In 2003, Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski shanghaied Disney’s ride into a madly popular swashbuckler. The movie made a boatload of booty, and made Johnny Depp a bona fide movie star. Its sequel, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” takes all that was so charming about the first “Pirates” — its resurrection of a classic Hollywood genre, pirate-talk humor and Depp’s fey mincing as Capt. Jack Sparrow — and amps it up to the wattage of a Looney Tunes cartoon. “Dead Man’s Chest” hails from the “Bigger Is Better” school of filmmaking, whose dean is Jerry Bruckheimer. By “bigger,” I mean in all its dimensions: the movie is the original’s louder, faster, more effects-crazy twin brother. It’s also snottier and more spoiled — a Bruckheimer spawn, after all. What did you expect?
Once again, scribes Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio shunt Sparrow and the ever-hapless lovers Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) through another treasure-hunt storyline, and tangling with yet another crew of preternatural villains. The latter are captained by the squid-faced Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) who, after a thwarted romance, secrets his broken heart into the titular chest and commences to terrorize the high seas. Because Jones and his shipmates’ fates are entwined with the seas’, they’ve anthropomorphized into various icky-looking sea creatures. What’s more, Jones’ possession of the chest also lends him the power to summon the Kraken, that ship-destroying sea monster of ancient Norse fables. Who let him in here is anyone’s guess.
Anyway, when news of the chest reaches tight-assed seaman Culter Beckett (Tom Hollander), he blackmails Will into recovering it, holding his spunky lass Elisabeth as ransom. For help, Will seeks out pirate-at-large Jack Sparrow. Sparrow’s got the dirt on Jones’s curse; he’s himself condemned to share in Jones’s fate if he doesn’t figure a way to break it. Elizabeth escapes Cutler’s custody, and, in her wedding gown, hotfoots it in pursuit of Will. By now, Elliott and Rossio’s script resembles a big-budget clusterfuck, crashing towards the inevitable throwdown with Davy and the Kraken. A superfluous plot detour on a cannibal island is but a clumsily staged send-up of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” complete with Sparrow outrunning large rolling objects and hungry natives. “Dead Man’s Chest’s” climax involves yet another instance of antics atop and inside rolling objects, proving the old adage: Why settle for one when you can have two for twice the cost?
“Dead Man’s Chest” taps into our need for air-conditioned escapism, and, to be fair, it’s effects are a marvel of digital realism. But Bruckheimer’s effects-makers go to gratuitous lengths to force a gee whiz out of their audience, especially in the case of Jones and his gnarly crew, whose slimy deformities don’t so much amaze as repel, and expensively so. This leaves Depp and his cohorts to mug, pose, and caper through Verbinski’s frenetic telling. Depp, rather than stretching his characterization of Sparrow, is sadly limited to playing up his cartoonishness; more than once, Sparrow’s panicked face is the punchline to another in a minefield of effects-rigged comic setups. Right from the get-go, there’s an unsettling immodesty about “Dead Man’s Chest,” a presumption of its own charm and popularity without bothering with anything as unsexy as story craft, character development, or a cleanly defined narrative arc. No, it pummels us into submission. And if you’re going to mutiny, matey, then you can just walk the plank.
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Written by: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Cast: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook