Follow-up to the 2003 swashbuckler that earned Johnny Depp a best actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of captain Jack Sparrow (think Russell Brand crossed with Keith Richards), and Disney over $650 million in ticket sales.

Filmed in luxurious West Indian locations over the last year (nice work if you can get it) “Dead Man’s Chest” begins where episode one left off.

After helping Jack escape the hangman’s noose for piracy, Elizabeth (Knightley) and Will (Bloom) are arrested by power crazy Lord Cutler Beckett (Hollander) and tossed in the slammer.

Will is then told that if he wants to get his beloved out of the nick in time for their impending wedding he must find Jack and bring him back to face the music.

But that’s not all … throw in a giant sea monster, a voodoo fortune teller, angry cannibals, buried treasure, a ghost ship, magic compasses, and Bill Nighy dressed as a talking squid, and you have a staggeringly bloated plot threatening to capsize under the weight of ideas.

After the charm, exuberance and wit of “The Curse of the Black Pearl” director Gore Verbinski has gone for a darker follow-up that owes more to “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy than the “Pirates” original.

Verbinski has created a CGI army of mutant bad guys that look like a marine equivalent of the LOTR ogres, and introduces a multi-tonne sea beast (The Kraken) straight out of the Peter Jackson handbook.

Scriptwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (“Shrek”) also follow Tolkien’s tactic of splitting up the main characters for most of the film, adding to the downbeat overall feeling as we get less of Depp and more of the wooden Bloom.

These plot contrivances have a near-fatal effect on the narrative, with a muddled story that struggles to accommodate a wealth of old pirate myths and an ever-expanding list of characters – every single player returns from the original (even the damn monkey).

Writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio – who should have been made to walk the plank for their infuriatingly convoluted screenplay – take the helm for an interesting audio commentary, presumably because director Gore Verbinski is busy preparing for episode three next year.

The duo reveal that the original film had never been planned as the first episode in a trilogy, which made writing a second (and then third) part somewhat tricky as they had no idea where to go with the characters or plot.

Fortunately, however, they had Captain Jack Sparrow to base the story around and everyone’s favourite character gets plenty of screen time in the “Captain Jack: From Head To Toe” featurette which reveals exactly how Johnny Depp’s creation came into being.

Other interesting sections on this impressively thorough extras package include a photo diary from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a rundown of the special effects used to create Bill Nighy’s memorably slimy villain Davy Jones, and a nice set of bloopers featuring all the big names.

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Thankfully, however, Verbinski displays his usual flare for cartoon comedy action sequences, with the final three-way swordfight and Jack’s escape from a group of cannibals a hearty match for any of the set-pieces from the first film.

Also, the rousing finale (and return of a familiar face) suggests that there may be more fun to be had in the concluding part to the trilogy, which is due for release next May.

Rating: (12A)
Staring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Mackenzie Crook, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgard, Lee Arenberg, Tom Hollander
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Extras: Audio commentary, Bloopers Of The Caribbean, Charting The Return, According to Plan: The Harrowing and True Story of Dead Man's Chest, Captain Jack: From Head To Toe, Mastering The Blade: Orlando Bloom / Kiera Knightley / Jack Davenport, Meet Davy Jones: Anatomy Of A Legend, Creating The Kraken, Dead Men Tell New Tales: Re-imagineering the Attraction, Fly On The Set: The Bone Cage, Pirates On Main Street: The Dead Man's Chest premiere, Jerry Bruckheimer: A Producer's Photo Diary

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