Gore Verbinki’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is what every big Hollywood sequel aspires to be — faster, louder, longer, grander, and of course, it just wouldn’t be a major Hollywood-produced sequel without being expensive, too. Unfortunately, what makes a big Hollywood sequel a big Hollywood sequel doesn’t necessary make it a better movie. Indeed, “Dead Man’s Chest” has little of the charm and wit of the original, oftentimes mistaking gratuitous uses of CGI (as seamless as they may be), impossibly elaborate stunt choreography, and Johnny Depp’s drag queen of a pirate Captain mugging for the camera as expanding on what’s come before. Then again, while “Dead Man’s Chest” is not much of an improvement over the 2003 original, it’s not an altogether bad action-adventure, and measured against the middling standards of the beast known as Summer Event Films, it’s a pretty damn fun romp and a half.
The entire cast of the original returns in “Dead Man’s Chest”, including Johnny Depp as pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, who as we catch up with him is (literally) fleeing the dangerous crustacean claws of the undead Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), a half-man half-sea creature with which Sparrow had struck a bargain with many years ago. Jones now seeks Sparrow’s soul as payment for that deal, lest Sparrow find a way to squirm out of it, something he intends to do come hell or high water. Sparrow’s salvation is the one thing Jones still prizes most, which just happens to be locked away in a chest that, yes, Sparrow just happened to have stolen many moons ago, but does not have the key to unlock.
Meanwhile, back on land, the wedding of Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is interrupted by an English chap who has arrived with arrest warrants for the lovebirds. Turner strikes a deal with the English chap to sequester a certain supernatural compass from Sparrow in return for his, and Elizabeth’s freedom. Needless to say, nothing goes as planned. Soon, Turner is running from cannibalistic tribesmen alongside Sparrow, who continues to flee Davy Jones and his ship, the ghostly Flying Dutchman, crewed by, of course, a grotesque army of half-man, half-sea creature pirates. And oh yeah, something dark, sinister, and massive is going around the ocean looking for Jack Sparrow, and it’s called…The Kraken!
Clocking in at a somewhat bloated 150 minutes, “Dead Man’s Chest” easily and justifiably earned its prodigious worldwide box office take when it was released earlier in the Summer. It is, to be sure, everything fans of the original wanted — more chases, more fights, more supernatural happenings, and yes, more Jack Sparrow. It’s not hard to believe that writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio were given three simple commandments by the studio when they sat down to pen the sequel:
1) Jack Sparrow.
2) More Jack Sparrow.
3) Even MORE Jack Sparrow.
And Elliot and Rossio have delivered. “Dead Man’s Chest” is crammed with Jack Sparrow moments, with brief asides devoted to Swann and Turner, who at this point are more like background characters, despite the introduction of familial ties for Will Turner, and a rather oddball love triangle between Sparrow, Turner, and Swann. And is all the attention deserved? Is Johnny Depp that good?
Yes, by God, Johnny Depp is that good.
Depp’s fabulously affable leading man aside, “Dead Man’s Chest” suffers from the same problems as most, if not all, Hollywood sequels to blockbusters. Namely the absence of anything really innovative, as the film tries mightily to convince you that it actually has other places to go that is worth going beyond the plot of the first film. Which, of course, we know it doesn’t. Even the Wachowski brother’s “Matrix” films, which were ripe for a trilogy, seemed hopelessly confused about where it was going, or why. Likewise with “Dead Man’s Chest”, 80% of which seems to exist to take Sparrow from one adventure to the next. Mind you, not that I’m really complaining, as Verbinski and his writers have cooked up some pretty damn exciting stuff in-between the opening and closing credits.
Besides a ridiculously entertaining swordfight on an island between Turner, Sparrow, and another old face from the original, there is Davy Jones and his undead crew to ogle. The characters are so incredibly rendered with such seamless CGI technology that you can’t help but be awed by their appearance for hours after their initial appearances. Davy Jones himself, a walking octopus (every tentacle constantly shifting and moving and acting as his hands, no less) with crustacean arms, is just a beauty to behold. If you were wondering where all of the film’s 3-figure million dollar budget went, just look at the screen.
“Dead Man’s Chest” is a rollicking, expensive action-adventure, with no other ambition other than to push its visual set pieces as far as they can go. If you want something deeper, or perhaps even a justifiable reason for a sequel, you will not get it. Simply put, “Dead Man’s Chest” was made because there was money (lots of it) to be made. Mind you, not that that in itself is such a bad reason to make a movie, especially with a character like Jack Sparrow at your disposal. The guy is a blast to hang out with, even in a curiously bloated two and a half hour movie.
As an aside, there’s little doubt that part three, shot back to back with part two, will be a hit of “Return of the King” proportions. The conclusion of “Chest” is so deviously and cleverly plotted as to make anyone who has seen it beg for the third installment, titled “At World’s End”, to make a speedy premiere in theaters. The third movie will eventually arrive in theaters — Summer of 2007, of course.
Gore Verbinski (director) / Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio (screenplay)
CAST: 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