Though the commercial success of a film which saw the mighty Disney team up with mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and an array of well-known actors was pretty much guaranteed, the critical success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was anything but.
After all it was aa film based upon a theme park ride being churned out by the studio that owned the theme park and a producer best known for being the master of bringing mindless summer pap to the big screen, from Armageddon and Pearl Harbour to the ultimate in cheesy brainlessness that is Top Gun. Despite the presence of some great actors in the shape of Jonathan Pryce, Geoffrey Rush and – especially – Johnny Depp in a rare blockbuster outing for the quirky actor, expectations were low.
In other words, when the first Pirates of the Caribbean film turned out to be a genuinely entertaining, well-constructed and original take on the blockbuster format, the surprise was such that it swiftly became a firm favourite with critics and audiences alike. As such, the sequel has an unenviable task to live up to the vastly increased expectations that Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow and his fellows have raised from their superb first outing.
Add to that the general law of diminishing returns for sequels and, despite high hopes, there is bound to be a fear that they simply can’t ensure the same quality for this second outing. A few sequels – The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back being the best-known examples – have managed to live up to their predecessors, but the majority fall flat.
Yet where the success of the first film was arguably a happy accident, with the relatively limited screen time given to Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack an indication that perhaps the filmmakers didn’t realise just how great a character they had created, this time they know what it’s all about. With one tagline for the movie being “Captain Jack is back”, this is Depp’s film, and everyone knows it. The less interesting characters of pretty-boy Orlando Bloom and pretty-girl Keira Knightley have become somewhat relegated to supporting roles, and Depp strides across the screen as if he owns the place.
The result, as they battle sea monsters and the supernatural figure of Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones, is just as rip-roaring and swash-buckling as the original. The only noticeable difference is an increase in the budget and a faster pacing brought about by now knowing just what works. Like all the best sequels, it’s the same only more so.