PG-13 for the same supernatural horror that the first entry had. I guess if you are squeamish about barnacles as opposed to skeletons, this movie might be more of a trigger than the first movie. But really, we're dealing with apples and oranges in terms of supernatural horror. There's also some really uncomfortable stuff with marginalizing natives by relegating them to cannibals, but that's pretty standard racist fare when it comes to Hollywood action movies. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Gore Verbinski
I think I've made it pretty clear where I stand on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It's one of those things that everyone loves and I think it's just fine. If anything, I find them a little boring, especially a little distanced from their releases. From what I understand, the diehard Pirates fans adore the second and the third movies as a single unit. I get it. The first movie really ends on this "To be Continued" moment, which is going to make it really hard for me to write about the middle entry in the franchise. Because my kids were obsessed with these movies, we decided to knock out the final, far-too-long movie as well. So my job, as a blogger, is to write about the middle entry in a franchise when that film goes directly into the next movie and they deal with the same themes. Yeah, this is going to be a good time.
I remember when I saw this movie in the theater, I didn't understand a good chunk of it. Listen, I enjoy a fair amount of sci-fi fantasy technobabble. But the Pirates movies really push the good will of its audience. When I watched The Curse of the Black Pearl, the big takeaway was that I liked the characters and didn't care about the plot. But the thing that the sequels do even more than the original film did is complicate a story that I just don't care about. Because we can talk about one Macguffin pretty easily. The rules have to be easy to invite us in. From the nerd's perspective, the film is about fleeing Davy Jones. Davy Jones is after Captain Jack Sparrow. That's the story. Make him unkillable and make him all squid like. That's fine. But I'm going to start listing the insane things that are in this movie. Jack Sparrow becomes a god to some cannibals. Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann get arrested for trying to help Jack Sparrow. Davy Jones is looking for the locker that holds his heart. There's a witch in a swamp that has her own agenda. Elizabeth Swann's former fiancee is looking to redeem himself. Jack Sparrow has to trade 100 souls to Davy Jones for some reason. Apparently, whoever has the heart of Davy Jones can control him. Elizabeth Swann is pretending to be Elizabeth Turner. There's another guy trying to get Jack's compass. It's all kinds of stuff and none of them are particularly developed.
There's a misconception that complicated means deep. If anything, the inverse kind of happens. With so many complications with the mythology of Davy Jones and the many plot threads that are all meant to come together, all of these individual story telling elements end up being lost in a web of complication. Instead of actually caring about a CG antagonist, which is extremely difficult to do, we end up getting this impossible mumbo-jumbo. The insane thing about Davy Jones is that he's supposed to be remarkably sympathetic. Davy Jones, according to the rules of the film (because I choose not to research anything having to do with Davy Jones's locker), is a victim of heartbreak. The literal heart being separated from his chest makes a lovely image of a man torn apart by the sea. I think Gore Verbinski knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to have an antagonist that paralleled the primary internal conflict of the protagonists. Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann begin the franchise separated by economics. Will, an apprentice metallurgist, wants Elizabeth to love him, but she is the governor's daughter. The first movie set up all of the relationship stuff and this is the movie that is meant to pay that relationship off. So when they are separated and find themselves on opposite sides of choices, there's the understanding that they are ripping their hearts out of their own chests. It's not very subtle, but it is very watchable. Tease the idea that Elizabeth's heart might belong to Jack and there's a great story. This is the depth the movie should have done. Instead, this message gets buried under fluff. That seems like it is a bit of a failure narratively, but what it really does is make Elizabeth Swann look like a fickle woman.
The smart thing that the Pirates movies are trying to do is to distance Elizabeth from being another damsel in distress. I'm going to be talking about this in my last Pirates of the Carribean entry, At World's End, but Elizabeth has the potential to be so much more than someone who needs to be rescued. But because she uses her femininity to trap Jack to his death, she comes across as borderline heartless. The one thing that these Pirates movies are actually really good at is making the good guys completely unlikable. Jack's big moral complication is that he has to balance his self-interest against the greater good. He's the rogue scoundrel archetype. But he keeps learning that there is a moral objective good that he has to fight for. But that's not interesting, so Jack keeps on having to learn lessons about selflessness throughout these movies. He has this moment of weakness, where he flees the Black Pearl to save himself. But he returns. Like the other famous scoundrel archetype, he returns right when the danger is at its highest. What Verbinski is doing is that he's having Jack pay for his crime with his life. Yeah, if anyone is going to make the big sacrificial move, it has to be Jack. He's the one who fled, so his redemptive arc is tied to death. But having Elizabeth deliver the killing blow is really weird. There are other stories that have tried this scenario. The one that is coming most to mind is Buffy and Angel in the season two finale (I think, it's been a while.) But because that internal conflict is so muddied by so much other stuff, we don't really get a sense of Elizabeth and Will's struggle at this moment. We see her seduce Jack, which makes Jack look like a jerk during his redemptive moment, and then he faces his death.
But we all know that there's no actual value in this depth. As much as I genuinely love the Star Trek franchise and even really enjoy watching Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, we understand that the instant undoing of death minimizes any emotional connection to that moment. When Nimoy enjoyed Wrath of Khan so much that he agreed to come back for the sequel, Spock's death loses a lot of its punch. With Pirates, it may be even worse. This movie ends on a to-be-continued. The heroes really lost the battle. It's The Empire Strikes Back ending, but Dead Man's Chest is founded on the lie that Jack is actually dead. With Han Solo, his life hangs in the balance. Jack Sparrow is supposedly eaten by the Kraken. It seems like it should be a pretty permanent death. But minutes after he's dead, the movie promises to get him back. Okay, it's not the worst way to end a film. After all, the "how are they going to do that" element is still there, like with Empire. But then it does something a little more blah. Captain Barbossa comes back. Why? Because it was a big surprise. That's it. There's no real reason tied to the plot directly. Barbossa is simply a fan favorite. The Fast and the Furious movies do this a lot: the bad guy from the previous movie is now part of the crew. But it also means that not only is it possible to bring someone from the dead, but bringing back the dead is commonplace. The world of Pirates of the Caribbean is a world where death has no meaning. There's always a way out. The movies swear that there's weight to these decisions, but we have no time to actually have the death stick with us.
Yeah, I didn't really like Dead Man's Chest. I don't think I've ever liked Dead Man's Chest. It's got a fun performance from Johnny Depp, but it might be one of the weakest set-up movies that I've ever seen. It can't stand on its own. It is far too goofy in terms of supernatural technobabble. The emotional connections don't make a ton of sense. I think this is where I jumped ship.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.