pirates of the caribbean: dead man's chest (2006)

It's tough being a pirate. First you're thrown off of your own ship by a mutinous crew, enduring days and nights on a deserted island, only to be captured and sentenced to death by a pompous commodore. Lucky for you, you're freed by a young blacksmith and do battle with the cursed skeletons of your former crew, winning back your ship and sailing on your merry way. And then, just when you think stuff's going good, a sea demon by the name of Davy Jones comes to collect your soul. Oh well, all in a day's work for Captain Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp returns, along with the rest of the cast of 2003's pirate flick The Curse of the Black Pearl, for the middle installment in a pirate trilogy: Dead Man's Chest. Well, I'll get the good, and most important, news out of the way right off : this film is a rollicking success. This one offers more of what the original offered, but takes the series in a very new and interesting direction, making sure that this flick doesn't end up as a simple re-hash sequel. It ups the excitement and keeps alot of the humor, with Depp remaining at the forefront for most of the film. It's far from perfect, in fact some of its character developments are really odd, but when the credits rolled I couldn't have cared less. So join me now as I recount the ups and downs of this latest trip to the Caribbean, savvy?

Before I get down to the big details, there's something you ought to know. Just in case anyone reading this has any delusions about my feelings on this film's predecessor, Pirates of the Caribbean : The Curse of the Black Pearl, it's not a very good movie. There, just wanted to get that taken care of. The most prominent obstacle that this new film has to overcome is that, since 2003, something peculiar has happened: the original film has become glorified to the point of being a classic. I really don't see where these people are coming from, it was a standard adventure film with an incredibly inspired Depp performance. The script of the original is a mess, the film lacked any sense of pace, and many of the action set-pieces were overlong and mostly unnecessary. This sequel, of course, suffers from some of the problems. However, the biggest issue from the first, the pacing, I feel has been fixed this time around and the film flows very smoothly. What this one does lack, though, is focus. The narrative is all over the place, switching around from one character to the next, never really sure of who to keep in the spotlight. The people in the spotlight in The Curse of the Black Pearl were Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush, both of whom turned in fantastic performances and really made the film interesting through what they brought to their roles, Depp especially. If not for their presence, the original film would have been awful. They acted almost as anchors, keeping the rest of the proceedings from feeling overdone. As you already know, Rush's character, Captain Barbossa, was killed in the first film, and his absence here is quite noticeable. However, this film's new villain, Davy Jones, is fantastic in his own right. As far as his look goes, he is one of the most convincing CGI characters to ever grace the screen, it's really unbelievable what the guys at ILM have done. This film cost a bundle, and it shows. Johnny Depp, though, is here for the duration of the film, and his Captain Jack Sparrow is funny as ever. Right from his amusing entrance, I was certain he would be the one to carry this film as well. However, unlike the first, this film doesn't need quite so much carrying. When it comes to the narrative, this time around the screenwriters have supplied us with some pretty great stuff. This film differs from the first in a few big ways. Bad news if you're a huge fan of it, but if you're like me, this change is extremely welcome. First off, the film is much, much darker. And I don't mean boringly dark and drab like Superman Returns. This isn't emo-dark. This is mysterious dark, this is voodoo dark. An alluring darkness that surrounds, and even seems to consume, everyone onscreen. It's the kind of darkness you want to travel deeper into, just to see what lies at its core. Secondly, this film ups the supernatural presence, to the point where the film coexists with classic myths of the sea. This is the aspect of the film I really enjoyed. From the monstrous Kraken to the barnacle-covered crew of The Flying Dutchman, each new creature adds to the pirate mythos far beyond that of the cursed skeletons we saw in part one. The original film was a fun adventure. It hit all the right notes to an enjoyable climax that wrapped up the characters lives and allowed them all to live happily ever after. Dead Man's Chest takes us through the after effects, it literally wants to bring its characters through hell and back. Like any good middle chapter in a trilogy, it throws its characters lives into chaos. We can no longer fully trust our jaded protagonists, and it is that uncertainty and ambiguity that I give the filmmakers credit for. 

The lack of focus for the film, and its length, make for a very muddled middle-section. The second act is all over the place, never really sure where to go or what to do. The great part about this film is that it nails the landing. The third act is absolutely fantastic. It's the most enjoyable calamity I can remember seeing on film in a long time, a virtual collision as every different plot thread comes crashing together in a final set-piece that, alone, is worth the price of admission. Nothing is more exciting than a film that can add a third party to the conflict, nothing is more boring than a one-on-one fight. The final act of Dead Man's Chest features about 5 of said parties, each with independent interests, competing for the film's "holy grail" of sorts. It's a blast to watch and the creativity put into this set-piece, and the one in the first act, is uncanny. It's what summer fun is all about, and it's about freaking time we got some. If there's one thing I can praise more about this film than the thrills, it's the look. The sets are the most fantastic part: the bayou, the cannibal village, the sandbar, the graveyard/mill, The Flying Dutchman; all of it looks great. Same with the CGI, as I said before, some of the best I've seen. Davy Jones is incredibly convincing, although I would've liked to see his crew better rendered, the CGI on them pales in comparison to him. The other impressive effect is the Kraken itself. Though it's definitely overused, it doesn't lose its awe. With the action, the effects, and the sets to dazzle your eyes, minor details tend to fall by the wayside. Y'know, stuff like dialogue. While it has its share of witty quips from Sparrow, the script is pretty sparse in that department, I would've liked to see some better work done on the details, but the overall story is a winner.

The acting is good all around, and for the most part, the characterization fits with the first film. Though, I will say, a few of the developments, especially with Kiera Knightly's character Elizabeth Swan, don't make a whole lot of sense. One of the things that worked so well in the first, and the reason it is intriguing in the first place, is that it shakes up the standard adventure trio (The handsome hero, the damsel in distress, and the comdeic sidekick) by making the comedic character the main focus. In that sense, the female lead fell in love with the sidekick character (Will) leaving absolutely no romantic involvment with the main character. The original film even made light of this with Jack jokingly comforting Elizabeth "It would never have worked between us, darling". This film starts to depart from that, and it was a little disappointing to see, but a minor complaint. The characters change a great deal from their state in part one, but that's nothing to complain about. Commodore Norrington, who was just about as uninteresting as a character could get in the original film, is easily one of the best characters in this one. His arc is great, and one of the best changes. All of the other actors do a great job, it's obvious they're heaving fun, but Depp again comes to the forefront. Though he's not quite able to match his performance from the first part step for step (It's obvious he won't be getting an Oscar nominations this time around, unlike last time) he still does a good job. This film was shot on a lengthy schedule that included shooting for the next film, and final installment in the pirate trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean : At World's End. Though much of this film has plot threads that go nowhere and many hints are dropped and then never picked up again, I'm giving this one the benefit of the doubt and assuming all will be made clear when part three is released next year. Kind of like the benefit of the doubt I gave another back-to-back sequel presentation, The Matrix Reloaded, when it came out. Sadly for that film, the third part of the Matrix trilogy didn't solve anything and turned out to be garbage. Let's hope this trilogy's conclusion turns out differently. All in all though, it's a great middle chapter, leaving us at the height of the tension with a great cliffhanger, and providing some thrills along the way. 

So check this one out for a great time on the high seas. It's a fast-paced adventure and a throwback to the old-time swashbuckler films like The Sea Hawk. It's safe to say, Flynn would be proud. The next installment is out May 25, 2007 ... so, y'know, mark your calendar. In fact 2007 is looking to be the year of final installments to a number of great trilogies with Spider-Man 3, Shrek 3, and The Bourne Ultimatum. Sounds great to me. But back to 2006, Pirates of the Caribbean : Dead Man's Chest is easily the most fun you'll have all summer. Seriously, take a look at it. It's no crowning cinematic achievement, it won't further the medium in any way, but it did get a few smiles out of me, and that's all I was asking for.  It's looking like it will be a smash at the box office because it was just announced that it had the biggest grossing opening day of all time.(that's $55 million in a single day) . It's also the first film to make it to $100 million in just 2 days, and stands as the biggest opening weekend of all time with $135 million. Where it goes now is anyone's guess. It's gonna be big.

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