Saturday, July 15, 2006

‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest’

It's disgusting how many critics have fallen all over themselves coming up with “clever” ways to slam “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” What, exactly, were they expecting?
Take Lisa Schwarzbaum from Entertainment Weekly, just for kicks: In the first paragraph—nay, first sentence of her review, she comes right out and says how much she hated “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” from three years ago (not failing to mention, of course, how she went oh so against the “popular” critical grain, isn’t she special).
Well, Lisa, my question is simple: Why on earth did you see the second one? Were you hoping for, I don’t know, “Hamlet”? “Gone With the Wind,” perhaps?
No, “Dead Man’s Chest” is not a landmark piece of filmmaking. It may not even be as good as its predecessor. But it’s certainly a fun two and a half hours at the movie theater, worth the price of admission if for nothing else than another peek at Johnny Depp’s inscrutable Capt. Jack Sparrow.
See, this is what happens in the world of pop culture: Everyone wants to be the first to hail something as the second coming, then be the first to rip said second coming to shreds as soon as it becomes popular, all in the name of hipness, indie cred, whatever.
If you liked “The Curse of the Black Pearl” (and if you didn’t, there’s something wrong with you), then you’ll certainly enjoy “Dead Man’s Chest.” It suffers somewhat initially from lacking the surprise factor of Depp’s seminal performance, but thankfully he has the good sense not to dawdle on past success. He takes Sparrow in a new direction this time around—still funny as all get-out, certainly, but we get to see a bit more human side of Cap’n Jack.
The other primary characters are much better this time around. Orlando Bloom, on the run from the law again as pirate-in-training Will Turner, gets to revel in a less tidy, more aggressive performance. Same can be said for the radiant Keira Knightley, whose Elizabeth goes from so much window dressing in “Black Pearl” to flat-out swashbuckler in “Dead Man’s Chest.” And then there’s Davy Jones, played with shiver-me-timbers menace by Bill Nighy under untold layers of makeup and special effects (nice job FINALLY by Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light and Magic); his beard of octopus tentacles is unbelievable to watch.
The story of “Dead Man’s Chest” is a little tough to follow at times, but part of the problem, I assume, is this is only half a movie; the third “Pirates” is due next summer and the two presumably will add up to one five-hour whole (a la “Kill Bill”). Essentially, Jones has come calling for repayment of a debt owed him by Sparrow. Meanwhile, Turner must find the good captain and bring back his compass that doesn’t point north in order to keep his and Miss Swann’s heads out of the noose. Adventures ensue, and there are plenty of tremendous scenes that I won’t spoil here.
But this is all secondary to one man: Jack Sparrow. It can’t be overestimated what Depp has achieved with this role, an icon that relates on all levels and to all generations. Capt. Sparrow has made as big of a cultural impact as any character in recent memory—after all, it’s not every summer a gold-toothed miscreant knocks Superman out cold. All of a sudden, everybody wants to be a pirate.
The plot in “Dead Man’s Chest” is much bigger than “Black Pearl” and nowhere near as whimsical, in turn affecting Depp’s interpretation of Sparrow. Jack goes from the pursuer to the prey, which naturally puts a damper on his mood and cuts down on the jovial fun from the first film. However, this probably proves a good thing because nobody likes reruns, and Depp has too much integrity to ape himself.
“Dead Man’s Chest” is impossible to fully appreciate until we’ve seen the final installment, but there’s certainly plenty to love about this movie. It’s a sequel with enough depth to keep your brain engaged, a summer blockbuster with enough innovative action to keep your eyes bulging out of your head. And, most important, it provides a serviceable backdrop for inarguably one of cinema’s all-time greatest characters.
Grade: B+

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