It has become critical cliché to say that a gleefully executed summer blockbuster made one feel like a kid again, but this was my precise response to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. With its sun-bleached locales, barnacled bad guys, and unearthly soothsayers, director Gore Verbinski's latest pirate yarn is a stunning affront to marital woes, career anxieties, tax returns, and all other forms of mature and adult tosh. Silly and infectiously joyous from overwrought beginning to overwrought final frame, Pirates is not only fathoms in front of its predecessor, but sails far ahead of every other big-budget pop confectionary to have flavored theatres so far this year.
First, a moment of pause to contextualize this gushing praise. I was no great fan of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. It was no doubt a solid film: great Johnny Depp performance, breezy and colorful, but far too frequently tedious to warrant the lauding it received. I was not particularly looking forward to a sequel, seeing dollar signs in Verbinski's eyes rather than the reflection of some artistic muse. What surprises most then about this latest Pirates is its absolute regard for its art and its audience. The film gives fans what they want: more pop, less plod and most importantly, more Captain Jack.
Wisely, Verbinski and writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio have zoomed in on Jack Sparrow (Depp) for the sequel's story and allowed Depp room to steer the film. The lunatic is running the asylum here and the plot essentially chases after Sparrow's madcap mishaps. Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), the squid-faced swashbuckling sea captain whose job it is to ensure that pirates remain debased and evil, has come to claim Jack Sparrow's soul. Sparrow, fond of his soul, wishes to hold on to it and thus sets off on a search for the Dead Man's Chest, a buried receptacle containing the heart of Davy Jones. He who possesses the heart possesses the power to control Jones and his monster, the legendary Cracken. Meanwhile, to secure the freedom of his recently jailed fiancée Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) agrees to obtain from Jack the key to the chest on behalf of the East India Trading Company. The film's stars align when Elizabeth escapes and finds herself onboard The Black Pearl and under the captaincy of Jack Sparrow.
There is a Star Wars sense of play in Dead Man's Chest. It is big and loud and silly but simultaneously dark and cunning. The major set pieces (a cannibal island, various sinking ships, and a wonderful swordfight that moves from ruins to a rolling mill wheel) are splashy and giddying, but laced with enough threat to truly thrill. Depp is as superbly frothy as he was in the original, only we are given more of him this time around. Watching his awkward effeminate gait and hearing again his bumbling overpopulated quips is like sitting down to luxuriate in a favorite meal. Davy Jones is then the perfect counterbalancing accompaniment. A grotesque amalgam of Nighy's widened eyes and ILM's wonderfully rendered crustacean and octopi appendages, Jones is the most visually fascinating villain to have graced screens for years. With a sputtering British brogue, Nighy rules his crew and his screen time with one iron fist and one firm lobster claw. He is well assisted by his beast on call, the Kraken, a vivid realization of Jules Verne's nightmarish contemplation of what might haunt the ocean's floor, and occasionally, its surface.
The film, like Sparrow, is an imperfect creation. To continue the opening analogy, I found myself childishly restless at one or two points, usually during scenes between Turner and his father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgård). The film is too long (like the first), and it is perhaps here where it might have been shaved. Keira Knightley is as repellent as ever, and Verbinski lacks the sadistic editorial savvy to simply make her Elizabeth walk the plank. Still, she looks good on the poster. These are very minor quibbles. The kid in me was extremely forgiving to this feather that won't stop tickling, willing to gorge on Disney's latest imaginative feast, picking out the very occasional anchovies and gristle. It all ends with quite the cliffhanger, and I for one cannot wait for the next Pirates film to arrive in port.
All for none and none for ll!
Run time: 151 mins
In Theaters: Friday 7th July 2006
Box Office USA: $423.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $1.1B
Distributed by: Buena Vista
Production compaines: Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Second Mate Productions, Walt Disney Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Fresh: 118 Rotten: 101
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, Orlando Bloom as Will Turner, Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann, Bill Nighy as Davy Jones, Jack Davenport as James Norrington, Stellan Skarsgård as Bootstrap Bill, Tom Hollander as Lord Beckett, Jonathan Pryce as Governor Weatherby Swann, Naomie Harris as Tia Dalma, Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa, Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs, Lee Arenberg as Pintel, Mackenzie Crook as Ragetti, David Bailie as Cotton, Lauren Maher as Scarlet, Alex Norton as Captain Bellamy, Vanessa Branch as Giselle, Luke de Woolfson as Frightened Sailor, Jonathan Kite as Black Pearl Pirate