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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
June 30, 2006

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

About Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, I have some good news and some bad news.

Good news first. Nothing I say in this review can possibly give away the ending.

That's because there is no ending.

I don't mean it's a bad ending or a disappointing ending or even a cliffhanger. I mean there is no ending. The movie just ... stops.

Oh, that's not even the bad news. The bad news is that after announcing they were opening a movie, which they don't bother to end, they're going to make us wait a year and a quarter for the second half of a movie we already paid for. And they're going to charge us for it all over again.

I recently reviewed Superman Returns with a sniping comment about how the first half of that movie was spent trying to remind us what happened in the first two movies and then tell us what "really" happened during the third and fourth very dreadful movies.

With Pirates, the first movie was brilliant. And there was only one. And it was only three years ago. So they didn't have to waste our time reminding us of anything. They could get right on with the story.

This movie is so utterly dependent on the first one that they felt obliged to bring back every single cast member -- even the dead ones.

But Dead Man's Chest does it right. We don't get an infodump at the beginning of the movie. We start right away with the new story and only bring the other characters back into the film as they logically (or semi-logically) enter the plot.

I was afraid I'd be tired of Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow character, but no, I'm afraid he's still a delight; in fact, I like him better.

And I was afraid I'd be bored with the Orlando Bloom/Keira Knightley love story, but once again, no. They are still gorgeous without being unbelievable. Keira Knightley's "Elizabeth Swann" is, if anything, spunkier than ever. And Orlando Bloom as "Will Turner" is the perfect movie star for our time. Girls swoon for him. Heterosexual men want to be him. Gay men want to wear his clothes.

OK, heterosexual men want to wear his clothes too.

The first movie was so full of delightful surprises that I assumed that this movie, being a sequel and all, had no chance of being as good.

Well, except for that bit about not having an ending, this movie is every bit as surprising and delightful.

How were they going to trump the pirates who turned into corpses by moonlight? Well, once you get on the Flying Dutchman and meet the character of Davy Jones and his crew, you'll see that lack of imagination certainly did not afflict anyone involved with the design of this show.

Davy Jones is so heavily (and brilliantly) made up that there's zero chance you'll recognize Bill Nighy -- you know, the guy who played the cynical aging rock star in Love, Actually. He plays Davy Jones with enough of a Scottish accent that you wonder if maybe it's Sean Connery behind all the calamari; but, incredibly enough, he also brings a touch of sensitivity to it. Using only his eyes and his voice, he is able to make the character seem deep.

When Will Turner's (Orlando Bloom's) father shows up, it is once again easy to lose the actor behind the brilliant makeup, but Stellan Skarsgard, a Swedish actor who has played character roles in lots of movies nobody saw, does a beautiful job of making a human being emerge from behind the starfish.

My favorite new character, though, is Naomie Harris as the voodoo-mama-ish "Tia Dalma." Even though it was sometimes hard to understand her accent, she did it beautifully and you could understand her whenever it mattered. (Just remember that in her Jamaica-creole speech, "him" can mean "he" and "his" as well.) She had so much fire on screen that nobody else was visible when she was there.

I'm confused about the character of Cutler Beckett, the English lord whose nefarious schemes drive much of the plot. When he first appears, everybody responds as if they all knew him, so I assumed he was somebody from the first movie. In fact, I assumed he was Elizabeth Swann's fiancé from the first film, until Jack Davenport popped up playing Norrington, who really was the fiancé. The Beckett character doesn't show up on the cast lists for Black Pearl, so I guess this is his first appearance. Not a problem: Tom Hollander is marvelously slimy without being Draco Malfoy -- or even Mr. Collins, the part he played in Keira Knightley's recent Pride and Prejudice.

There are also elaborately set-up comic bits of the sort that are usually embarrassing. Remember the agonizingly unfunny gags in The Money Pit and the Home Alone sequels? Where the set-up is always bigger than the finish?

In Dead Man's Chest there is little set-up for the gags. They spring at us out of nowhere, but without realizing it, we were prepared completely. In other words, the set-up was so perfect we don't even notice it.

The double escape from the cannibals, for instance -- just when you think you've seen the whole gag, there's an even-better finish.

And the three-way sword fight that leads to a gag -- terrific. The gag goes on and on, but not one second of it feels repetitive.

Both gags owed a lot to American Gladiators. But that's not a bad thing. You'll see what I mean.

Because you will see it. Even without an ending, this is the best movie so far this summer.

So you can walk out of the theater ticked off about the lack of an ending, brrumfing all the way home.

Or you can go in knowing there'll be no ending, so instead of being irritated, you just accept the fact that it's an unfinished story -- a great unfinished story. And you'll walk out of the theater feeling terrific, having had a couple of hours of entertainment that's way better (and cheaper) than standing in line at Disney World for the stupid Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

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