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"Dead Man's Chest": Too much of a good thing may still be a good thing

by JD Warnock on July 7, 2006

in Print Reviews

No one expected the first film in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise to be any good or to become such a huge success. Spectacular advertising and an outrageous performance from Johnny Depp made “The Curse of the Black Pearl” a smash-hit and left audiences chomping at the bit for another romp with Captain Jack Sparrow. “Dead Man’s Chest,” the new installment of the “Pirates” series, lacks some the charm that made the first one so entertaining, but packs a mighty wallop in the action department and doesn’t disappoint with an army of superb movie monsters and creative special effects.

Considering the “Pirates” films were originally based on an theme park ride, both films have much better stories than they probably ought to. In “Dead Man’s Chest,” Johnny Depp is back as Sparrow, commanding the pirate ship the Black Pearl. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly) are interrupted at the alter and are imprisoned for assisting Sparrow’s escape from custody. The soon-to-be weds are sentenced to death unless Bloom can find Sparrow and bring back a compass that will lead to a chest containing the beating heart of the legendary pirate Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). As it turns out, Sparrow owes Jones his soul. Additionally, Turner’s absent father ‘Bootstrap’ Bill Turner (Stellen Skarsgard) is a captive soul aboard his ship, the Flying Dutchman. Throw in some powdered wigs and an undead monkey and let the hi-jinks begin.

The fibers that hold the story together are rather thin, but it could be worse. Adding seasoned actors like Skarsgard and Nighy to the already overqualified cast helps considerably to elevate the sometimes silly narrative. Director Gore Verbinski takes too much time with minor plot lines that don’t add up to much and needlessly clunk up the pace of his rollercoaster ride. The movie is dreadfully long and ends on a similar note to “Matrix Revolutions,” as you realize you have just been witness to a massive setup for “Pirates 3.” Go figure– swindled by pirates. It’s one thing to get a …”to be continued” at the end of your favorite TV show, but it another to spend two and a half hours in the theater with no payoff. “Dead Man’s Chest” suffers major middle-movie syndrome and will surely leave some film-goers red in the face in the closing minutes.

When “Dead Man’s Chest” is firing on all cylinders, it is an all-out thrill ride with some of the best swashbuckling-in-silhouette scenes since Errol Flynn. One action sequence showcases a three-way sword duel a top a castle, spilling onto a watermill wheel which comes unhinged and throws two of the duellists spinning for the beach. It is a dizzying scene with madcap energy that screams as much as anything of The Three Stooges and Abbott and Costello. The quick humor and character banter that made the first film so enjoyable are back, adding to the action scenes and keeping the sometimes stagnant pace from falling completely overboard.

The CGI work on the octopus-like Davy Jones character alone makes “Dead Man’s Chest” one of the better special effects displays lately. Nighy (“Underworld”) gives an added depth to the villian, whose piercing eyes and animated tentacles make for one impressive baddie. The crew of the Flying Dutchman is made up of a grab bag of deep sea creatures blended with their formerly human selves. It is a combination that makes for an overworked effects team obviously fulfilling their every whim and a whole slew of fabulous movie monsters.

It will be interesting to see how audiences react to “Dead Man’s Chest,” as it’s not as cuddly as it’s predecessor. Depp’s wacky character was fresh in the first movie, but is less amusing and fairly predictable the second time around. Still, no one else would have invented Sparrow quite the way Depp has and at the end of the day, it remains a fantastic character.

In this “Pirates,” there is more action and movie magic to love, but this is a far less economical piece of entertainment. If “Pirates 3” delivers the goods, we may look back on “Dead Man’s Chest” with a forgiving perspective and think of it as a necessary segment leading to a grand finale.  Either way, “Dead Man’s Chest,” despite all it’s imperfections, is high-energy cinema and worth a look.

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