Monday, July 10, 2006

Yo, Ho, Ho and a Bottle of Bruckheimer

I'll cop right up front to being a big fan of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It's the kind of fleet-footed, swashbuckling good time that Hollywood seldom gets right in these devalued times, and Johnny Depp's gravity-defying hoot of a performance as the off-kilter Captain Jack Sparrow is one for the ages.

Much of the rest of the world apparently agreed with me, making Curse of the Black Pearl a massive surprise hit a few summers back, so the stakes are pretty high for the follow-up, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead's Man's Chest. The good news for the bean-counters is that this new entry is a bona-fide financial windfall. The better news (from this cramped perspective, at least) is that it hits the popcorn-movie pleasure nodes almost as adroitly as the first one.

The sense of breezy, devil-may-care surprise that suffuses the first one is less prominent here, with a much more convoluted plot and Depp's Captain Jack coming off as less crazy-like-a-fox and more just plain crazy. But there are still laughs aplenty (an extended escape from an island of cannibals is downright Keaton-esque in execution), a healthy dose of action, and some truly spectacular special effects.

A lot of critics have gone at Dead Man's Chest with cutlasses swinging, And I'm a little stymied at this. Yes, this follow-up is less character-driven and more plot-mechanics-heavy than the previous Pirates opus, but the action setpieces draw much more from Ray Harryhausen's imaginative fantasies of the '50's and '60's than from your typical Bruckheimer-palooza. All effects-heavy adventures should render their menageries of creatures and fight scenes with this much brio and love.

If anything, there's a dark-fable tone to Dead Man's Chest that works really nicely. The ambiguous past of ostensible good guy Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) takes a melancholy (and mythic) twist when he meets his father (Stellan Starsgaard), and the eye-poppingly scary tentacle-faced villain Davy Jones (the always-fab Bill Nighy) even sports motivations of wounded romance straight out of a Grimms' Fairy Tale. Such developments make the slight dip in Johnny Depp face-time much more palatable.

So while it's no revelation, this sophomore chapter in a projected three-part cycle bodes pretty well for the future. Consider my buckle more than adequately swashed.

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