Hollywood’s nostalgia is making me sick.
In December, we saw Peter Jackson revive 1930’s “King Kong,” an incredible film marred by the ooga-booga, spear-chucking “natives” of Skull Island who became instantly enamored with Naomi Watts’ blond hair and blue eyes and offered her up to the equally mesmerized hulking, black Kong.
We return to another mysterious island, this time with brown-skinned cannibals who fall under the dirty, swaggering spell of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” – another fun film that unnecessarily wallows in racist notions of a bygone era.
That’s not to say that “Pirates” isn’t worth watching. In fact, it’s rather good if not as lighthearted as the first. Then again, the first worked so well because nobody thought a pirate film based on an amusement park ride – a perceived low even by Hollywood’s standards – could be any good. However, with the first film’s success, the stakes are a bit higher for the sequel. Thankfully, it meets all expectations and even surpasses some.
A bit darker and lot more violent, “Dead Man’s Chest” picks up where we left off with Blacksmith/pirate Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) set to marry the equally swashbuckling Elizabeth (Kiera Knightly). Of course, things are put on hold when Turner is set to retrieve Sparrow (more specifically, Sparrow’s kooky compass) by a smarmy rep from the East India Trading company.
In the meantime, Sparrow is being given the “Holy White Man” treatment as he holds sway over a cast of barely clothed natives, who think Sparrow is a god. In a strange twist, they believe eating Sparrow will make him holier. Even without the embarrassing racist depictions, the sequence is hardly needed, considering that the film’s real story is both engrossing and visually spectacular.
Seems Sparrow owes his soul and eternal servitude to a mythical pirate named Davey Jones (Bill Nighy). His ship, the Flying Dutchman, is a bit of a misnomer as it’s really closer to a submarine than an airplane. And calling Davy Jones a man is also a bit simplified, since he’s really a fishy-man-thing, a doomed soul whose time underwater has turned him and his crew into mutant abominations. With a head that looks to be engulfed by an octopus, Jones is a stunning mix of computer graphics, prosthetics and straight up good character acting. In fact, all of his swabs are incredible to look at from the hammerhead guy to the crab-man. If you’re looking for stunning visuals, look no further.
At Jones’ command is the Cracken, an obscenely large, tentacled beast he’s set after the indebted Sparrow whose only plan for getting out of harm’s way is getting the key to Jones’ chest and taking his still beating heart. Naturally, Sparrow won’t do this alone and sneakily recruits the still green, but deadly, Turner.
Along the way, we see some old faces and meet some new ones, namely voodoo priestess Tia Dalma (Naomi Harris of “28 Days Later” and “Miami Vice”). If the natives turn your stomach, director Gore Verbinski tries to even things out by making Harris the female equivalent to Sparrow’s rotten charm. Somehow pretty, even with green teeth, Harris exudes so much sexiness beneath the dirt and grit that even Sparrow is wooed (or was wooed) by her. That’s not to say that Knightly isn’t seen as the most desirable woman in the film, but there is no denying Dalma’s presence and hold on men.
Once the story gets under way, you’re truly in for a ride that rivals the fun and wit of the first film, although it is out-muscled by more action, characters and special effects. But don’t go expecting a nice, neat ending. Like “Matrix Reloaded,” the new “Pirates” ends with a ton of questions, a big surprise and little resolution. It’s a cliffhanger egging you to come back for the next sequel (filming now). Let’s just hope that in the next movie Sparrow doesn’t have a face-off with the mysterious Uncle Tom or Captain Mammy.