After the success that was Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, work begun on two sequels at the same time. Dead Man’s Chest brings back a lot of the things that we loved from the original and improves on it in some areas. However, a change in tone as well as some unnecessary sequences of the film makes it an inferior sequel. There is still a lot of fun to be had in this movie and if you liked the first one make sure to see it, but just don’t raise your hopes up all the way to the crew’s nest.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Written by Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio
Stars: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy
Released: 7 July 2006
Running time: 2h 31min
No spoilers to be found here!
Following the events of the first film, William Turner (played by Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (played by Keira Knightley) are about to get married. Before they walk the aisle they are both arrested by the new commander from England, Lord Cutler Becket (played by Tom Hollander). They are charged with pirating and promptly jailed. Will can get a pardon for him and Elizabeth if he tracks down Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp) and returns a valuable item of his to Becket. Jack Sparrow has his own issues however, as he is tracked down by Davy Jones (played by Bill Nighy) in order to settle an old debt. After a series of events, all the different characters of the film find themselves searching for the Dead Man’s Chest.
The first film had a pretty simple plot which worked really well in a half-serious adventure film. This movie does it a bit differently, as the lengthy synopsis might tell you. There are more characters to take note of, more storylines to follow and a more ambitious plot. It feels like they took inspiration from Lord of the Rings and tried to make the Pirates movies more like epics. It works on some levels and doesn’t on others, but good things first. I really enjoyed watching all these different groups of people searching for the Dead Man’s Chest. Everyone had different motivations and that led to some interesting intrigue and bantering between characters. The movie ends in a great climactic sequence followed by a cool twist you wont see coming.
Johnny Depp is once again perfect as Jack Sparrow, who in this film became more of the lead character after the success of the first film. As usual, Jack walks around babbling in ridiculous ways and has a lot of great slapstick comedy. He is still very similar to the first film and his monologues do become rather irritating after a while, but he is always a joy to watch on screen.
Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as Will Turner and Elisabeth Swann are back as well. It is a bit weird to see these two dragged into the world of pirating again, but they come with some new features. Elisabeth is a bit different this time around, more independent and confident. She also has a lot of development throughout the film, perhaps the most of any character, and gets to do some new exiting stuff. Will Turner on the other hand is pretty much the same handsome “good guy”. He does feel a bit older and more experienced, but is otherwise the same boring character. These two’s chemistry still isn’t there, but as was the case in the prequel, their romance is never in the focus of the story and therefor isn’t a big issue.
My favorite new character in the film is Davy Jones, the main antagonist. As soon as he enters the screen you can feel his commanding presence. He isn’t as much of a “regular pirate” as Barbossa was, more a mythological creature with a hateful outlook on life. I can best describe him as the Grim Reaper with an ocean-twist. He visits shipwrecks and takes care of the dying sailors and is a cruel person with a dark sense of humor. But what takes this character above and beyond is the portrayal by Bill Nighy. As stated before, characters in these films are not so much about back story or personality, but rather presentation and performance, which places a lot of responsibility on the actor. Bill Nighy is a great actor who I don’t think is that well-known to the public, but he crushes it every time. He encapsulates the looming hatred and grim outlook on life that Davy Jones possesses perfectly and is in the end one of my favorite villainous performances of any movie. Seriously, sometimes I Google for Davy Jones dialogue and get chills when hearing his lines delivered.
Where I think the first film succeeded the most was in its action sequences and set pieces. They where inventive, light-hearted and simply very good entertainment. It seems like the makers of the sequel had the same thought and included more of them, while making each and every one bigger and better. Multiple set pieces uses different concepts which makes all the scenes stand out on their own. One time they put Jack on a stick and had him bounce around a cliff side while at the same time have the crew rolling around in big balls. Later on we see our heroes battle it out in a rolling wheelbarrow. All the scenes are exciting and fun to watch, which combined with the music creates that great Pirate feeling we all watch these movies for. But that is not all. About half way into the film, we get to see Davy Jones beast unleashed, the Kraken. This giant octopus shows up a few times in the movie, these scenes use a lot of build up in order to create suspense which works really well. Slowly show the tentacles crawl up the hull with the sailors being unaware. Then a scream and mayhem breaks out. Tentacles are flying all over the decks, pirates being grabbed left and right and shots being fired. Out of all the excellent action set pieces in the film, the Kraken scenes are my favorite, as they manage to include a sense of dread and suspense along with the standard Pirate action. To me, Dead Man’s Chest is the pinnacle of action in the Pirates series and that should be applauded.
The special effects in the previous one were functional but did show their age. It’s a different story with Dead Man’s Chest. As the antagonists of the film are entirely made out of CGI and it can’t look fake. And well, it does a bit, but still looks very good. All the different water-based creatures have excellent design and does look believable at most times. But the movie is now more than 10 years old and upon rewatching, some of the texture on the creatures do look a bit blurry. But overall, this movie is a clear improvement over its predecessor and to this day still looks very good in the visual department.
The Pirates series feature some of my favorite pieces of film music, and while this one doesn’t have the same amount of original tracks as the first one did, it does feature some new memorable themes. My favorite is “The Kraken”, played during the Kraken scenes. It follows a similar approach as the scenes themselves, slowly building suspense until it explodes into an epic mayhem. Most of the old reused tracks work great as well, especially during the action. Still a great soundtracks with a good mix of old and new which doesn’t become stale.
With Dead Man’s Chest, the Pirates series saw a change of tone, moving from a half-serious style to a more dramatic and epic one. The very first scene tries to set up a gloomy and depressing world that we as audiences should care for. This culminates in the third film, At World’s End, and almost makes the film feel as a completely different franchise. I get what they were going for with the change of tone and even respect it, if they want to do a more serious Pirate-movie, go for it, we don’t have too many of those. However, you cannot change the tone but still keep the over-the-top action and set pieces of the first film. Even though these parts of the movie are great, seeing a wedding couple threatened to be hanged and in the next scene seeing Jack Sparrow jumping around with a stick on his back makes for a jarring experience and alienated some of the fans of the first film. Either keep in style with the original and expand upon that or make a more dramatic film, don’t make something in between. In the end, the fans of both style will be disappointed.
I do also have a few smaller issues with the film. One thing I noticed upon re-watching is that the first 30 minutes of the movie, when the crew visits a cannibal island, are completely unnecessary for the plot. It is a fun segment for sure, but is far to long for such an already lengthy movie and should either have been removed or shortened. Later on in the film, a strange romantic relationship starts to develop between Elizabeth and Jack and it only feels awkward and unnecessary. It doesn’t do much for the movie and feels a bit out of place, but ironically they do have better chemistry than Elizabeth has with Will. It is a small part, but I always cringe when I watch these scenes. Lastly, I do think that some of the character’s actions in the ending where a bit unbelievable and made me not fully buy it.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is a worthy but somewhat jarring sequel to The Curse of the Black Pearl. It brings back most of the character we know as well as introduces some great new ones. The film expands and on some aspects improves upon the best things from the prequel, the over-the-top action set pieces. The plot is interesting and it is fun to follow all characters going after the titular chest for different reasons. The biggest issue with the film is that it tried to go for a more dramatic and epic tone, which in and off itself isn’t a bad idea. However, when mixed with the somewhat unrealistic characters and action, it makes for a jarring experience that doesn’t make any fan fully satisfied. The chemistry between Elizabeth and Will is still missing, strangely almost replaced by an awkward relationship between Elizabeth and Jack. The first 30 minutes are unnecessary for the plot and I don’t quite buy the ending. These are some big flaws and doesn’t make the sequel as good as the original. It still has enough good qualities in order for me to see it as a worthy sequel and if you liked the first one you should definitely check out Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Just don’t get your hopes up for the next installments however.
Cover image source: whatsonwight.com/