(Originally published 2005)
Gore Verbinski's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," a sequel to 2003's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," does exactly what you expect it to do. It supersizes what worked in the original to the point that it becomes less a movie and more a spectacle.
That isn't necessarily a bad thing, particularly since this film features its share of memorable action scenes. The trouble is that by focusing so much attention on the technical execution of those scenes, what this sequel lacks is the perfect mix of romance, bombast, wit and action that made the first film such an unexpected delight.
At nearly two and a half hours, the movie is too long. Shave off a third and we might have had another great pirate picture on our hands. As it stands, we have a good one, a movie that retains some of the original's charm in spite of its familiarity.
The film brings back much of the original cast, with the highlight once again being Johnny Depp's kitschy performance as Capt. Jack Sparrow.
With his mascara seemingly applied by the heavy, rummy hand of Alice Cooper and a beard that's as wiry as Depp himself, the actor gives a performance that suggests a drunken gypsy drag queen fallen on hard times. He's nicely unhinged, swaying on and off land as if the ocean is deliriously moving beneath his feet. Even if his performance is a repeat, the movie would collapse without him in it. Depp is exactly what "Chest" needs to keep it light, particularly since the plot is so unnecessarily dense.
In its most streamlined form--and that's an understatement--the film finds Sparrow, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Will (Orlando Bloom), among others, fighting to find the buried treasure chest that contains the heart of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, whose slimy, tentacled head is among the film's best special effects). Backed by his sea-creature crew of fishy zombies, Jones wants that chest for himself--it does, after all, contain his soul--and so what he brings to the movie is its necessary air of rancid, mischievous menace.
Jones is a rousing villain, indeed, just interesting enough to keep the messy plot and subplots moving. Weakening the movie, however, is its lack of structure and the absolute lack of heat between Elizabeth and Will.
Unlike in the first film, they are oddly out of touch here, failing to generate a spark--and not because they're often soaked in water. The problem is that the script doesn't factor in enough of their relationship. It seems like a throwaway afterthought, when really, it's as essential to the movie as, say, the giant runaway wheel on which an impressive swordfight is staged, the huge octopus that ravages ships, and the gleam in Depp's eye when he once again manages to dance out of danger.
(Also available on Blu-ray disc)