Director: Gore Verbinski

Of all the crazy ideas people have had for movies, one of the oddest was the Walt Disney Company's idea to do movies based on Disneyland attractions. It was an idea that was met with mixed results. The movie versions of The Country Bears and The Haunted Mansion failed to set the world on fire, but despite those failures, Disney did have a wee bit of success in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Of course, by "wee bit of success," I mean that they had a big fat hit on their hands. With a worldwide box office intake of 654 million dollars and five Academy Award nominations to the movie's credit, it was only a matter of time before Disney ventured out with a sequel. And a sequel is what Disney gave us in the summer of 2006. Titled Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the sequel was just as entertaining as its predecessor while being even more successful, joining Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on the extremely short list of movies that made over one billion dollars worldwide. And it made all that money for good reason.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST (2006)The age of piracy is coming to an end, and hastening this is the East India Trading Company. Guiding the Company into the Caribbean is domineering agent Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), who arrests Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) mere moments before their wedding. They and the missing ex-commodore James Norrington (Jack Davenport) stand in the shadow of the hangman's noose for their parts in the escape of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), but Beckett offers them all a pardon if Will agrees to find and retrieve Jack's mysterious compass. Though a bit apprehensive, Will accepts the proposition, leaving the love of his life in a jail cell while he hunts for the roguish pirate.

His search leads him to the island of Pelegosto, where the Black Pearl has run aground and the crew is hiding out. Y'see, Jack had been paid a visit by his former crewmate — and Will's father — "Bootstrap Bill" Turner (Stellan Skarsgård). Now an indentured servant aboard the notorious ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman, Bootstrap Bill delivered a message to Jack, stating that his debt to the sadistic half-man/half-squid Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) was being called in. Jones had raised the Black Pearl from the ocean's floor for Jack thirteen years prior, and now that Jack's part of the bargain was being asked for, he must serve a century aboard the Flying Dutchman or face the wrath of Jones's personal sea monster, a mythological beast known as the Kraken. And since Jack isn't exactly ready to pay his debt, he and the Black Pearl's crew headed for Pelegosto, where Jack is apparently the chief of the native tribe. But the fun doesn't last for long, because Jack, Will, and the Black Pearl's crew end up having to run for their lives from the cannibalistic natives.

Barely making it back to the ship, they head out upon the open sea. Will tells Jack that Elizabeth are bound to hang unless he returns to Port Royal with the compass, but Jack makes a bargain: he'll hand over the compass, but only if Will helps him locate a key that leads to a great reward for whoever finds what it unlocks. They begin their quest for the key by seeking assistance from Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), a voodoo priestess whose calls an isolated swamp her home. It is here we learn why Jack's compass is so special, as it points its possessor in the direction of whomever or whatever they desire most. But since the compass doesn't want to point Jack in the key's direction, Tia Dalma states that Jack either doesn't really know what he wants, or is hesitant to claim it if he does. The key, she goes on to explain, opens the "Dead Man's Chest." Inside this chest is Davy Jones's still-beating heart, which he removed when the burden of lost love grew too heavy to bear. Whoever possesses the heart will also possess control over the seven seas. The Black Pearl soon heads back out to sea, but it isn't long before its crew encounters the Flying Dutchman. Jack, conniving weasel that he is, tries to offer up Will in his stead, but Jones doesn't quite go for the deal. He instead tells Jack that he'll give him his freedom, but to get it, he has to bring Jones one hundred souls within three days. And to get the ball rolling, Jones keeps Will aboard the Flying Dutchman, leaving Jack with ninety-nine souls to go.

Elizabeth is freed from her jail cell by her father (Jonathan Pryce) back in Port Royal, but before they can get her out of Dodge, Beckett ends up catching them. Elizabeth isn't taking any of his crap, so she threatens him at gunpoint and makes him hand over the Letter of Marque that Beckett had intended to give Jack. She plans on giving it to Will, so figuring she'd find him with Jack, she stows away on the nearest merchant vessel heading for Tortuga. That turned out to be the right place to look, as Jack and his first mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally) are at a pub recruiting as many sailors as they can get. And who is among the recruits? None other than James Norrington, who looks like things have really gone downhill for him. Norrington blames Jack for the rather unpleasant path his life has taken, so he pulls a gun and tries shooting him. All that does is spark a wild brawl that ends with Elizabeth knocking Norrington unconscious. Knowing of Elizabeth's determination to be with Will again, Jack reveals the compass's secret to her at the dock that evening. He hands the compass over to her, convincing her that acquiring the Dead Man's Chest will be the easiest way to reunite her with her groom-to-be. Elizabeth warily accepts the compass, pointing the Black Pearl in the direction of the chest. But as the voyage progresses, she begins to call her feelings for Will into doubt when she sees the compass pointing at Jack when she gives it a second glance.

The Black Pearl eventually arrives at a desert island named Isla Cruces, where the compass leads Jack, Elizabeth, and Norrington to the Dead Man's Chest. But in a wild coincidence, they cross paths with none other than Will. Having managed to steal the chest's key from Jones and escape from the Flying Dutchman with a little help from Bootstrap Bill, Will likewise seeks the chest with the intention of using it to free his woebegone father from eternal servitude aboard Jones's ship. Jack, Norrington, and Will end up having a three-way duel for the chest, but things get a wee bit more complicated when the Flying Dutchman arrives with the Kraken in tow, all of it coming to a head in a giant battle for possession of the Dead Man's Chest.

While it's common for mega-huge blockbusters to get sequels, it's uncommon for them to be as good as their predecessors. Sure, they might make more money, but when it comes to quality, most of them don't hold a candle to the original film. However, Dead Man's Chest is a rare exception to that stigma. It might not be an exact equal to The Curse of the Black Pearl, but it's very, very close. Though to be truthful, Dead Man's Chest is almost the complete opposite of the first movie. The first movie is a pirate adventure with just a bit of fantasy, while the sequel a full-blown fantasy film with a bit of pirate adventure. But just like its predecessor, Dead Man's Chest is brilliantly directed, brilliantly written, and brilliantly acted. It, like The Curse of the Black Pearl, may be a bit overlong (clocking in at exactly two and a half hours), but it never wears out its welcome, never ceasing to be entertaining.

Just as he did in the previous movie, Gore Verbinski does an excellent job in the director's chair. Once again teaming with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, Verbinski crafts a film that is executed with a wonderful visual flair. His use of the visual effects crafted by Industrial Light & Magic is nothing short of astounding, as all of the CGI work looks realistic. It's none of that CGI that looks good, but you can still tell it's computer generated; it appears truly lifelike. The makeup effects on Bill Nighy and the actors playing the Flying Dutchman's crew would take forever to apply if done in full by practical effects teams, but the work done by ILM's digital animators looks so authentic, it's almost mind-boggling. Verbinski puts ILM's work to good use, as well as the grand score composed by Hans Zimmer. The music does exactly what all good movie music does: enhance the visuals while still being engaging in its own right. The music never becomes overbearing and invasive like it does in other blockbuster epics, but instead strengthens the movie by assisting in the storytelling process.

The screenplay penned by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio is also well done, in spite of a flaw or two. My biggest complaint about the script is that it takes a while for the plot to really get going. And by the time things get moving, we're an hour into the movie and everything seems more complicated than it really is. However, Elliott and Rossio succeed in just about everything else. They wisely give the lion's share to Jack Sparrow, the franchise's most entertaining character, but they never let the other characters get stuck in Jack's shadow. Each of the major players make some form of contribution to the story, though I got the impression that Elliott and Rossio couldn't really think of a whole lot to do with Will. He spends most of the movie brooding, complaining about things, and taking himself way too seriously, but he doesn't really accomplish a whole lot other than stealing the key to the Dead Man's Chest and repeatedly making vows to get his father off the Flying Dutchman. I know Will isn't as popular as Jack, but come on, can't somebody throw him a bone? Though perhaps he's supposed to be that way, as sort of a contrast to Jack's dashing, smooth-talking personality. That's certainly a possibility.

Last but not least is the cast. In my review of The Curse of the Black Pearl, I stated that I wasn't exactly impressed with the performances of Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom. That's changed with Dead Man's Chest, as both of there performances are quite good. I've already voiced my opinions in regards to Bloom's character, but he does the best with what he's given, and I can't fault him for that. Meanwhile, Knightley does a wonderful job, portraying Elizabeth as a strong-willed young woman who isn't hesitant to use her feminine wiles to try to influence things in her favor. And truth be told, I can't imagine anyone else in the role. The other female member of the cast, Naomie Harris, is just as fun to watch. Although she only appears in two scenes, Harris plays the role with an infectious energy that really pulls the viewer in. Bill Nighy also does a great job, despite the CGI essentially whittling him down to just his eyes and voice. He may not have the same charm as Geoffrey Rush, but Nighy still makes for an intimidating villain that commands the screen. Kevin McNally, Stellan Skarsgård, Jack Davenport, and Tom Hollander are all fine despite their limited supporting roles, and in their extremely minor yet humorous roles, Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook are hilarious as halfwit pirate wannabes Pintel and Rageti, the franchise's answer to R2-D2 and C-3PO.

But as was the case with the previous movie, Johnny Depp is the star of the show. Depp plays Jack with a humorous irreverence that makes the character loveable even when he's lying and cheating to further his own agendas and save his own neck from the chopping block. He obviously loves playing the character, as his enthusiasm shows. Every word he says, every move he makes is done with a smile. A lesser actor wouldn't have done what Depp does with the role, and I hope that he'll agree to do every Pirates of the Caribbean movie that Disney asks him to do.

Although quite a bit of it builds towards the third movie in the franchise, including one of the best cliffhangers that I personally have seen, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is not only a great sequel, but a great movie in general. It's not a perfect film — then again, how many movies are? — but it's worth seeing by fans of pirate adventures and of high-quality entertainment. The direction is excellent, the cast is great, and the special effects are amazing. And I'll repeat what I said earlier: Dead Man's Chest might not be just as good as The Curse of the Black Pearl, it's very, very close. My final judgement is four stars, and a seal of approval.

Final Rating: ****