Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Overall Rating: (3)

James Kendrick

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Director: Gore Verbinski
Screenplay: Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio
Stars: Johnny Depp (Jack Sparrow), Orlando Bloom (Will Turner), Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann), Jack Davenport (Norrington), Bill Nighy (Davy Jones), Jonathan Pryce (Governor Weatherby Swann), Lee Arenberg (Pintel), Mackenzie Crook (Ragetti), Kevin McNally (Gibbs), David Bailie (Cotton), Stellan Skarsgrd (Bootstrap Bill), Tom Hollander (Cutler Beckett), Naomie Harris (Tia Dalma), Martin Klebba (Marty), Alex Norton (Captain Bellamy)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2006
Country: U.S.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's ChestShot simultaneously with a yet-to-be-released third film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a sequel to a $350-million surprise smash hit. The first Pirates movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, was the high point of the 2003 summer movie season--a fun, rollicking, utterly unapologetic mash-up of digital wizardry and old-school B-movie thrills with the bonus of Johnny Depp's bizarre and hilarious performance as the strangely likable, yet utterly narcissistic Captain Jack Sparrow. It had every excuse--particularly its being based on, of all things, a theme park ride--to be terrible, yet it surprised at virtually every turn.

Dead Man's Chest continues merrily in the same vein, and if it doesn't work quite as well as its predecessor, it is only because it feels even more overstuffed with everything, from sets to spectacle to action to gags, some of which flop and some of which strike comedic gold. The original was a bit too long for its own good, and Dead Man's Chest follows right along, adding another 15 minutes to the original's 134-minute running time. Returning screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio pack this particular chest until the seams are literally bursting, and they still manage to end on a narrative cliffhanger (no one is literally or figuratively dangling from a cliff, but Jack Sparrow's future is definitely hanging in the balance). However, as much as that makes the movie feel overwhelming at times, I suspect we'd feel let down if it did anything less.

Given the breadth of the story, the movie doesn't waste any time setting up the plot. Almost immediately, our enjoyably bland returning hero and heroine, Will Turner (Orland Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley), are arrested--on their wedding day, no less--by the snarky Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), head of the insidious East India Trading Company, the movie's 18th-century version of global corporate greed run amok. Norrington manipulates Will into tracking down the elusive Jack Sparrow (Depp) to retrieve a magical compass that will lead them to the titular chest, which holds something very profitable.

That something happens to belong to Davy Jones (Bill Nigh, buried behind make-up special effects both practical and digital), a nefarious supernatural pirate to whom Sparrow owes his eternal soul. As the new villain, Davy Jones, despite sharing his name with a Monkee, is an inspired character whose villainy is conveyed in everything from Nigh's evil eyes to the squiggling, slimy mass of octopus tentacles that hang from the bottom of his face. Jones leads a ship of pirate-zombies, except instead of being skeletal ala the first movie, they look like an army of Orcs from The Lord of the Rings who have been left at the bottom of the ocean for too long. Covered with barnacles and crustaceans and other nasty oceanic growths, Jones' crew is a motley bunch of reject sea creatures that will likely inspire nightmares in the minds of small children and adults who take dental care very seriously.

Given his consistent popularity and Oscar nomination, Depp's Jack Sparrow is pushed farther front and center this time around, and Depp does nothing to disappoint. He doesn't do much to expand his character's repertoire, and for good reason: Sparrow is all of a piece, and to add to him would feel phony. He is still the same lying, conniving, swishing scoundrel--the trickster archetype of pirate lore taken to the extreme. If anything, Depp's increased centrality only serves to make Orland Bloom and Keira Knightley's romantic swashbuckling fade all the more into the background, especially when the movie tries to force them into an ill-fitting love triangle.

Returning director Gore Verbinski ups the action quotient this time around (surely to the delight of ber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer), giving us not one, but two scenarios in which characters roll down steep hills inside enormous objects (the first time being inside a round cage made of human bones, the second time on a giant water wheel that has broken loose of its mooring). There are sword fights, ocean battles, and a giant, multi-tentacled sea leviathan called a kraken that is under Jones' command and likes to swallow ships whole. If all of this sounds like too much for one movie to handle, never fear: Just think of Dead Man's Chest as a double feature without a break in the middle and hope that your theater seat is plenty comfortable.

Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick

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