Monday, July 17

The Empire Strikes Back (in the Caribbean)

Jack's back.

I have to admit that while I was initially excited back when I first saw the trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Secret of the Black Pearl. But when I watched the actual movie, I found it a bit unnecessarily long, with quite a lot of iffy parts. But while it was uneven for me, I did find the character of Jack Sparrow... no, CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow, as one of the more interesting screen protagonists to come in a long time. Part scoundrel, part dirty rat, part reluctant hero, the flighty buccaneer is given more life than he originally was envisioned to thanks to offbeat cinema heartthrob Johnny Depp. And so, when the sequel was announced I was willing to give it a try. In any case, the trailer and the subsequent features and videos online and on cable convinced me that Dead Man's Chest just might be something special.

Bringing together almost every cast member and character from the original, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is a spectacular, wild ride. Well, at least it is after the first few minutes of setting up and reintroducing the characters. But once the players are assembled, it's a merry free-for-all of swashbucklers, sea monsters, sailing ships and... well, PIRATES. It gets a bit muddled as we go through... not horrible, mind you, but muddled in a Simpsons' episode sort of way. We all know the general direction- Both Jack Sparrow and the sinister East India Trading Company are after the Dead Man's Chest- which contains an object that just might it's possessor absolute power over the seas. Everyone else- from Sparrow's crew to the returning heroes Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) is running in the same general direction, but with varying goals. It's a mess of double-dealings, betrayals, backstabbings and more of Jack Sparrow's prancing. But at least it's a fun mess which looks absolutely spectacular thanks to great casting, incredible settings, art direction and special effects.

A lion's share of the eye candy this time around belongs to the character of Davy Jones- the mythical old man of the sea and sailor's bane, given tentacled life by the effects wizards of ILM and actor Bill Nighy. Nighy's performance- on a par with Depp's Sparrow and Geoffrey Rush's Barbossa from the first movie- pays off with a living, breathing and malevolently fascinating villain. Jones' crew- a gang of barnacle-encrusted marine-monster brutes, are so ugly and creepy they're beautiful... it's hard to see where CG ends and real makeup or costumes begin.

Performances-wise, Dead Man's Chest lets Depp once again run wild as Captain Jack Sparrow, though this time letting more physical comedy and slapstick bag the laugh instead of clever banter (though he does have several fine lines). Sparrow is more scoundrel in this one, but the ending will lay to rest any doubts about his true character.
Bloom and Knightley are given more to do in this one, and thankfully grow more as characters (Knightley's Elizabeth more so than Turner), while returning cast members like a now-bedraggled and bitter former Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport) get more screen time and importance. New to the franchise is the much-mentioned but now finally realized "Bootstrap" Bill Turner (Stellan Skaarsgard), Will's father and now-captive crewman on the Flying Dutchman.
As mentioned, Bill Nighy steals the show as Davy Jones, while new villain Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) is as smarmy as you can get. Returning cast members like Jonathan Pryce (Elizabeth's father, Weatherby Swann), Kevin McNally (Jack's loyal first mate, Gibb), Lee Arenberg (Pintel) and MacKenzie Crook (Ragetti) give the Caribbean universe continuity. Also of note is Naomie Harris as voodoo priestess Tia Dalma, who is probably gosh-darned beautiful since she's dreadlocked and dirty with black teeth but still looks strangely fetching.

Dead Man's Chest gives both laughs and thrills with some quite outrageous stunts and action sequences, like perhaps the longest and most complex three-man swordfight in movies, and several spectacular appearances by the massive tentacled horror known as The Kraken... a monster that would make the Watcher in the Water from the Lord of the Rings movies shudder. The cast and crew are obviously having fun, and it's pretty infectious.

The worst thing about this movie becomes clear during the last third of the film- when it becomes clear that Dead Man's Chest is simply a buildup for the next movie (called by some Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End). The film ends with HUGE Cliffhanger moments which will have you rabidly foaming at the mouth for the next movie. Unfortunately, we all have to wait a YEAR (POTC3 is slated for next summer) to see the next adventures of Jack, Elizabeth, Will and the rest of the crew.


Still, POTC:DMC is a rip-roaringly fun ride and watching this is absolutely necessary in any case. The best thing I can say is that at about 2 and a half hours, Dead Man's Chest moves fast and pays off with great action (Unlike a certain recent Superhero film)... easily a better film than the first movie, and well worth your money and time.

Oh, and about that scene after the credits- it's just a very short comedic scene which has NOTHING to do with the main story, so stay at your own peril... it's probably not worth sitting around ten minutes for.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is now showing in Manila Theaters. Watch it, now!

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