It is time for Action Movie October Edition, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!
Title: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: action, adventure, fantasy
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Bill Nighy, Kevin McNally, Jonathon Pryce, Stellan Skarsgard, Naomie Harris
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writer: Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert
Budget: $225 Million
Box Office: $1.066 Billion
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 54%
Jack Sparrow’s time is up and Davy Jones is calling in his debt. Marked with the Black Spot, Jack Sparrow is on the run and on the hunt for the one item that could give him the leverage to get his way out his debt. He needs the heart of Davy Jones that is locked in the Dead Man’s Chest and whose key that Davy Jones keeps on him at all times. But he’s not the only one looking for the Dead Man’s Chest, an old enemy of Jack’s has come to Port Royal and Cutler Beckett desires the chest for himself. For whoever controls the heart of Davy Jones, controls the sea. Cutler Beckett has the perfect tools to hand to retrieve the chest, Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner.
The theme of this October is pirates. Argh!
Let’s jump straight into it, shall we. After the success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Disney studios decided that they had such a blockbuster on their hands that they were going to green light two more movies right off the bat. They had a viable property on their hands, one that would bring thousands of people to the theme parks. It was time to cash in.
So, instead of sitting down and working out another self contained two hour movie plot where our characters seem to stand on the brink of their happily ever after at the end of it, the writers had a new challenge. They had to write a longer story arc that would go over two movie and keep the audience coming back for the next movie by building anticipation at the end of the first. Plus, avoiding that dreadful sequel slump. As Jack would say, “It’s a lofty goal to be sure…”
Why I call this a challenge is that at this time (and still today) there are very few movies that are being filmed back to back with huge arcs that span several movies that don’t get clearly resolved. The other major movie picture that does this is Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit. Being based on the books that gave impetus to the high fantasy genre, those movies were almost sure deals. And outside of movies that are Parts 1 and Two like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Twilight: Breaking Dawn, and Hunger Games Mockingjay, most series movies don’t film like this either. Movies are green lit as the previous movie does well and if your previous movie doesn’t do well, even if it’s a book property, the next won’t be made.
So, Pirates, not being a book property and in fact based upon a very scant of story Disney ride is a very strange. This is just “not done.”
The question that we have to ask ourselves is did they succeed in making both a good story that fit within the two hours and an enthralling enough story that we’d watch the next one. Ticket sales would say yes.
The Curse of the Black Pearl set up most of the character work for the franchise. In the opening of Dead Man’s Chest, the only person that needs to be “introduced” is Cutler Beckett. He is shown as an almost revolutionary George Washington figure sailing into Port Royal on his horse in a long boat. He is there to sweep change through the Caribbean and woe betide to anyone who gets in his way. I find it interesting that we are introduced to the characters in the almost exact same order as we were in Curse of the Black Pearl. Elizabeth is always first. Only Gibbs and Norrington are out of order.
I’m not sure if it’s as quite as successful opening sequence mostly because it’s too long and we’re treated to rather macabre prison sequence before seeing Jack again.
Once again, the story takes us in pursuit of a Macguffin. Except this time, to up the stakes it is two macguffins. Jack is in pursuit of one and Beckett in pursuit of the other, except one is needed to open the other so in the end they are after the same thing really. That and Beckett hates Jack. And while it is obvious Jack has a plan, he is not sharing it (as usual) and is willing to use everyone and their brains around him to make it succeed. Except he’s not only being pursued by Beckett, but also by Davy Jones, who is the actual owner of the Macguffin.
Jack’s motivations aren’t clear in Dead Man’s Chest. Does he want the macguffin to bargain with or does he want it to kill Jones or control Jones? Jack is the murkiest character in the franchise.
Narratively, it’s a bit of a mess. The story goes out of it’s way to show the power of the kraken on everyone but the main heroes. Then has to jump between character to character as they’re separated for a great deal of the time. You really have to pay attention and follow along for it to make sense. (And this isn’t nearly as convoluted as At World’s End.)
The dialogue and indeed many of the scenes do call back to Curse of the Black Pearl. We even get two of the questions answered of expositional dialogue, the story of the Pelacostas and the story of what happened to Bootstrap Bill Turner. But some of it really felt like runtime padding, especially the Pelacostas part of the story. Sometimes thing should remain mysteries?
The dialogue is good, the characters are good and feel true to themselves, the mythology of the world keeps me engaged and watching, the narrative itself could have used with some selective editing. So, I’m taking a bite of the cookie. ¾ of a cookie.
There were no unnecessary explosions. One ship that was dragged to the bottom of the sea, yes, but no explosions. Sad. Lacking a cookie.
The fights in Dead Man’s Chest are even more fun and entertaining than the fights in Curse of the Black Pearl. Notable fights include a bar fight in Tortuga and a fight between Norrington, Will and Jack in a water wheel. Elizabeth also gets in on the action now with her very own sword swinging skills. One cookie.
Speaking of Elizabeth, she is once again a major character. She’s introduced first and the motivations and much of the story revolves around her. Will wants to keep her from death. Her father wants to keep her from death. She wants to rescue Will and is used by Jack to find his part of the Macguffin. Elizabeth’s real conflict of character comes when her love for will is put to the test versus her attraction to Jack and what Jack represents. In this manner, Dead Man’s Chest Elizabeth feels like a step back from Curse of the Black Pearl, Elizabeth. In Dead Man’s Chest, Elizabeth is motivated by a man and her main inner conflict is between men. In Curse of the Black Pearl, it was about herself. She went to negotiate with Barbosa and got herself into trouble and spent most of the movie getting herself out of it. And in the end, she went to rescue Will instead of being rescued herself.
In Dead Man’s Chest, she’s not doing this for herself, Will doesn’t need saving. She didn’t have to run after him. It would have been a stronger character arc for her if she tried to resolve the Beckett situation in her own way rather than expressly saying she needed to “save Will.” She would have been a stronger character if she’d negotiated with Jack the same way she did with Beckett. Instead, we get a bit of a mess where is agonizing between two males.
Tia Dalma in this movie is a mouthpiece for exposition and not much else. Which was rather disappointing.
I’m eating half the cookie.
The world building of Pirates, as I said above, kept me enthralled in this story. They set up a beautiful universe that has a mixture of horror and fantasy down to the inevitable dice. The different sea creatures and reef structures that Davy Jone’s crew have turned into are all visually interesting. Davy Jones himself calls back to the “old ones.” One Cookie.
Unfortunately, narratively and characterize in Elizabeth, Dead Man’s Chest didn’t quite make it over the sequel slump. And a lack of an explosion puts this movie at a distinct disadvantage. 3 and a quarter cookies.