure! Nutty voodoo priestess? Why not. Three-way swordfight? Ghostly reunions? Men with barnacles overtaking their bodies? Sword-fight on a falling-down church? Crazy natives? Cool face-painting? Fistfights in Tortuga? Undead monkeys? Jack Sparrow blasting his way out of a floating coffin? Rolling down hills in cages and waterwheels? "20,000 Leagues" references? Suspension bridges? Treasure hunts? Running around? Lovecraftian pirate ship with three-barreled Gatlin-cannon? Blimey!
But, again, it's all crammed into the story kitchen-sink style -- and that story, for my money, is totally underwhelming. Which means "Dead Man's Chest" has that weird problem movies have when they're overstuffed with gorgeous spectacle but serve no particular narrative: It kicks fanny at the time, but you just feel kind of numb when it's over. And stuff that should have been dramatically important gets plowed under by the unrelenting "stimulation."
As I said, there are at least three Kraken attacks when one would have hit harder. (I really noticed how I was feeling about the movie during the last of those attacks -- when I caught myself thinking, "Huh. Lot of tentacles. Great digital doubles. Some fine specularity there.") Everyone is always commuting somewhere. There are endless reversals within reversals that have people constantly running back and forth. The movie is stimulating without being dramatic. Nothing is properly contextualized.
As my little brother Max put it to me afterward: "Everyone was just given little tasks to do, and those tasks felt unrelated to each other, and I still don't know why."
Q. I don't believe you! Give me an example of "stimulation" killing "drama"!
A. Well, here's a small one: Will reunites with his father, Bootstrap Bill, on Davy Jones' Flying Dutchman. In short order, Bill (nicely underplayed by Stellan Skarsgard) is forced to whip Will, then gambles away his immortal soul to save his son during that high-stakes dice game. Sounds cool, right? Well, I'd be shocked if all this took up eight minutes of screen time -- and I'm actually struggling to remember the details because it was drowned in noisy fish-men antics and cross-cutting and fog- and seaweed-choked production design. (It also would have been nice if the rules of that dice game had been clearly explained.)
In "Curse of the Black Pearl," the first thing you see is that damned piece of Inca gold. It's tied to a curse. Everyone wants it because their hides are on the line. It all makes sense. There's a narrative drive train. Here, I got to the (abrupt) funereal ending (which features a bunch of voodoo people standing around half-submerged with candles in a swamp for no reason, except maybe to be devoured by leeches and contract malaria, or maybe because it's in the Disneyland ride, or something) -- and I still have no idea what the point of possessing Davy Jones' heart is going to be, or how it will be implemented, or even whether Davy Jones can be killed or not.
Even worse, I don't really care. I seriously can totally wait for the third movie. And I loved "Curse of the Black Pearl." (I'm no Harcourt Fenton Knowles-level swashbuckling scholar, mind, but I adore the genre, especially "The Crimson Pirate," and I loved all the specific scene-checks of that Burt Lancaster/Nick Cravat classic in "Black Pearl.")
Q. But Johnny Depp is at least awesome. Right?
A. Tonally, he perfectly continues the performance. Carries the movie, really. But he's way more of a dick this time, and he's given almost nothing truly interesting to say. His lines have Jack's original rhythm, but not nearly the bite. (People in my packed preview audience genuinely laughed like twice, maybe three times, at his antics?) He has three memorable lines: an "undead monkey"-as barter line, a request that Elizabeth join him naked in his cabin, and a crack about enjoying the sound of do-gooder opportunities as they whiz by -- and that last one's stolen from Douglas Adams. I literally remember nothing else Jack Sparrow said, and everyone walked out of the first film doing impressions of him.
Q. Is there a post-credits joke?
A. There is. It's totally lame and sort of racist. (You'd have to see the movie to get this, but basically a pack of natives are worshipping the dog who was holding the keys in the first film. Long story. He's sitting on a throne with a leg-bone in his mouth. Seriously.)
Q. Well, you're like almost literally the only writer on the Internet playa-hatin' this movie other than that crank Jeffrey Wells!
A. Hey, I can see people enjoying this. Maybe most people. The special effects are the best I've ever seen, bar none. (Davy Jones' face is all-CG, apparently, and it's one of those seamless achievements where you can practically hear the industry paradigm cracking wide open while you watch.) Moments, taken individually, are awesome. There are a surprising number of scene-checks of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," which I personally enjoyed. The look and feel and acting are in keeping with the first one, if not the writing and plotting, and young viewers will certainly say, "That was cool" between trouser-soilings.
But I'd argue that unless "World's End" somehow blows my socks off (and I'll bet it doesn't -- see below), this is going to age really badly in people's minds -- and anyone who felt burned by the "Matrix" sequels is going to be actively pissed off by the ending here. (The Internet is going to be blazing with the keywords "Matrix Reloaded" in discussions about this movie. Mark my words. A small but loud subsection of geekdom is going to be fucking raging.)
Q. Well, you've only seen half of a two-part story, bitch! How do you know it won't pay off so well that "Dead Man's Chest" is completely, retroactively justified?
A. Well, of course I could be proven wrong. But it looks like a catastrophic event from "Dead Man's Chest" will have to be quickly undone in "World's End" -- like, on the level of putting the ending to "Star Trek III" at the beginning of "Star Trek III," really -- and it looks like Part 3 will wallow in the same half-assed supernatural horse-sludge I thought mired "Dead Man's Chest."
Let me put it this way: Remember how skeleton pirates were weird and scary in the first movie? How no one had encountered them before? How the English redcoats had no idea why they couldn't kill these pirates? Well, in both sequels, everyone is just kind of shrugging as they behold tons of supernatural nonsense. I mean, really: The head of the East India Trading Company truly believes his business will be helped by a damned magical disembodied heart. In the first film, there was the tension of discovering that there were indestructible zombie pirates (and wouldn't building on that tension between English rationalism and pirate magic be thematically interesting?). Here, they're just lathering us with magic wall-to-wall. In the process, all magic is lost.
A friend of mine mused the other day via e-mail: "I'm not entirely sure why folks who film back-to-back sequels try to create one long flick that gets split down the middle, rather than just knocking out two individual films. I imagine that if 'Temple of Doom' and 'Last Crusade' had been made today in one fell swoop, 'Doom' would've ended on a cliffhanger -- with Indy falling into the rope-bridge gorge and a post-credits stinger revealing Mola Ram to be Indy's father (Sean Connery in Hindi gear) drinking blood from the Holy Grail." It's so true. When was the last time that one-story/two-films plan truly worked -- in "Empire"/"Jedi"? In Richard Lester's first two "Musketeers" movies? (And each of those had an ending!)
I really do think people are going to be booing the abrupt ending in "Dead Man's Chest." (I've heard rumors of drinks and popcorn-throwing during testing. Well, I read it on Page Six.) The problem with making people wait a year for your real ending is that you put that much more pressure on the payoff. You need to be blowing up the Death Star, killing the Emperor and resolving your daddy issues while becoming a mystical knight, you know? But I'll bet dimes to ducats that "World's End" will feature (SPOILER ALERT) our heroes sailing off a magic waterfall into Purgatory almost immediately, that voodoo lady who sounds like she walked out of "Beloved" hangin' with the crew yammerin' on, Norrington barely batting an eye as he hangs with a guy with a squid for a face, and crazy Chinese pirates led by Chow Yun-Fat telling Elizabeth she's a reincarnated sea goddess.
But hey. I'm sure the sea battles and endless running around and quadruple-crosses will be crazy huge.
I'm being too harsh, probably. But boy howdy, I'll bet I speak for a very vocal minority in a week or so. Hope I'm wrong.
Warmest, Alexandra DuPont.
Arm yourself to attack my critical judgment! It's easy and fun! Visit The DuPont Bibliography!