© 2006 Ray Wong
The original Pirates of the Caribbean was such rollicking box office hit that Disney seized on the opportunity immediately to make it into a trilogy. The first of the back-to-back sequels arrives in theater this summer. While it's still a good romping fun, somehow it's bigger, louder, busier, and less interesting.
On their wedding day, Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) and William Turner (Bloom) are arrested by Culter Beckett (Hollander) on the charges of having helped Jack Sparrow (Depp) escape. In fact, what Beckett really wants is Jack's Sparrow's magical compass, so he can use it to find the key to Davy Jones' (Nighy) Dead Man's Chest. He sends William on a mission to find Capt. Sparrow. Meanwhile, Sparrow is trying to stay one step ahead of Davie Jones, who is trying to collect his soul.
OK, I won't even try to explain the plot. All of that is just an excuse for the characters to go places and do interesting things, which include an island inhabited by cannibals, the pirates on Tortuga, a creepy fortuneteller, grand ships (Sparrow's Black Pearl and Davy Jones' Dutchman), men who look like sea creatures, and a real sea monster that makes me think of sushi.
Depp (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is back in fine form as Sparrow. One of the film's strengths is Depp's comic timing and entertaining portrayal of the peculiar pirate. He's neither a good guy or a bad guy, but one can't say he's not fascinating. Apparently, Elizabeth Swann thinks so, too, and Knightley (Pride & Prejudice) reprises that role with feistiness, guts and a dash of girly giggles. Compared to these two, Bloom (Elizabethtown) is rather bland as William Turner. He's brave and heroic and loyal and all that, but I just can't seem to really care about him.
The cast of old and new characters are fun to watch. Davenport (Libertine), Pryce (The New World) and Hollander (Pride & Prejudice) return as the trio of Englishmen: ex-Commodore Norrington, Gov. Weatherby Swann, and Cutley Beckett respectively. McNally (Phantom of the Opera), Arenberg (Charmed) and Crook (The Brothers Grimm) are back in full comic garb as Sparrow's crewmen Gibbs, Pintel and Ragetti. New to the series is Nighy (Underworld: Evolution) as Davy Jones. Nighy, who looks literally slimy with the help of CG effects, makes a great villain and counterpoint to the loopy Sparrow. Skarsgard (Exorcist: the Beginning) plays William's father, Bootstrap Bill, with a nice mix of creepiness, warmth and remorse. Harris (After the Sunset) fascinates as fortuneteller Tia Dalma.
The large cast, relatively frantic pace, and the multitude of locales and exotic adventures give the film the look and feel of a wild ride, which is appropriate considering the franchise is based on Disney's popular ride. However, while the first film was fresh and fun and easy to follow, the sequel is a convoluted potboiler. Writers Elliott and Rossio (The Legend of Zorro) overstuff the story with inane plot twists, inconsistencies and incomprehensible dialogue. Together with director Verbinski (The Weatherman), they go for the big, bold, and explosive. The result is a cornucopia of visual extravagance that is unfortunately mind-numbing and tedious, especially toward the end. It's rare that in the middle of high adventures I would look at my watch and ask myself, "When is this going to end?" At two hour and thirty minutes, the film is long and feels long. And the ending is all set up (for the third installment) without any resolution -- that really drives me crazy.
Those who enjoy big, wild-ride adventures might enjoy this sequel, despite its convoluted storytelling. The production looks expensive, the makeup and costume fantastic, and the locations gorgeous. Those who are in love with the characters such as Sparrow, Elizabeth, or William might be disappointed by the lack of depth. To me, Dead Man's Chest represents the same problems of many Hollywood sequels (and Back to the Future came to mind) -- it's bigger, louder, faster, but not particularly better.
Stars: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Kevin McNally, David Bailie, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Hollander, Naomie Harris, Geoffrey Rush
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writers: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Distributor: Buena Vista
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of adventure violence, frightening images
Running Time: 150 minutes
Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 6.8 out of 10