Keeping with the Disney Sprint event, that I still need to finish despite it not exactly holding to the time restraint I put on myself, I decided that the last two posts will be to finish up the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy of films. Now I still hold to the fact that none of the Pirates films, except for On Stranger Tides, has a lack of great scenes. Each film has a stand out moment that makes me still reflect upon them…better than the sum of the trilogy as a whole. Dead Man’s Chest is where we start to see how the Pirates of the Caribbean series slowly descends into murky waters as to what it truly wants to be. We start to see just how silly the series can go all the while simultaneously showcasing its more serious tendencies. Both of these elements are not so much mingling well with another, but competing with one another over what wants to dominate the film.
Dead Man’s Chest drops you into this new darker world not seen much of in the beginning of the first film. Setting up the stakes quite quickly for a lot of its character while introducing a new villain in the form of Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). It set him up as a remorseless man who sees everything as a business venture not particularly caring for dirtying his own hands personally but has no qualms with killing others who stand in his path. The film uses new characters to help create new goals for its old characters and even setting up old characters with more interesting circumstances. The story of Pirates this time is much more sloppy than the last, struggling with the pacing of tackling multiple plotlines particularly involving William Turner (Orlando Bloom). It opted for more focus on Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley) and Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in their adventures more than giving Will enough time to truly sell his more emotional scenes. It tries to introduce another character and motivation through the antagonist Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), the mythical captain of the Flying Dutchman. There are certainly more characters to introduce this time around…but the problems with the pacing however leaves those introductions quite often more lackluster.
Jack Sparrow this time around has more symbolism surrounding him in the way of his supposed “immortality” in never being killed. We see him constantly afraid of Davy Jones and his pet Kraken, as well as many moments where Jack seems to enter things such as coffins and graves. Jack this time around seems to be less legendary and more of a mortal man, not creating many great escapes as he has in the past film. There is still that intellect that allows him to play with people’s emotions to manipulate them, but Jack feels more like a human being with this fear of losing the dream he fought so hard to retrieve back from Barbossa. Jack Sparrow in this film feels more like the anti-hero throughout, often conniving just as much as the villain Cutler Beckett and using people more like pawns in his grander scheme of saving his own skin. It certainly adds another element of depth to a character I thought was fun in the first place, setting him up to be a legendary pirate attempting to cheat the grim reaper no matter the cost.
Will and Elizabeth this time around certainly have their faults, especially in the beginning when they have their love scenes. Oh yes, the planks of wood falling in love return yet again. Only this time Elizabeth truly comes into her own when not comforted by Will, and Will remains a boring and bland Errol Flynn type of character unable to sell emotional scenes effectively. We see Will meet his father, Bootstrap Bill Turner (Stellan Skarsgard), thought lost to the sea in the previous film. Bill Turner joins Davy Jones’ crew and we watch as Will tries his hardest to set himself apart from his father all the while attempting to save someone throughout the entire film. Yes Will has a saviour complex always circling his character around saving one person or another. Orlando Bloom is a good actor and it shows in a lot of his comedic line delivery, yet he never manages to accurately sell his emotional struggles because they are never given enough time to truly impact the viewer. There are some interesting scenes like the Liar’s Dice sequence where he plays against Davy Jones, but for the most part the film focuses on Jack and Elizabeth.
Elizabeth on the other hand really sells the screen this time around having the most interesting character development and logical leaps out of any character. She can now fight well with swords, is more aggressive and anxious as seen by her threatening Cutler Beckett and stowing aboard a ship as a man, and manages to really sell a good romance angle with Jack Sparrow. Surprisingly enough when Knightley is not with Bloom on the romantic scenes, she does wonders as she easily creates some of the most memorable scenes such as her and Johnny Depp having a wonderful discussion about being curious of the opposite side of the coin. Elizabeth grows into a character that you want to watch consistently in this film, showcasing an acting prowess not seen in the prior film. You see her fight with her darker emotions, try to trust in Jack Sparrow only to find him lying moments later. Elizabeth truly fleshes out her character in this film and I for one loved watching it.
The supporting cast this time around is quite fun as well. Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) really steal the comedic scenes they are in. Often offering some very insightful bits of dialogue you never would expect from characters like them. Talks about the bible, how to pronounce the word Kraken, and even accurately detailing situations are just the start of what these two do in the film. They breathe life into many scenes with their acute comedic timing truly coming into their own more in this film than in The Curse of the Black Pearl. James Norrington (Jack Davenport) makes his return as a disgraced naval officer who could never catch Jack Sparrow after letting him leave. You see a depressing husk of a man, drinking away his life hoping to one day find redemption and regain his status. The third act of the film really does sell his character and how far he has fallen from the honourable and justice obsessed Commodore from the past film. Then we have Davy Jones who does his best with what he has, even if Bill Nighy has a hard time selling terror when his character is made up of CGI.
Cutler Beckett is a great foil to Jack Sparrow in this film replacing Barbossa as the person obsessed with power but taking it to new heights in his manipulation. Beckett is one of the better villains in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. The lines he says to Elizabeth, “A marriage interrupted…or fate intervenes?” still encapsulates what I think the Pirates of the Caribbean films are. A bunch of people all after their individual goals and fate throwing them in each other’s way. Cutler Beckett is a great example of that as he seems to have his hands everywhere in this film, even if you don’t think he matters in the ending his influence still hovers over the characters.
These wonderful characters are what makes Dead Man’s Chest so great. Sadly the vehicle in which they are used in is not as great as them individually. All of these interesting elements happen, but they feel as if they happened by a stroke of luck since the story of this film is a complete mess. Whereas The Curse of the Black Pearl managed to reign in its story to one central avenue, Barbossa and the cursed gold, Dead Man’s Chest doesn’t know what type of film it wants to be throughout its runtime. At first the film seems to be going a darker route giving smalls glimpses of a prison where we watch crows peck out the eyes of dead inmates hanging from cages. It is a gruesome sight to behold, only to be shoved into this native segment where Jack becomes their god and he attempts to eat some necklace made of big toes. It goes back and forth between these weird segments that never needed to happen in the grand scale of things.
What we get are snippets of what this film could have been with great settings like Tia Dalma’s bayou, yet are constantly thrown into random segments attempting to be funny like returning to Tortuga and reminding us that this is still a film series based off of the theme park ride. This film continuously feels the need to jerk back and forth between compelling scenes of daring, character building and legitimately funny comedy, only to throw in some weird moments with Jack Sparrow to remind us that he is the one who was nominated for an Oscar in the past film. Jack is indeed a fun character to be in an ensemble piece, but this film proves that when it starts to solely focus on his hijinks that Jack can run out his welcome.
These films are at their best when we see characters verbally joust one another or engage in great fight scenes and thankfully Dead Man’s Chest does have some of those. Almost every scene involving Cutler Beckett is enjoyable to watch for Tom Hollander’s performance and how starkly composed he is in even dangerous scenarios like when he engages with Elizabeth. The scene where Norrington first meets Jack Sparrow again, or when Bootstrap Bill meets his son for the first time in years also show some much needed character depth to those involved. There are moments in Dead Man’s Chest that stand out much like the last one, they just are nowhere near as impactful to the overall story as they were in the first film.
There are two standouts in this film however and they certainly prove their worth as soon as they arrive. The Kraken and the entire third act of the film are some of the best moments in the Pirates series. The way both are presented truly shows how capable Gore Verbinski is at making nice looking films, even if the overall package feels lackluster in the end. The Kraken manages to be more menacing than the one commanding it, easily putting Davy Jones to shame in terms of just pure terror. The way they introduce this creature is just like any good creature film. They showcase its terrifying ability without spoiling what it looks like. We are purely shown that it can snap a ship in half, building up the suspense for when our heroes face off against it in the final half. While the editing may be sporadic for the beast terrorizing ships, it is done in a way that creates innate panic all the while building towards when it crushes ships with its giant tentacles. Truly a great soundtrack played behind it in one scene as people fall to their death, I have to say bravo if anything else they sold the big monster more than the actual naval battles. Which there were few and just as tantalizing as they were in the last film, so basically not at all which makes the fewer of them the better.
The third act of this film is so well done, well-paced and exceptionally well-choreographed that it is my favourite part of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. If only for this one section of the film, primarily its last hour, I would recommend people to see this as it continuously puts the characters in crazier scenarios forcing unlikely team ups and the best action I have seen in a while. When you see James Norrington, Will Turner and Jack Sparrow all after the same thing for a singular purpose the film truly takes flight. You have Norrington wanting redemption, Turner wanting to save his father, and Sparrow wanting to finally be free on the sea once again, all fighting for arguably 20 straight minutes of shifting set pieces and while other elements are going on. Then you have Elizabeth venting her frustration about how childish and single-minded the three men are, all the while she is trying to stop Pintel and Ragetti from running off with a chest. Not only that, but Davy Jones’ men forces Elizabeth, Pintel and Ragetti to all fight together making one big smorgasbord of great action scenes. Changing venues consistently whether it be in an abandoned church, one a moving wheel, out in the open in the shallows of the island, this last sequence is so well paced that there is never a dull moment to be had and all the while they tie in some excellent lines from each of the characters tying up their relationships with one another. All the while you have the Kraken back for one last hurrah and Elizabeth has the seducing dialogue scene with Jack. I cannot praise this final sequence enough!
The music is just as much of a character in this film as it is in the last one. There are some really nice additional pieces, like Davy Jones epic organ soundtrack which can also be a somber music box variant when it wants to be. The music is still just as memorable as before, and this time I would argue that it was more well implemented that in the previous film. The melding of music and sound in some scenes, particularly with the Kraken, makes for some stand out moments that have each element complementing one another rather than the soundtrack standing out more so than its other elements. This is no longer a solo piece, and I have to say that each character theme truly gives the viewer the right impression of who the character is upon seeing them.
Dead Man’s Chest is a mess of good and bad elements, often becoming a slog through its beginning hour and thirty minutes. It has strange choices not only in destination, but random decisions being made for specific scenes. Who wanted to see Johnny Depp nibble on a severed big toe? I want to know who okayed that! I find myself loving the way many of its characters are handled, yet the cohesion of them and the overall story of the film manages to muddle the type of storytelling I found engaging in the first. Rather than having everyone after their own goals and intermingling, we find ourselves focusing on Jack and his “wacky” hijinks because they know he can sell a film. A lot of the shots seem to make this less of an ensemble film like Reservoir Dogs and the anime series Durarara, and more of a mess of characters being forcefully thrown in certain circumstances because the director and producers thought it would be funny or cool. The spectacle is grand especially in its third act, yet the rest of the film at times is a complete blur even with such interesting and compelling characters as Cutler Beckett. Dead Man’s Chest manages to go out with a bang with its final act, yet never truly brings all of its great elements together well enough to make the film as a whole worth watching.
There is a lot to like in this film, and I still hold to the fact that all of the Pirates trilogy has really well done elements in them. While the whole movie may be a slog up until a point, it still has a great third act worth sitting through the first half of the film for. So what do you think of Dead Man’s Chest? Does Jack Sparrow start to wear out his welcome at this point? Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to have yourself a great day!