Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
- Reviewed by: Mel Valentin
Rate this movie:You must sign-in first.
Current Rating 8.32/10 | 68 Votes
With Disney Studios milking the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise for all its worth commercially, we'll get not one, but two sequels, the middle chapter this summer, and the final chapter next summer, all directed by Gore Verbinski (The Weather Man, The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Ring, The Mexican, Mouse Hunt). Disney had some problems, though, to overcome. The Curse of the Black Pearl resolved all its storylines and character arcs satisfactorily, and wasn't conceived as the opening chapter in a trilogy, let alone a continuing or open-ended storyline. But with the promise of guaranteed box office returns to a hit predecessor, it's easy to see why Disney executives gave production on back-to-back sequels the go ahead.
With Sparrow (Depp) back in charge of his pirate ship, the Black Pearl, and presumably, engaging in the active plunder of merchant ships, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) are about to get married. Elizabeth's formerly disapproving father and governor, Weatherby (Jonathan Pryce), has happily acquiesced to the nuptials. Unfortunately, the arrival of Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), a high-ranking official with the East India Trading Company, changes everything. In short order, Beckett arrests Will and Elizabeth for conspiring with and aiding Sparrow's escape from the long arm of British law. Beckett offers Turner an "out," find Sparrow, and offer Sparrow amnesty in exchange for employment for the British government. Beckett, though, wants something else: a magical compass Jack owns that points to whatever the compass' owner or possessor wants most.
Nearby, Sparrow's learns that the status quo is about to change for the worse. Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), the supernatural captain of the equally supernatural "The Flying Dutchman" sends an emissary to warn Sparrow that his time is up and Jones expects Sparrow to pay. Apparently, Sparrow exchanged 100 years of ghostly service aboard "The Flying Dutchman" for 13 years of captaining the Black Pearl. Convinced that the only way to escape his grim fate is by obtaining leverage over Davy Jones, Sparrow decides to seek out a magical key. The key, in turn, will open the "Dead Man's Chest" of the title. Just then, Will shows up, offering Sparrow a pardon, while hoping to retrieve the compass for Beckett. Not content to remain in prison while Will's out swashbuckling, Elizabeth makes her escape, destination, Will and Sparrow (not necessarily in that order).
Along the way, a voodoo priestess, Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), offers helpful, occasionally cryptic advice. The Curse of the Black Pearl brings back the Greek chorus/comic relief duo, Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and Cotton (David Bailie), who find themselves aboard the Black Pearl, as does Sparrow's former nemesis, Commodore James Norrington (Jack Davenport). Sparrow's first officer and former mutineer, Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally), is also at Jack's side. There's one cameo by a character from the first film (sorry no Keith Richards cameo, as long rumored), but he (or she) doesn't make an appearance until the final scene, but (or she) is bound to play a much more significant role in the concluding chapter of the trilogy.
Character wise, Dead Man's Chest is first and foremost Sparrow's film. Sparrow doesn't so much swagger as stagger his way through dangerous and not-so-dangerous confrontations. While rum is his alcoholic drink of choice (likewise with every other pirate in fiction or film), Sparrow seems to be permanently drunk or addled, slurring his speech and mangling his syntax. A swaggering, staggering Sparrow is still capable of taking on the King's men in a swordfight and winning or, at worse, into a stalemate. Sparrow might be a pirate, but he's no cutthroat. He's the best of the worst, never engaging in cruelty or violence unless necessary. Sure, he'll sell out a friend or two if he can get something of value out of the exchange, but this pirate has a conscience, albeit one that works only sporadically. When it does kick in, Sparrow jumps into action, ready and willing to save his friends from usually violent fates at the hands of his competitors or antagonists.
To build a trilogy based on The Curse of the Black Pearl (by Elliot and Rossio's own admission, a trilogy hadn't been contemplated), Elliott and Rossio went where others have gone before, George Lucas' original Star Wars trilogy. They used The Empire Strikes Back as a template for Dead Man's Chest, , setting up conflicts, revealing character backstories, putting multiple characters in jeopardy, with at least one of them in an apparently inescapable predicament by film's end, tied up some story threads while, of course, leaving some dangling and unresolved. The characters get what they want, but lose it, and in losing, end up worse off than when they began their quest.
Oddly, Elliot and Rossio turned to the concluding chapter in the Star Wars trilogy, The Return of the Jedi for additional inspiration. For example, Elliott and Rossio spend considerable time on an island with cannibals that worship Sparrow as a king and god, a sequence that closely mirrors similar misadventures for the heroes in The Return of the Jedi, with C-3PO as god-king and the Ewoks in place of the cannibals. If the phrase "familiarity breeds contempt" means anything, this sequence serves as an illustrative example (not to mention the lazy racism inherent in representing non-whites as primitive cannibals). Elliot and Rossio could have done better here, but at least they provided Verbinski with the template for inspired slapstick as Turner, Sparrow, and Sparrow's men try to make their escape. And by inspired we mean Chuck Jones-like, cartoon slapstick.
That's not to say that Dead Man's Chest doesn't have its share of humorous situations, quote-worthy dialogue, and breathtaking, imaginative set pieces featuring the central characters in pitched battles, often with each other. It does, but where The Curse of the Black Pearl had freshness, novelty, and Johnny Depp's pirate-as-rock-star turn on its side, Dead Man's Chest doesn't, forcing Elliot and Rossio to do more with more, but with diminishing returns. And with the concluding chapter written and produced near simultaneously, Elliott and Rossio had little choice but to overcomplicate the storylines, splitting the characters between different locations, rearranging their relationships by throwing in a romantic triangle plus several betrayals. With multiple, extended stops for exposition punctuated by frenzied action scenes, Dead Man's Chest often strains to achieve what its predecessor, The Curse of the Black Pearl, accomplished seemingly with little effort.
© Mel Valentin, 7th July, 2006
What do you think of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Share your opinions on our forum