Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest certainly has a darker side than its predecessor, 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl, but that won’t stop me from making a general and simplistic statement: If you liked Black Pearl, you’ll like this one. The same goes for if you disliked it, as well. Dead Man’s Chest is just as overblown, ridiculous, and full of itself as Black Pearl, but there’s a certain whimsical element that make the films about as rousing of escapist entertainment as we have at the moment. That this entire phenomenon has been the offspring of a theme park ride may be its biggest charm.
The plot, much like that in Black Pearl, a really nothing more than an inconsequential excuse for a load of “how did they do that?” stunts and all-around silliness from everyone’s favorite drunken pirate, Jack Sparrow (Depp). The story goes something like this: Sparrow is indebted to Davy Jones (Nighy), the ruler of the deep sea, from a deal made years back. Jones and his rotting cretins will stop at nothing to kill Sparrow, as his debt is in the form of eternal damnation. Along for the ride are old comrades Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley). Battles, swordplay, strange creatures, and an out-of-control giant wheel ensue.
Director Gore Verbinski, who also helmed Black Pearl, seems well aware that fan interest in the series sits squarely on the shoulders of Depp’s Sparrow. He lets Depp do pretty much whatever he wants while going to town with his $200 million budget in terms of special effects and all-out lunacy. Verbinski doesn’t keep the film from feeling bloated at 150 minutes, but he does make sure that when the action comes around, which it does full bore for most of the third act, it’s well worth our time. They are a slapstick ballet in this installment; more carefree and aiming for a broader audience. The makeup effects are astounding, inviting us to discover the misshapen and disgusting beings of the deep. This has to be one of only a few films in recent memory that can have frightening images and characters and still feel “family-friendly.”
As special effects-reliant as the film is, it’s nice to see that a human can still steal the show. Johnny Depp does just that in his reprisal of Jack Sparrow. With his black eye makeup and drunken swagger, Depp gets laughs in truly effortless fashion. He careens down an open beach not like a man who is being chased by dozens of otherworldly brutes, but rather like a man who just wants some rum. His cavalier attitude once again reigns supreme in Dead Man’s Chest, and fans should be pleased. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley can really only stand around and watch the Sparrow Show, but they nevertheless have solid screen presences. The reliable Bill Nighy is appropriately fearsome as Jones.
The Pirates series already has a gigantic, devoted following and Dead Man’s Chest may reel in even more disciples. Those, like me, who have been longing for absurd action, now have a ticket. Yes, it’s too long, but it is still steadfast popcorn summer entertainment. Perhaps the best news for Pirates fans: The third installment, At World’s End, was filmed simultaneously with this film and will be released next summer.
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
Length: 150 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of adventure violence, including frightening images.
Theatrical Release: July 7, 2006
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Written by: Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio. Characters by Elliott & Rossio & Stuart Beattie & Jay Wolpert.
Cast: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce