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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 22


Starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Kevin McNally, David Bailie, Stellan Skarsgård, Tom Hollander, Naomie Harris, Martin Klebba and Geoffrey Rush.

Screenplay by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio.

Directed by Gore Verbinski.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. 151 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Second chapters in trilogies are almost always a bit of a disappointment. They are more exposition than story, the middle section of a long novel in which everything is set up but most of the things we are most interested in have not happened yet.

This has occasionally been avoided. The Empire Strikes Back had all the problems of the type but was able to sidestep them. Godfather II doesn't really count, because at the time they made it I'm sure they had no idea that twenty years down the line they'd pull the old story out of mothballs and nearly wreck the saga. However, more often than not, middle films are like Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; not interesting enough for their own story and in the end just leaving the audience feeling left in the lurch.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is undoubtedly a disappointment compared to the original film. It goes on way too long. Characters are brought back from the original just because it is expected, not because they are needed. It ends right in the middle of a huge plot development. Two of the three main characters turn out to have very little to do. The stunts are bigger and wilder and yet they sometimes feel excessive.

Still, I liked Pirates 2. Because, no matter what, the movie has one wild card that keeps it consistently entertaining – Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp's continued offbeat characterization remains as unique a character as hits the cineplexes in a major motion picture.

Captain Jack still has his surprises. Was it my imagination, but in this installment was Depp making him seem more fey... read gay... than previously? (In the immortal words of Helen Seinfeld, "not that there's anything wrong with that...") However, if that was meant, it is not an important part of the character, just part of the seasoning that Depp is using to make him more intriguing.

More interesting is that even more than the last film, we see how much of a selfish, somewhat cowardly scoundrel that Captain Jack is. Not that this should be a huge surprise – he is a pirate, after all – but Captain Jack spends the entire running time of the film scheming, backstabbing, and letting people down all to save his hide.

I wish I could say the other two leads are as interesting. Not that they weren't straight characters to the captain in the first film, too, but Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley's characters seem particularly useless in this film. Bloom's character of Will Turner at least gets some intriguing plot developments – running across his dead father, dealing with the demon of the deep – though the actor's stolid good looks and lifeless acting make it hard to get too worked up.

Knightley, on the other hand, is completely abandoned by the story – literally, her character of Elizabeth is off screen for huge chunks of time, once at least a half-hour. It's a waste coming off her Oscar nominated turn in Pride and Prejudice. When she finally does get back in frame, she is given little to do. She is playing a woman who wants to be a man and fight, but she does not get the nuance and depth she had in the first film. So, finally, when she commits her own huge betrayal, it feels a little rote and a little off character.

Great Brit actor Bill Nighy plays the bad guy here, the legendary sea demon Davy Jones. It is certainly an impressive villain; Davy literally has living tentacles like a squid growing from his face. However, even this seems a tiny bit off – why hire a terrific actor like Nighy and then smother his acting with makeup and special effects?

Even if the story was a little too complicated and excessive and it ended on a cliffhanger designed to get us all back into the cinemas next year when the finale (which was filmed concurrently with this chapter) comes out, you can't help but like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Behind the gruff blockbuster exterior is a quirky heart and an iconically odd central character. (7/06)

Ken Sharp

Copyright ©2006 All rights reserved. Posted: July 3, 2006.


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