With prices for cinema tickets now reaching ridiculous heights it’s not often I will treat myself to a new release unless it’s something I simply cannot wait for. Instead, I’m happy to content myself with a cheap DVD or a film on TV which may have slipped through my critical net and, believe me, there have been far too many. Whether the films featured here are recent or old I’ll still be providing my honest opinion on them and, with the benefit of hindsight in many cases, may offer a slightly different take to contemporary reviewers.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
Johnny Depp had been making great films for years before his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) propelled him to world fame as one of Hollywood’s best actors working today. As much as I enjoyed his performance as Jack Sparrow I will be honest and say that for me it isn’t Depp’s best role and that I thought he was narrowly edged out by Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa. I felt the first Pirates of the Caribbean film was good but the thought of two sequels concerned me, as does a fourth feature which is now on the horizon. Having avoided watching any other films in the series I felt it was time to board a ship, brave seasickness and return once more to the Caribbean.
Dead Man’s Chest has a busy plot which splits into numerous strands. It begins with Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) having their wedding interrupted when they are arrested by Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) of the East India Trading Company. Their crime is preventing the execution of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in the first film and as a result they face death. Beckett does a deal with Will, sending him to locate Jack and retrieve his compass which points in the direction of what one most desires. Meanwhile Jack and his crew are searching for a key to the chest of the film’s title but Jack finds himself on borrowed time when Will’s ghostly father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) informs him Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), Captain of the Flying Dutchman, is searching for him and has unleashed the dreaded Kraken to hunt Jack. What follows is a series of pursuits through the Caribbean, divided loyalties and intrigue as the various characters look to safeguard their own futures with some choosing to do so at the expense of those they profess to be friends.
Dead Man’s Chest jumps around a lot and I do recall some audiences lamenting the different threads of the storyline they had to remember as it all slowly pieces itself together. There is a lot going on with Jack Sparrow separated from his crew when he is worshipped on an island of cannibals as a god, while Will and Elizabeth have their own adventures throughout the Caribbean as they search for Jack. As a result there were some parts of the film that were less interesting than others but when everyone comes together things do start to improve. The introduction of Lord Beckett offers a new enemy for our heroes to contend with as does Davy Jones who makes for a fearsome villain, condemned to a purgatorial prison at sea where he is permitted to set foot on land only once every ten years. Barbossa’s living dead pirates of the first film have been replaced by Davy Jone’s aquatic crew of malformed and rotting pirates.
As with the first film there are some great set pieces, particularly the naval battles but there were some other moments which amounted to sheer slapstick. Jack’s escape from the cannibals is somewhat farcical, but still funny, as is that of his crew who remain in a cage but manage to climb a cliff and escape the natives before their prison is smashed after a fall into a gorge. Sword fighting returns as well with a decent but at times silly exchange between Jack, Will and the now disgraced Lord Norrington (Jack Davenport) with Elizabeth looking on and getting into a strop about pirates in general. The effects in the film were generally good with the likes of Davy Jones and his crew appearing quite fearsome and gruesome. The budget for the Kraken must have been sadly limited and it’s fortunate the majority of its appearances are reduced to its tentacles protruding from the ocean waves. When it does appear in all its grisly majesty it’s far from impressive.
There are plenty of good moments in Dead Man’s Chest, more than I expected to be honest, but there are some weak points. The subplots are too numerous and although everything comes together it’s a bit of a toil in places. Depp is excellent again as Jack Sparrow but inevitably he isn’t as striking as in the first film but that’s unavoidable to be fair. Bloom was better in this one than the predecessor but I felt Knightley again was there as something nice to look at rather than to offer much in the way of an engaging character. I found Nighy a welcome addition as the repulsive Davy Jones as well as Skarsgard as Bootstrap Bill and Hollander as Lord Beckett. Geoffrey Rush was sadly missed in this sequel and his absence is hard to overlook despite some commendable villains taking his place here.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is not a bad sequel to The Curse of the Black Pearl but it could certainly have been better. A more structured plot, some better effects and less complication could have made this much more accessible for audiences. Though better than I expected Dead Man’s Chest fails to recreate the appeal of its predecessor and I think it will be considered in the same way Back to the Future Part II is, a quite good gateway between the brilliant original and the third part.
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