Let me go ahead and state something that everyone else seems to be saying: this movie is a lot like The Empire Strikes Back (Philip Arthur makes note of many similarities in his review of Dead Man's Chest). But it's like a lot of other movies too. I thought the ending seemed very much like The Matrix Reloaded and maybe I'm the only one seeing this but the East India Trading Company as its depicted in Dead Man's Chest seems an awful lot like Weyland-Yutani - otherwise just known as "the Company" - from the Alien movies. But there's nothing wrong with any of that. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is a smart amalgam of plenty of classic elements and story devices... and as the first half of a two-part story, it's just about perfect.
When we last saw young Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, respectively) had just helped pull off an escape for Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Dead Man's Chest opens with the repercussions of their aiding and abetting the scoundrel, as they are arrested - on their wedding day no less - on orders from Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), who represents the East India Trading Company (and who it's strongly implied had a run-in of some kind with Captain Sparrow years earlier). Beckett is willing to cut a deal with Will: steal Sparrow's seemingly-broken compass and he'll let them go free... but fail to get the compass and Elizabeth will "dance the Tyburn jig" from the hangman's gallows.
It's around this time that Captain Jack Sparrow - the hub around which everything else revolves around in this movie in one way or another - is brought into the picture. Remember how Sparrow makes his first appearance in The Curse of the Black Pearl? Well, his first moments of screentime in Dead Man's Chest are just as memorable and perfectly true to his outrageous character. Onboard the Black Pearl Sparrow has a spectral visitor: Bootstrap Bill Turner (Stellan Skarsgård) has come to tell Sparrow that it's almost time to make good on a debt he owess to none other than Davy Jones. So it is that the events are set up: Will Turner is going after Sparrow, while Sparrow is desperately trying to escape his fate, and it's not long afterward that Elizabeth is going after both of them. And above it all lurks the tragic story of the devil-of-the-sea himself, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and the mysterious chest that is about to become sought by all.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is foremost a movie intended to give fans of the first film what they've wanted most: more Captain Jack Sparrow! From beginning to end, everything that happens in this movie does so as a ripple from the presence of Sparrow landing in the pool. Johnny Depp is obviously having fun with this character. This may be the portrayal that he'll forever be known for, as much as Sylvester Stallone is known as Rocky or Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. I'm of the mind that Captain Jack Sparrow is one of the few wholeheartedly original characters that movies have given us in the past several years. If you enjoyed him in The Curse of the Black Pearl you'll love him even more here and if you've already seen Dead Man's Chest, it's only another ten months before we arrive at World's End and get more.
Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are fine in this movie, as are the others that have returned from the first movie (including Pintel and one-eyed Ragetti, who is trying to study-up on the Bible since he's now mortal). We are also introduced to several new characters, including the Voodoo priestess Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris).
But the real standout of this movie, apart from Depp's Captain Jack, is Davy Jones and everything associated with him: his ship, his crew of the damned, and the man/thing himself. Jones is a completely computer-generated character and for the first time in five years, at least since before WETA ran away with the artform with Gollum and the rest of their stuff in The Lord of the Rings, Industrial Light and Magic are back on the ball with digital animation. My biggest complaint with ILM's CGI work has been that their stuff has looked too "shiny and new". In Dead Man's Chest they've finally learned to get away from that look. Davy Jones looks frickin' real, in a way that ILM has never done anything before. WETA's Gollum set the benchmark for what's to be expected from CGI and now ILM has more than surpassed that goal. As for the Kraken... well, the least said about it to the uninitiated, the better.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is pure fun with a bag of popcorn and hopefully someone to share the experience with. It's not a completely perfect movie (there seems to be too long a lull in the action in the second half, but remember this is just part one of a two-part story) but it's a great summer flick that from the start of the closing credits will have you hungering for the next installment. Highly recommendable.