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Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Disney, 2006

Verbinski would wisely shun the horrid sequel to The Ring and take Disney’s money to guide a sequel to 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl. It would become the dominant top grosser of 2006, the only film to reach over $400 million (or even $300 million), and land snugly on my Worst of 2006 list.

I thought about it later and realized that, just as easily, Eragon or David Lynch’s Inland Empire could have made the list before POTC: DMC. But watching this movie again for purposes of this retrospective, I gave it a second chance, and I’m still satisfied that it landed somewhere on my Worst List. It’s just a painful experience. But, of course, being such a large hit, it obviously was a fun ride for most people.

In Dead Man’s Chest, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) are going to be married before Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), from the East India Trading Company, swoops in and arrests them for aiding and abetting known fugitives like Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Beckett really has an ulterior motive: he wants Turner to find Sparrow and take his compass, the one from the first film that was said not to work. This compass apparently guides a person to their greatest desire. In return for the compass, Beckett will set Elizabeth free.

Sparrow, back at the helm of The Black Pearl, is given a visit from Will’s dad “Bootstrap” Bill Turner (Stellan Skarsgard), who works for the soul-collecting Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). Turner reminds Sparrow that he sold his soul to be captain of The Black Pearl, and now his time is up. He’s given a mark on his hand, one that legendary sea creature, The Kraken, will hunt down to find Jack.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth escapes with the help of her dad (Jonathan Pryce) and tries to find Jack as well, stowing away on a ship. The comely Knightley, who looks hot even when you throw dirt on her face and put a cap over her hair, somehow fools the crew into thinking she’s a guy. But whatever.

So we have three narratives going at once: Will finds Jack (in the longest, most unnecessary sequence involving cannibals on an island) but then is caught by Davy Jones, where he reunites with his father. Will needs to find a key that opens a chest containing Jones’s heart, which he wants to stab so his father won’t be in Jones’s service anymore. Sparrow needs the heart intact so he can bargain for his life, creating a conflict between he and Will. And even disgraced Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport) comes back, disheveled, working secretly for Lord Beckett.

With all that story, you might think I’d be completely game for a movie like this. But the action, which dominates the film, is largely pointless and slow. I mentioned the whole cannibal island thing, which drags the film down. It sort of reminds me of the whole Jabba the Hutt opening in Return of the Jedi, only it had a point: save Han Solo, who we last saw frozen in carbonite in The Empire Strikes Back. While the goal here is to save Jack Sparrow, he was last seen in Curse of the Black Pearl commanding his ship, about to go on an adventure. Even in Dead Man’s Chest itself, the first time we see Sparrow is when he escapes from a prison and returns to his ship: the whole cannibal island thing is completely contrived, made up to pander to the audience, putting Sparrow in a situation where Depp can generate laughs with his odd mannerisms.

And so you might say, “So what?” I’d be the first to say that if I saw such a description in a review. As long as the sequence is entertaining, who cares if it’s unnecessary? Well, it might be hard to explain, but I feel like this movie could have gotten to the point a lot faster, and I hate audience pandering, and ultimately I didn’t find it entertaining, and that’s the point.

Then, shortly after, there’s a completely unnecessary scene with Naomie Harris playing some sort of voodoo doctor named Tia Dalma telling Jack that he can lift his curse if he finds the key to Davy Jones’s chest. Given that he acknowledges that finding the heart is his only hope, I could never understand why he has to go through all this trouble to get a simple “yes” or “no.” Who cares if the answer is “no,” the heart is your only hope anyway.

Add to this the wasting of The Kraken, who never attacks a ship with any kind of Spielbergian suspense; he just attacks. Then Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones, an interesting character, isn’t given the time of day that Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa was given in the first film. A total shame. The entirety of the film’s imagination rests on Davy Jones’s Flying Dutchman, where he and his crew have begun to evolve into creatures of the sea: one has a hammerhead, one is a crab, and Jones himself, of course, is a squid. If only the film could have largely taken place here, instead of some stupid cannibal island, or at a voodoo woman’s house, and other time-wasting areas like the return to Tortuga, where a long fight erupts for no reason.

With all this wasted action, which is the biggest sin of the film, the story that could be rich ends up getting fumbled badly, constantly distracted by what it feels is its own cleverness. But what the hell do I know? The film went on to gross $420 million and most people liked it. Currently sitting at #6 all-time, its third chapter is set for a huge summer this year.

Follows: POTC: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Next: POTC: At World’s End

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