Mark Reviews Movies

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cast: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgård, Naomie Harris

MPAA Rating:   (for intense sequences of adventure violence, including frightening images)

Running Time: 2:30

Release Date: 7/7/06


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Review by Mark Dujsik

I think some folks in Hollywood may be starting to get the right idea about sequels, because here's yet another that realizes the virtues of its predecessor and makes no attempt to alter the original formula while still expanding upon it. Of the original Pirates of the Caribbean, I said (forgive the self-quotation), "...the movie's tone carries it faithfully to the end." Now we have Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and it becomes perfectly clear that this series will live and die on its tone. After all, this a series based on a Disney theme park ride, so we're not exactly talking about any kind of prestige here. The first film's plot made little to no sense, and the sequel takes a good chunk of time to get to any semblance of a plot that will ultimately make little to no sense. Still, both are solidly entertaining diversions because they understand the value of camp. I'll even go one step further and say that Dead Man's Chest surpasses its predecessor in making entertainment out of nonsense. It also contains one action sequence of great virtuosity, a villain of immense potential, and—dare I use the phrase—moral ambiguity.

Time has passed since that unpleasant business with the Aztec gold and undead skeleton pirates, and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) are preparing for their upcoming nuptials. A major problem arises when an emissary of the East India Trading Company arrives with warrants for the couple for aiding a pirate in their previous adventure. The punishment is death. Meanwhile, that pirate Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is continuing his ways, escaping from an island jail with the drawing of a mysterious key that opens a mysterious chest in some unknown location. Back to our jailed couple, Will is made a deal: Elizabeth will be pardoned if he can retrieve a mysterious compass from Jack and bring it back for the EITC's mysterious use. Jack, in the meantime, takes to facing problems of his own when Will's father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) mysteriously arrives in the middle of the night to tell Jack it's time to pay his debt to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), who has sent a mysterious sea creature called the Kraken after our buccaneer. Will finally finds Jack on an island, where he and his crew are held prisoners by the natives.

The plot, like the last time around, is unnecessarily convoluted, but it all has to do with that mysterious, hidden chest, which contains the still-beating heart of Davy Jones. Davy Jones, by the by, is not just euphemism for the perils of the sea but a living, breathing person, er, thing. He's part man, part squid, with a claw for a hand, and he plays an organ in his quarters aboard The Flying Dutchman, a masted ship which can submerge and appears at shipwrecks. Jones collects souls for his crew—delay death for a hundred years on board the Dutchman or face whatever awaits after death. In my review of the first film, I pondered how many movies about undead skeleton pirates could be made. The answer is one. Here, the villains are Jones' seaman postponing death and slowly turning into sea creatures. Some have heads like sharks or housed by shells; all have barnacles growing everywhere and, as we see in one case, will eventually turn into a giant barnacle against the interior hull of the ship. The special effects are detailed and effective here, especially in the case of Jones, whose tentacles seem to operate of their own devices—always moving, always searching.

Jones' back-story makes him even more intriguing, and Nighy gives a tangible performance under the layers of special effects. We learn he locked his heart away after a woman he loved left him so that he wouldn't feel anymore, and so Will's situation seems even more appealing to the heartbroken fiend. The story behind the villain is all well and good, but it's the action and the humor that hold this admirable mess together. There are plenty of action sequences here—sea battles, creature attacks, daring jail escapes (involving cages made of bones dangling above a cliff, no less)—and they're all topped by one that involves a three-way sword fight, a chase involving our heroine and two comic crewmen, a swarm of Jones' men, and a water wheel. Director Gore Verbinski handles them all with dizzying pace, and the script by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (back from the original) balances the camp value without going overboard. Johnny Depp returns as Jack, and this time around, he's not competing with Geoffrey Rush for the hamming-it-up award. The spotlight's on him, and he delivers more of the same while the script gives him and Elizabeth a debate of right and wrong and a useless star-crossed love story.

Yes, some of the movie falters in its two and a half hour running time but not enough to ruin the tone. The characters become a little more complicated (or maybe just their situation does) by the end, and where they'll head next is anyone's guess. The most  frustrating element of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is a cliffhanger ending, turning this and its subsequent sequel into one big movie, and one can only hope the material has enough gas for one more go-around.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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