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The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
2006 - PG-13 - 150 Mins.
Director: Gore Verbinski
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Written By: Ted Elliot
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Stellan Skarsg
Review by: Greg Ursic
Official Site: disney.go.com/disneypictures/pirates/
   

It's good to be king.
Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Keirah Knightley) discover that the Crown frowns on citizens releasing wanted pirates and are pressed into service, and tasked with bringing Captain Jack Sparrow to heel. For Sparrow however, the threat of the British Navy bearing down on him and the surly mood of his near mutinous crew are mere trifles, as he has more serious matters to contend with as Davy Jones, the Seven Seas’ most ruthless loan shark has come to collect on a debt and he’s not a man (in the loosest sense of the word) to be kept waiting.

To put it simply, I loved 'The Pirates of the Caribbean, The Curse of the Black Pearl' as it has everything going for it: great locations, pirates (both alive and undead), treasure, curses, swordplay, Keira Knightley, a great script and most importantly, Johnny Depp. Depp, one of the most talented actors of his generation, could have been a box office god but luckily for Tom Cruise, Depp eschewed everything Hollywood and chose to work on fringe projects that featured quirky characters and tested his acting mettle. Depp boasts a near-chameleonic quality and he infuses every character he plays with a distinct presence – Gilbert Grape was to Ed Wood, what Edward Scissorhands was to Donnie Brasco. I was therefore thrilled that he decided to “come out” as it were, to star in 'Pirates' and having gotten my fill, I eagerly anticipated the sequel.

It’s clear that Disney has tuned into Depp’s star power and 'Dead Man’s Chest' is obviously meant to be his vehicle, and he doesn’t disappoint: whether he’s doing his off-kilter homage to Keith Richards, or loping down a beach in his trademark animated Sparrow-style Depp left me grinning like an idiot. And judging by the laughter around me, I wasn’t the only one. Depp also nails every line with the perfect facial expression and handles tongue-twister dialogue effortlessly. He is, quite simply, a joy to watch.

I was also impressed by Bill Nighy ('Love Actually,' 'Underworld') who plays Davy Jones: it is extremely difficult to avoid getting lost in a character that involves mounds of makeup or CGI, but Nighy’s clicks, pops and wheezes (you’ll understand when you see the movie) gives the character a depth and slimy presence that shines through. I was also surprised to see Stellan Skarsgard, known for his serious roles, as Bootstrap Bill, a member of Jones’ crew who acquits himself admirably. Finally, Naomi Harris is great as Tia the creepy black toothed voodoo priestess who is equal parts menacing and alluring. The locale also deserves credit for its supporting role.

With crystalline azure-colored seas that looked like they’ve been Photoshopped, stunning mountain vistas and wide expanses of palm strewn beaches it’s clear why Verbinski chose to shoot in the Caribbean (although proximity and tax credits likely played a role) as it captures the essence of the story. The natural beauty is complemented by the intricate work of the set designers: from the smallest baubles sitting on shelves to the Black Pearl and Port Royal sets (rebuilt after the originals were leveled by a storm surge two months before filming began) every effort was made to ensure that things looked authentic. The CGI effects are also remarkable – whenever Davy Jones and his band of crusty (or more appropriately encrusted) indentured misfits were onscreen I became so I became so engrossed in the minutiae of their look, especially Nighy, that I’m sure I missed some crucial dialogue. Finally, I was impressed by the impressive action sequences, especially the duel atop the rolling waterwheel which must have required days to film. Unfortunately there’s a pile of fool’s gold amongst the booty.

As a veteran movie marathoner, I am accustomed to spending a long time in the chair, so DMC’s 150 minute runtime wasn’t a daunting challenge (indeed it’s only 7 minutes longer than its predecessor). However, DMC felt like a much longer movie as the first 45 minutes were plodding and achieved little in the way of character development – they could easily have cut a half hour and improved the flow in the process. Just as I was starting to get a bit dozy the story’s pace mercifully picked up.

While I knew that Depp would be the focus for DMC I was surprised that they chose to relegate Bloom and Knightley to essentially bit player status. As a colleague noted, some studio exec sitting in a meeting probably said “The audience loves Depp, so take what he did last time, and do it twice as much”, to the detriment of the story. I sorely missed Swan’s clever jibes and the great chemistry that Knightley and Depp shared in Curse is woefully underutilized here.

The other big change (not a bad thing in itself), is that the tone of the story is a lot darker, and it may be a little too much for younger fans of the first film (a colleague who has small children said she’d definitely think twice about recommending DMC for viewers under ten). Finally, the whole cliffhanger ending, which seems to have become de rigueur since Jackson used it in the Rings trilogy, felt a bit gimmicky.

Anyone going into 'Dead Man’s Chest' expecting another 'Curse of the Black Pearl,' will be surprised. In spite of the slow start, a loose storyline and the diminished role of one of my favorite characters, the sets and locations are gorgeous, the CGI is astonishing and Depp help salvage DMC. It’s an carefree popcorn flick worthy of a matinee but don't expect much more than that.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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