Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow
Orlando Bloom as Will Turner
Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann
Bill Nighy as Davy Jones
Stellan Skarsgård as ‘Bootstrap’ Bill Turner
Jack Davenport as Commodore James Norrington
Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs
Naomie Harris as Tia Dalma
Jonathan Pryce as Governor Weatherby Swann
Mackenzie Crook as Ragetti
Tom Hollander as Lord Cutler Beckett
Lee Arenberg as Pintel
David Bailie as Cotton
Anthony Patricio as Cannibal
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Most of the first hour is used to bring the characters from the first movie back together, with the sleazy Lord Beckett acting as the catalyst, manipulating Will and Elizabeth into finding Captain Jack Sparrow and bringing back his broken compass. Meanwhile, Jack has been looking for a special key, much to the irritation of the crew of the Black Pearl who are hoping to do more pirating, but he takes advantage of Will’s desperation to save Elizabeth, offering him the compass in exchange for his help getting the key.
The owner of that key is Captain Davy Jones, a nasty bugger with an octopus for a head and crab leg appendages, who is literally heartless when dealing with the victims of the shipwrecks he causes using his pet beast known as the Kraken. One of these unfortunate souls is what’s left of Will’s late father “Bootstrap Bill,” played by Stellan Skarsgård, who is working on Jones’ boat in order to repay the debt. He has his sights set on Captain Jack, who owes Jones for getting him the Black Pearl.
The plot of “Dead Man’s Chest” isn’t as immediately accessible as the original, maybe because it’s expecting you to already know who everyone is. Unlike other recent 2 1/2 hour movies, it never feels long because it jumps around between the different characters and their subplots, but there’s also far more dialogue and exposition to explain Jones’ back story and his relation with the others. It’s a bit hard to follow, made even more confusing by the heavy accents used by some of the characters. Kids who enjoyed the first movie might not fully understand what is happening at times because of this.
That said, it’s hard not to be fascinated by Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones, an amazing achievement of CGI that allows Nighy’s distinctive personality to shine through the bizarre amalgam of man and sea-creature. Jones’ crew is just as impressive, because none of them look like they’re wearing costumes, and the CG used to create them is so transparent that they look even stranger when they’re out in the daylight. Likewise, the Kraken, Jones’ tentacled beastie, is pretty unbelievable to watch in action. Its tentacles snake through the ship before pulling them down to the depths, and you can literally hear the sloshing of its giant suckers. It seems so realistic that you can understand why the Kraken brings so much fear and why those scenes are far more exciting than the skeleton battles from the first movie.
Other memorable scenes include Captain Jack trying to get away from a tribe of cannibals with hilarious results and a three-way swordfight between Jack, Will and Jack Davenport’s Captain Norrington, who has turned into a drunken bum after losing his post and Miss Elizabeth in the first movie.
Johnny Depp is so on-the-money as Captain Jack that when he’s not onscreen, things tend to drag while you wait for his return. The most obvious example is when Will Turner serves his tenure on Davy Jones’ crew, a grey and dreary section that’s far too serious and dramatic devoid of the excitement and laughs of the rest of the movie. This section culminates in a vague dice game played by Jones’ men that seems more complicated than bridge. Because how it works is never fully explained, it just bogs down what is already the weakest section of the movie.
Bloom has noticeably improved as an actor since the first movie, showing a lot more confidence and resolve and giving Will Turner the same heroic edge as Legolas in “The Return of the King.” Turner’s evolution as a character is countered by a terrible performance by Knightley, who plays everything so over-the-top to try to make her scenes seem funnier, but she just comes across as annoying. Those who enjoyed the duo’s chemistry in the first movie may also be disappointed that they’re barely together until the very end.
Of the other new characters, Tom Hollander’s Lord Beckett isn’t much of a departure from his Mr. Collins in “Pride and Prejudice” and Naomie (“28 Days Later”) Harris, sporting a heavy Jamaican accent as a soothsayer is a pretty useless character. They’re overshadowed by most of the returning support characters. Lee Arenberg and MacKenzie Crook, the inept pirates from Barbossa’s crew, steal many scenes, even opposite Captain Jack, and Norrington’s fall from grace allows Davenport to give the character a bit more depth than in the first movie.
If nothing else, Verbinski should be commended for not relying solely on the first movie’s formula, continuing what was started with a story that also works as its own entity. He effectively ups the ante on the action and effects, making the sequel more visually stylish, without losing some of the things that worked so well before. The most notable improvement is the marvelous score by Hans Zimmer, who pulls out all of the musical stops to make every scene more exciting.
The best thing about this sequel is that a lot of the original movie’s best gags are expanded upon, and though one has to wonder whether these recurring jokes can hold up for a third movie, the cliffhanger ending is sure to bring everyone back for next summer’s threequel. (Just make sure to stay through the end of the lengthy credits for one last laugh.)
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