Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

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Dead Man’s Chest does what all good sequels do; it doesn’t necessarily top its predecessor, but it does build on, rather than repeat, events in the previous chapter.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho…

The greatest treasure: the characters get the chance to develop further
The greatest treasure: the characters get the chance to develop further

This episode starts off with arrest warrants being issued for Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, Kingdom of Heaven) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley, Bend It Like Beckham). The two lovebirds are wanted for assisting a man condemned to death and their punishment, naturally, is also a death sentence.

The man in question is none other than Cap’n Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Ed Wood), a pirate who represents the best — and worst — of all the job title implies. As with The Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack is once again given a marvelous entrance. Simply put, Jack Sparrow is the best, most “lived-in” international man of adventure since Indiana Jones. It’s clear Depp enjoys playing him and the writers enjoy writing about him.

It takes a while for all the players to return to the stage and get the main story in full swing, but once Dead Man’s Chest gets its mojo going, it becomes an excellent lark that holds up well in comparison to the original adventure. And this time the story is quite a bit more complicated as returning writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio playfully pile on the subplots.

New to the scene is Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander, Pride & Prejudice); he wants Jack’s faulty compass, which he says will point him to the location of a key which will in turn unlock Davy Jones’ treasure chest. The chest contains Davy’s still-beating heart and he who controls the heart controls the high seas and the evil Kraken, a huge sea monster of mythological origins that, at Davy’s command, can capsize ships and take their crews to a watery ever-after.

It’s an interesting storyline that presents Davy Jones (Billy Nighy, Love Actually) as a squid-faced man in charge of a crew that’s half-human, half-sea creature. Among the crew is Will’s father, Bootstrap Bill, a character referred to on a couple occasions in The Curse of the Black Pearl.

As for Davy, Jack still owes him and as payment Davy wants Jack’s soul.

I Left My Heart in Tortuga

In Dead Man’s Chest, Elliott and Rossio pinch heavily from the Lucas/Spielberg playbook. Like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, this one leans toward the darker side of adventure and mysticism. Perhaps there’s a little less laughter here than the first time around, but fret not. There’s still enough humor and plenty of romance and swashbuckling adventure.

And, like The Empire Strikes Back, this one leads up to one humdinger of a conclusion that primes the pump for next summer’s third installment. That one, if the rumors pan out, will indeed feature legendary Rolling Stone Keith Richards in a cameo as Jack’s father.

To that end, the mystic Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris, After the Sunset) plays a critical role as the source of Jack’s wayward compass. As it turns out, the whole intent of the compass is not to point north but instead to point in the direction of the holder’s fondest desires.

That revelation points to the ever-more complicated romantic entanglements between the quadrangle of Elizabeth, Will, Commodore Norrington, and, yes, Jack.

Therein is the greatest treasure in this Dead Man’s Chest: the characters get the chance to develop further, making them at once more familiar and more sympathetic, it’s a simple concept that sets this mega-budget blockbuster apart from most of its mega-budget colleagues.

Hide the Rum!

In particular, Jack gets to play the selfless martyr and is even worshiped as a god by a loony tribe who want to sacrifice him in order to free his immortal soul. Their plan? To turn him into a Jack-kabob; that sequence perfectly fits in with Jack’s own over-the-top penchant for embellishing his dubious adventures.

Also, Elizabeth gets to kick some serious butt and Will, well, poor Will, now a full-fledged swashbuckler, wonders what’s going on between Elizabeth and Jack. But at least Will finally gets to reunite with his long-lost father, Bootstrap Bill.

With a running time of 150 minutes, the film sails along at a far faster clip than Superman Returns, bouncing from goofy subplot to menacing action to romantic conflict. Thanks to some marvelous action set pieces, including a chase involving spherical cages made of bamboo and Jack-on-a-spit, there’s a playfulness and inventiveness in this sequel that is to be greatly admired.

On the downside, the technology behind the special effects isn’t always up to snuff for the story’s wildly ambitious imaginings. In particular, the effects in a key sequence involving Jack and that nefarious Kraken are a bit old-school and seem out of whack in comparison to the otherwise fantastic production values on display. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor quibble, the kind of glitch George Lucas would no doubt “fix” in a special edition some time down the road. Thankfully, though, this is not George’s universe.

Like the first installment, be sure to stick around through the end credits for one last bit of kibble. Savvy?