Three years ago, the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, enjoyed a solid opening weekend at the box office, and, applauded by fans and critics alike, went on to surpass the elusive $300 million mark on positive buzz and word of mouth. Now, filmmakers are hoping to recreate that formula for success with a pair of sequels to the surprise megahit.
The principal players are all back in place, with director Gore Verbinski at the helm and Johnny Depp reprising his role as charismatic swashbuckler Jack Sparrow. Orlando Bloom returns as Will Turner, as does Keira Knightley as fearless heroine Elizabeth Swann.
In the first of the two Pirate sequels, everyone is out to get the titular Dead Man's Chest, which contains an artifact capable of controlling Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), the villainous captain of the Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship manned by a crew of undead pirates. But everyone wants the fabled chest and the upper hand on the spectral leader for different reasons: Jack Sparrow wants to weasel his way out of a debt owed to Jones; Will Turner wants to free his father, who is part of Jones' cursed minions; and still others want the chest for financial gain.
If you feel the story seems needlessly complicated, you're not alone. The script meanders through a maze of subplots and has the central characters roaming the vast world independently, only to come together, amazingly, at exactly the right moment. Throughout this ceaseless globetrotting, it's easy to forget who is doing what, and for what reason. And with the film clocking in at an abundant two and a half hours, missing a plot point can lead to a very long bout of confusion and/or disinterest.
Ironically, in spite of the long runtime, none of the characters seem to do much. Will and Elizabeth feel more monotonous this time around, and even the over-the-top Jack Sparrow doesn't seem to get the chance to act out much. There are glimpses of memorable moments--when Jack first sees Elizabeth decked out in pirate garb, he demonstrates the charming sleaziness that previously endeared him to audiences by remarking, "These clothes do not flatter you at all. It should be a dress or nothing. I happen to have no dress in my cabin." But entertaining banter has been, for the most part, replaced with a seemingly endless supply of running around.
On the plus side, Dead Man's Chest does indeed deliver some spectacular action sequences in a variety of flavors. Jack being made into a human shish kabob and getting trapped in a giant, out-of-control water wheel add an element of physical comedy, while the Flying Dutchman battling the Black Pearl on the high seas provides some awesome nautical warfare. Davy Jones unleashing the monstrous kraken is also a major highlight that impressively piles up the body count.
The special effects used in bringing the cursed pirates to undead life are top notch, and the job they do on Bill Nighy to transform him into Davy Jones stands out most of all. Nighy's mannerisms and delivery are seamlessly blended with eye-catching movie magic to imbue the sinister captain with unholy animated life. When it comes to an actor's expressions coming through the mask of CGI, Gollum from The Lord of the Rings has nothing on Davy Jones. He's also a perfectly credible villain, boasting an ideal mix of malice and insanity.
Dead Man's Chest has the not-so-easy task of bridging a hit first movie with what is expected to be a spectacular third and final installment. And while it falters a bit in characterizations and story, it certainly accomplishes two key goals: it hits its summer audience with a satisfying dose of action and pyrotechnics, and sets the stage for the saga's conclusion nicely with a cliffhanger of sorts. With any luck, the trilogy will go out with as big a bang as it entered with.
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