a critiQal film review Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Plot: After 13 years of being Captain of the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow (Depp) has forgotten about the deal he made. But Davy Jones (Nighy), the ruler of the seas, hasn't - and it's time to collect. Meanwhile, Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Knightley) have to postpone their wedding after they are accused of aiding a pirate. To clear them, Will must find Jack Sparrow and bring Jack's fabled compass back to the East India Trading Company. But Elizabeth isn't one to just sit and wait...

Reviewed
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  • ...one of the most enjoyable films you'll see this summer - despite it's cliffhanger ending.

The most highly anticipated movie of a summer full of high expectations hit theaters this week, and we couldn’t wait to see it. Unfortunately, it seems everyone else also had the same idea, as all showings of Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest were sold out by the time we arrived at the theater on Saturday. Knowing we couldn’t wait another week to see the sequel to one of our favorite films, we immediately bought tickets for the first show on Sunday.

Thus, it was with high hopes that we arrived early Sunday and took our seats for our Summer At The Movies ’06 Week 10 pick, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Would Depp, Bloom, Knightley and company be able to keep the action, adventure (and yes, laughs) riding high for this sequel, or was this ride winding down already?

It has been noted many times in the press that the reason Johnny Depp decided to make Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest his first sequel ever was the blast he had playing pirate Jack Sparrow. That was easily evident in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), and that doesn’t change a bit this time around. Part of the fun of watching Depp’s character Jack Sparrow (aside from the exaggerated Keith Richards-influenced tics and his overabundant flamboyancy) is how much Depp revels in his role. He’s obviously enjoying himself tremendously, and that enjoyment picks up the audience and pulls them in, getting them more involved in the film almost without them realizing it.

Jack Sparrow is easily one of Depp’s best performances to date – he portrays Jack as a pirate of the worst kind, who’s not above lying, cheating and stealing to get what he wants. Yet at the same time Jack is such an odd duck that he is instantly likable to the audience. He’s both a good guy and a bad guy all at the same time – a tough role to try to pull off, but Depp does it with style and a flair all his own.

Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan, portrayed by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, respectively, are Jack’s living moral compasses in Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest even more so than they were in the original. They are the purest of the characters of the film – despite Jack’s vehement protestations, they can see the good buried somewhere deep within – and keep trying to release it in order to make Jack a better person.

As the first film centered around Orlando Bloom providing the moral ground for Jack to focus on, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest allows Keira Knightley to step more into the limelight and be the one providing soul guidance for Depp’s character. As the film progresses however, the stakes are raised until Keira’s Elizabeth has to provide a more hands-on approach to guiding Depp’s Jack. It’s interesting to see how this affects her character, and she does a very good job of making the whole struggle within herself as believable as possible to the viewer.

Also mixed up within this are smaller subplots, each highlighting a facet of the characters the audience has not seen before. Orlando Bloom really steps up to the plate and delivers in the scenes where he is paired with his long-lost father, the pirate Bootstrap Bill. His conflicting feelings on reuniting with his long-lost father, only to find out he’s now one of the barnacle-encrusted undead, are readily apparent as his initial feelings of shock and disgust give way to his longing for the years both have missed out on, are readily readable – both on his face and through the tone of his voice. It’s subplots like these that make Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest that much more enjoyable.

The other characters from the first film, including some the viewer would never have expected, are all back for Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, allowing the viewer to get caught up in the film that much easier. Since the audience already knows these characters, it’s more like they are visiting old friends, rather than just watching a movie. While some of the characters have changed quite a bit since the last film, they still are easily recognizable as the characters from the previous film.

Too often, sequels totally reinvent their characters (aka Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) – and lose the familiarity the audience is looking for when they come across those characters again. Without that sense of familiarity, the audience is left floundering right from the start, and their interest will continue to wane throughout the film, eventually fading entirely no matter what kind of spectacular special effects are being tossed at them.

The special effects are much more visceral and intense this time around, as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is chock full of effects that attack the visual senses – yet are played as a background to the story, rather than the story itself.

One scene in particular really brings this home to the viewers: As Davy Jones is giving Bootstrap Bill a talking to, a bug of some sort slowly pushes it’s way out of Bootstrap’s cheek – yet the dialogue never even mentions this rather hideous effect and the characters on-screen don’t seem to notice it at all. From this, the viewer can discern that this happens so frequently to these barnacle-encrusted sailors that they don’t even take notice of it anymore – even if it’s happening to them.

When an effect is able to generate information based on the lack of reaction around it, that’s truly refreshing. Especially these days, as movies tend to over-explain themselves an awful lot, leaving the viewer with the sense that the filmmaker doesn’t believe they are smart enough to figure things out on their own.

And of course, what movie co-starring 2 males and one female would be complete without a love triangle of some kind? Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest picks this thread up where the first film left off, weaving it into a complicated subplot that will eventually have an affect on all 3. While at times the viewer may slightly disassociate themselves with the actions of at least one of the characters on-screen, they will stay tuned just to see how this new subplot turns out – after all, the viewer always needs to know who got the girl, right?

The only truly unfortunate part of Pirate of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is it’s use of the cliffhanger ending, recently re-popularized by The Matrix Reloaded (2003). While this won’t seem so bad once all the films have hit DVD (trust me, re-watch The Matrix Reloaded (2003) now that you can see The Matrix Revolutions (2003) immediately afterward – the cliffhanger ending isn’t nearly as annoying), it’s a pain when the viewer sees these films in a theater.

At least with The Matrix Reloaded (2003) the audience only had to wait about 5 months or so to see the conclusion. For Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, that time is doubled, as the third film (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)) won’t be released in theaters until May 25, 2007. It’s unfortunate for moviegoers, but it’s one of those rare things that will make re-watching the trilogy – once all 3 films have hit DVD – that much more worthwhile.

While much darker than it’s predecessor, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest presents a great case for being one of the better sequels ever made. With it’s large amount of returning characters, subplots the viewer has been waiting to see, and Depp’s truly engrossing portrayal of Capt. Jack Sparrow, it should easily delight fans of the original.

Unfortunately, since it relies so heavily on the characters from the original film, newcomers to the trilogy probably will be somewhat in the dark in the beginning of the film, as they try to figure out where these characters fit into the grand scheme of the film.

Since that’s the case, I highly recommend watching a copy of the first film before venturing to theaters to see Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Even if you’ve already seen the first film, it’s a good idea to re-watch it just to refresh your memory.

If you do that, you’ll find that Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is one of the most enjoyable films you’ll see this summer, despite it’s cliffhanger ending. And, you’ll discover (just like we did), that May 25th, 2007 can’t get here fast enough.

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