Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Reviewed By Collin Souter
Posted 07/07/06 14:22:36

"Buy a ticket. Take the ride. Again."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Looking back three years later, itís still quite amazing how the first Pirates of the Caribbean film managed to rake in $300 million, earn an Oscar nomination for its acting and win over audiences and critics alike. Pirate movies have long since been a punchline amongst Hollywood insiders on what NOT to greenlight. After the fiascos Yellowbeard, The Pirate Movie, Roman Polanskiís Pirates and Cutthroat Island, it became crystal clear that audiences werenít interested in paying money to see snarling, one-legged drunks when they could see them for free standing outside Chicagoís Metra Union Station. Plus, they werenít funny or relevant and, thanks to Gilbert and Sullivan, were a little too light in the loafers for some.

But times have changed, as have pirates. The pirate genre lay dormant long enough for people to forget there were such a thing as pirate movies, but along came Johnny Depp and his Keith Richards swagger mixed with Pepe Le Pewís aloof charm and somehow made it cool again. Like he does for all his roles, Deppís Captain Jack Sparrow is his own creation and it remains impossible to imagine any other actor in that part. His performance came out of nowhere and it helped make the slightly overlong pirate adventure a better movie than it would have been if he hadnít been in it.

Honestly, the exact same review could be written for its sequel, Dead Manís Chest. It comes to us no more, no less rousing, funny and endearing as the first film. It also has the same problem as the first film, only slightly more so. The film runs 2 Ĺ hours in length and feels it. Thatís ten minutes longer than the original, with a third film on the way next summer. Thatís a lot of Pirates. Luckily, Dead Manís Chest doesnít overload on Deppís performance. To its credit, it leaves us wanting more and wondering what will come of its three main characters.

We begin on the wedding day as Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley) are about to be married. However, they are both suddenly found guilty of aiding the escape of a known criminal (Sparrow). For this, they are to be sent to the gallows, unless of course, Will can retrieve Sparrow and bring him back. Will agrees to this, setting forth on a journey find Jack Sparrow and somehow get him to come back so that Will and Elizabeth can get married. Elizabeth sits in a cell and waits (donít worry. Sheís not there for the entire film).

Meanwhile, Sparrow and his crew are embarking on a quest to find a treasure chest, which contains the heart of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), a tortured soul who, legend has it, lives beneath the sea. Of course, itís not a legend, but a fact of Sparrowís life. Years ago, Sparrow made a deal with Davy Jones and is now expected to make good on his end of it, with his soul. Not about to give in without a fight, Sparrow must find the titular dead manís chest in order to get out of the deal once and for all.

Of course, there lurk plenty of detours and obstacles in his wake. An island where he becomes worshipped as a God, action sequences involving fruit and loose water well wheels, Davy Jonesís fish-like henchmen, a bar fight and a gi-normous water creature called The Krakken (yes, like Clash of the Titans, only different), just to name a few. Iím not really giving anything away by merely mentioning these events or people. The film offers plenty of surprises. All of these events (and plenty more) come into play within a story that is too big to write about in three paragraphs.

Director Gore Verbinski tries to keep the pace brisk without sacrificing the story. More often than not, he succeeds. The film has a bit of a lull in its middle section, but once it picks up in the action and humor, the movie really takes off. Still, with these films, plus last yearís barely-noticed The Weather Man, Verbinski has proved himself a solid director who can work within many different genres. He can put together a hell of an action sequence, which he does here repeatedly, without sacrificing what makes most of these characters so special.

I say most, because only two of the three main characters hold any real interest for me. Part of the problem with this franchise is the casting of a less-than-interesting Orlando Bloom. His Will Turner just doesnít engage me that much. With someone like Jack Sparrow at the forefront, itís not hard to see why Elizabeth would have mixed feelings between the two. She may never say it, but we can see plainly that she wants him. It could just be that Bloom makes for a better wide-eyed Legolas or even a better corporate flunky than a dashing, charismatic leading man in a swashbuckler.

Still, itís to the credit of the rest of the cast and filmmakers that these two Pirate movies remain so much fun. Credit must also go to screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Russo for not trying to overcompensate on the Jack Sparrow quotient. After Depp stole the first film, it would have been only natural for the sequel to be dubbed The Johnny Depp Show. Thankfully, this doesnít happen. Dead Manís Chest keeps the franchise fresh and surprising without resorting to old-standbys and like a truly great bridge film (a Part II in an obvious trilogy), it leaves us with terrific cliffhangers. If someone had said weíd be writing reviews like this about a Bruckheimer-produced pirate movie based on a theme park ride, theyíd never have believed it.

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