30 Movies in 30 Days: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Had I seen it before: Yes, but not in a while.

What IMDb says: Jack Sparrow races to recover the heart of Davy Jones to avoid enslaving his soul to Jones’ service, as other friends and foes seek the heart for their own agenda as well.

Requirements fulfilled: At least one series of movies (part 2 of 5 complete)

Why I picked it: As mentioned yesterday, The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise stood out to me as a fun franchise for the “series” requirement. So here we are watching part 2, Dead Man’s Chest.

What I liked about it: As sequels go, this one does a really good job of expanding the PotC universe. It’s not a lazy sequel that just recycles the plot of the first one and calls it a day (I’m looking at you, Sandlot 2). We get further insight into certain things that were hinted at in The Curse of the Black Pearl: 

  • We get to meet Bootstrap Bill, i.e. Will Turner’s father. Despite playing a rather instrumental role in the The Curse of the Black Pearl story, he never actually appears in it. Bringing him into Dead Man’s Chest was a smart move.
  • We learn more about Jack’s magic compass. We never actually learn what this compass does in The Curse of the Black Pearl, but the first film does allude to it.
  • We meet Davy Jones. He’s mentioned in the first film but in a typical pirate folklore sort of way. I think fleshing out this character was a great idea for keeping those fantasy elements in the franchise since we no longer have the cursed ghost pirates.

While I’ve always considered the PotC sequels to be far darker than The Curse of the Black Pearl I had an epiphany this time around as to why. Previously I always thought it was a simple matter of writing fewer jokes into the dialog, but it’s so much deeper than that. In The Curse of the Black Pearl we watched our central three characters (Jack, Will, and Elizabeth) build strong relationships with each other. We’re talking willing-to-risk-their-lives-for-each-other relationships. In Dead Man’s Chest, we watched those relationships fall apart.

What’s fascinating to me from a writing perspective is that the relationship dynamics between these three shifted so dramatically yet none of the individual characters really did. I wouldn’t say anyone did anything inconsistent with who they were in the first movie. None of the motivations for these three really changed. Will still wants to save Elizabeth. Elizabeth still wants to save Will. Jack still wants to save himself. Yet these very motivations that lead them to rely on each other in The Curse of the Black Pearl lead them to deceive each other in Dead Man’s Chest. 

While this definitely means that Dead Man’s Chest lacks the playful zaniness of The Curse of the Black Pearl, it also gives us something to look forward to in the next movie. At this point, it’s hard to tell if we’re watching the Three Musketeers slowly devolve into mortal enemies or if this is just a bit of a bump in the road that will strengthen these friendships in the long run.

What I didn’t like about it: I think in an attempt to be mysterious, this film crosses the line into confusing and convoluted. At first it’s about a compass. Then it’s about the heart of Davy Jones, which requires finding both a chest as well as a key to open it. I still don’t feel it’s ever quite explained exactly what happens when someone controls the heart. I THINK it’s that if you have the heart you get to blackmail Davy Jones into doing whatever it is you want Davy Jones to do. Like maybe you get him to kill your enemies or not kill you or something? But it’s just one of those plotlines that even after watching the film several times, I’m still only about 90% confident that the plot is what I think it is. This was never a problem with The Curse of the Black Pearl. Motives and mythology were clear.

It’s also really unclear to me why exactly Davy Jones didn’t feel the need to chase after Jack Sparrow until now. Maybe this is something that will be explained in later movies, I’m honestly not sure. It just seems likes Davy Jones is introduced solely to provide obstacles for our protagonists, as opposed to Barbossa who had a clear motivation for why he needed to break his curse.

I also don’t like that the dialog lacked some of the humor of the first one. I know it’s not a big deal really, but at the same time I’ve liked so much of Elliott/Rossio’s work as writers and I feel like they could’ve written a few more laughs into this one without switching up the story too much.

Will I watch it again: Potentially. From here on out, none of the movies really work as standalone films the way that The Curse of the Black Pearl does so it’s going to come down to whether or not I have the energy to watch all of them (or at least the first three).

 

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