Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

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        No one knew what to expect when Disney decided to make a movie based one of the attractions at Disney World, Pirates of the Caribbean. It was a bit of a surprise that Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl turned out to be pretty good, made a lot of money, and converted Johnny Depp, aka Captain Jack Sparrow, from a well-regarded actor in quirky films into box office gold. As soon as Pirates was a huge hit, there was a roughly 100% chance that there was going to be a sequel. Sequels aren't always bad. Sometimes, as in The Godfather: Part II and The Empire Strikes Back, they are great, even better than the originals. But most of the time, the sequel does not measure up. The newest twist is to plan two sequels and film both of them at the same time. As far as I know, this technique was pioneered by Back to the Future way back in 1989 for parts II and III. More recently, the two sequels to The Matrix were filmed simultaneously, and now Pirates of the Caribbean. The first sequel, Dead Man's Chest opened last weekend and part III, At World's End will open on Memorial Day weekend 2007.

        Dead Man's Chest, the second chapter of Pirates of the Caribbean, picks up a few months after the end of the original movie. Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly), daughter of the ineffectual governor (Jonathan Pryce) of a Caribbean island, and her blacksmith-turned-pirate beau, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) are meant to get married but instead are arrested by Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), the newly arrived representative of the East India Company, for consorting with pirates, i.e., Captain Jack Sparrow. Beckett throws Elizabeth in the clink but gives Will a chance at freedom if he will retrieve Captain Jack's mysterious compass. Will sets off in search of Sparrow, and Elizabeth soon breaks out of jail and goes off in hot pursuit of Will. Meanwhile, Captain Jack and his crew are being held captive by a bunch of cannibals. They escape with Will's help but they are barely back at sea when Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) shows up to take Sparrow down to his locker. It seems that Captain Jack sold his soul to Davy Jones in return for being Captain of the Black Pearl. From this point on, the plot begins to get more and more convoluted. Sparrow has a plan for outwitting Davy Jones by finding a chest for which only Jones has a key. Will is sent to serve on Jones' ship and steal the key with the help of his father Bootstrap (Stellan Skarsgård). Meanwhile, Captain Jack hooks up with Elizabeth on Tortuga and they meet up with their old friend and now ex-Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport). In order to find the chest, Sparrow et al. have to consult a voodoo seer (Naomie Harris) deep in the bayou's of Louisiana. There's no point in continuing except to say that our heroes, Captain Jack, Elizabeth and Will keep jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Dead Man's Chest ends as a cliffhanger which is to be continued in the third installment, At World's End. So we'll all have to wait until next year to see how it ends. Oh ya, the much heralded appearance by Keith Richards as Sparrow's dad won't happen until Part III. And what about Geoffrey Rush, alias ex-Captain Barbossa? He shows up, but you'll have to see for yourself when and where.

        Although, it is now obviously derivative, the joie de vivre of the original Pirates of the Caribbean transfers very well to Dead Man's Chest. Johnny Depp, as Captain Jack Sparrow, is the heart and soul of this movie. And his shtick still plays very well. The other two leads, Knightly and Bloom are good too. Bloom is slightly more animated than in the last movie but not much. He still looks bemused by the action around him most of the time. Knightly gets to have more fun by going completely over to the pirate dark side and loving it. In fact, by the end of Dead Man's Chest, she is positively evil. Davy Jones and his crew are very well done. You can only see Bill Nighy's eyes through the squid tentacles that comprise Jones' face. Jones' crew is similarly made up of other human/sea-life morphs. Tom Hollander, as the new baddie Cutler Beckett, is a welcome addition. He was great last year as Elizabeth Bennet's (another Keira Knightly role) unwanted suitor in Pride & Prejudice.

        This second installment of Pirates of the Caribbean reunites the director, producer, writers and the whole cast, even the dead ones, from The Curse of the Black Pearl. And this combination of talents that worked so well in Part I continues to do so in Part II. If anything, there is more wild, out of control action than in The Black Pearl. In particular, there are two set pieces, which the NY Times reviewer lovingly calls, "Fruit Kebab" and "Runaway Hamster Wheel," that could be out of some Buster Keaton movie. In "Fruit Kebab," Sparrow is trying to escape from the cannibals while still tied to a long pole. You can guess the rest. And, in "Runaway Hamster Wheel," a water wheel breaks off and rolls across the island while Turner and Norrington duel on top, and Sparrow rolls round and round. These are very well done and very funny, but the "Runaway Hamster Wheel" sequence is interminable. The movie's length is the main weakness of Dead Man's Chest. It is way too long at over 2 1/2 hours. And Gore Verbinski, the director, has a bad case of Peter-Jackson Syndrome. He feels like he must use every bit of film he shot, particularly the CGI effects. This is especially true of the scenes starring the Kraken, a giant squid who Davy Jones summons to destroy ships. The Kraken is great looking but the long lovingly filmed scenes of its tentacles get a bit boring, as do the many, many scenes starring two of the formerly-undead crew members of the Black Pearl, Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and Ragetti (Mackenzie Cook). I didn't count but they must have almost as much screen time as Johnny Depp, and I don't think they are that funny. I mean that bit with the eye that pops out at a moment's notice was old before the end of the first movie, and we see it over and over in the second movie as well. But I am quibbling. This one is worth seeing. Just go to the bathroom before it starts.