Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/16/06
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Music: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Johnny Depp, Bill Nighy, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Stellan Skarsgard, Jonathan Pryce

With an unexpected hit on their hands, Disney decided to start churning out sequels to the popular "The Curse Of The Black Pearl" (2003). The biggest challenge was coming up with a story that somehow managed to reunite the three leads from the previous film, without seeming overly contrived. Miraculously, "Dead Man's Chest" not only brings Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley back together, but throws in all of the secondary players from the first film as well. And surprisingly, it works out pretty well.

The film opens with a bang as Elizabeth (adorable Keira Knightley) and Will (Orlando Bloom) are arrested for helping Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) escape from the law in the first film. The contemptible Lord Beckett strikes a bargain with Will - his freedom in exchange for Capt. Sparrow's magical compass. So Will sets out to search the globe for the good Captain, in what seems to be a matter of days. Ah well, perhaps the world was much smaller then. Meanwhile, Jack has a big problem on his hands, or at least one hand in this case. He's been marked with the black spot, and owes Davy Jones (an unrecognizable Bill Nighy) his soul as payment for a previous arrangement. Everything revolves around obtaining the fabled chest of Davy Jones. Jack can use it save his soul from eternal damnation, Will can use it to save his father from eternal torment, Elizabeth can use it to save Will, Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport) can use it for personal redemption, and Lord Beckett intends to use it for world domination. And so the chase is on, and after two and a half hours of twists, complications, and double-crossing, the film ends with little resolution and is merely a set-up for the next sequel.

The film lacks the goofy charm of the original, but it certainly is fun and beautifully polished. The sets, locations, and cinematography are fabulous, and the film is full of color, texture, and life. The special effects are outstanding and essentially seamless. Digital realism really can't evolve much more at this point, and it's something that we've sadly come to take for granted. The action scenes are frantic and silly, but well staged, and reminded me of stuff you would see coming out of Hong Kong in the mid 80's. Unfortunately, I was painfully aware of the stunt players that doubled for the male leads. And while Davy Jones' gruesome assortment of henchmen looked great, they weren't nearly as interesting, captivating, or scary as the zombie pirates from the first film. That said, the zombie pirates from the original who returned for the sequel are also uninteresting now that they're no longer undead.

Story-wise, there's surprisingly more of a plot going on than I expected. Unfortunately, the dialog for some of the characters is especially weak, and the lame verbal sparring is tiresome and annoying. Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow is a despicable cad in the film, and not the lovable scoundrel that he was in the original. He still has the amusing drunken swagger, but we see a darker and more ruthless side of his personality this time around. As such, it's hard to sympathize with him and his plight. Orlando Bloom does an adequate job, but his character is still overly annoying. Sadly, Keira Knightley doesn't get to do much other than look pretty, but she does get to swing a sword a few times and briefly handles a pistol with menacing authority. Whew! Hans Zimmer provides a strong and memorable music score, and overall the sound design is delicious. The film even manages to squeeze in more clever references to the theme park ride, which I didn't think was possible. While the film is rather long and plodding, the sweet confection of audio and visual splendor kept me from getting bored.