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
Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa
Jack Sparrow’s (Johnny Depp) time has almost run out. England and its vassal, the cruel Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) of the East India Trading Company are every day closing the ports of the world to freebooters like Jack. Even more pressing, the vile ocean-spirit Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) has come to collect Jack’s soul in exchange for initially giving him the Black Pearl so many years ago. So Jack does what he does best, plots and schemes and pits friend and foe against one another in a race to find Davy Jones only weakness, his still beating heart hidden somewhere in the ocean, locked away inside the Dead Man’s Chest.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is a very correct sequel – it does exactly what it’s supposed to do and is very entertaining for it, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Everything that was good about the first ‘Pirates’ film is good about this one, and the reverse is also true.
And that is no more clear than in the use of Johnny Depp who once again carries the film as the impossible-to-pigeonhole Captain Jack Sparrow. The previous film was always most enjoyable when he was around and dragged when he wasn’t, and “Dead Man’s Chest” suffers from the same problem. Verbinski and his screenwriters have worked hard to make this new Pirates film even more of an ensemble than the first, giving everyone and everyone’s story it’s due time to develop, which has the strange effect of being good for the story but not as good for the film.
And there’s plenty of story to go around. Most of the familiar faces from the first “Pirates” return, along with a couple new ones – most prominently villains Jones (Bill Nighy) and Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) as well as Will’s long lost father (Skarsgård) – so there’s plenty going on at all times in “Dead Man’s Chest.” So much so that they couldn’t wrap it up in one film, instead ending on a cliffhanger leading directly into next summers “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.” The cliffhanger is one of the only downsides of the film – while there is a climax of sorts as the crew of the Black Pearl face down the deadly Kraken, there is no real resolution of any of the major stories as that has all been loaded onto the sequel, which makes the ending feel a little hollow. It could probably do without so many references to the first film, which makes it a bit difficult for this film to really stand on it’s own, but those more or less go away after the first fairly drawn out act when Will finally finds Jack and the story proper starts… 45 minutes into the film.
Will and Elizabeth again find themselves in a predicament keeping them away from each other that just keeps getting more (but logically) convoluted the harder they try to unravel it. Bloom is still a bit wooden and it is occasionally hard to see just what still plucky Elizabeth sees in him (which may or may not be intentional, but I suspect it isn’t). Stellan Skarsgård as Will’s cursed father is also a bit stiff so maybe it’s genetic. The real surprise is Jack Davenport’s now disgraced Commodore Norrington who has himself turned to piracy. Norrington gets quite a bit more to do in this film and Davenport rises to the challenge, even getting to engage in one of the multi-layered sword fights.
The other notable performance is Bill Nighy as the villainous and pathetic Davy Jones. Nighy borrows a few tricks from his ‘Victor’ character in the “Underworld” films, but is generally as strong as usual. It’s the computer work from John Knoll and his team at ILM that really makes Davy Jones tick, though. The animation is good enough that you could almost imagine it was an incredibly complex prosthetic. None of the other crew of the legendary Flying Dutchman quite reach that level, but the effects work is generally of excellent quality, reaching some heights of brilliance like Jones, with just a few rough patches like pole-vaulting Jack.
The real strength of “Dead Man’s Chest” is the tight balancing act it maintains between comedy, action, and horror. It never quite takes itself so seriously that it’s dull, and it’s never quite so comic that it isn’t thrilling. A lot of films have tried the same precarious routine but few have been able to achieve it – a feat “Pirates” owes largely to Depp’s inspired performance, but also to the screenplay’s fairly tight characterization. While none of the other characters are drawn quite as dynamically as Jack they always remain true to their own form, which for pirates means double- and triple-crosses galore. It’s mind-boggling how often alliances are changed, dropped, picked up again – all based largely on the expediency of a given moment. One particularly well done fight – an everyman for himself battle royale between Jack, Will, and Norrington that culminates on top and inside of a giant wheel – seems to sum up both what the movie is about and how it goes about its business. In hind sight it’s amazing that it works, but it does and very well.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” doesn’t do anything new but what it does do it does very well and more than whets the audience’s appetite for the next “Pirates” film. By a wide margin the most enjoyable film of the summer so far.