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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (review)

The Pirate’s Life Strikes Back

As I was psyching myself up for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest — not that I needed much psyching up, I’m so in love with the first film — I suddenly realized that there would be no middle ground with Dead Man’s Chest. It was either going to be Highlander 2: The Quickening, or it was going to be The Empire Strikes Back. There’s no room for middle ground here: the first film didn’t just come out of nowhere like Star Wars did, all fresh and free of the burden of audience anticipations. No, The Curse of the Black Pearl was facing outright derision: How could a movie based on a theme-park ride possibly be any good, even if Johnny Depp is in it?

And it smashed those expectations to tiny bits by being so clever, so witty, so funny, so fun. But the fact that Pearl was not only not awful but in fact really amazingly fantastic means that it had an enormous challenge before itself when it came to another go. Any sequel to Pearl that was gonna work could not merely be more of the same — we don’t just want more, we want MORE. A sequel would have to take different chances, go new places, up the ante, not be afraid of taking a darker and scarier and gloomier route, not be afraid of maybe even throwing in a bummer of a cliffhanger of an ending — Jack Sparrow frozen in carbonite? — while all the while still being uniquely funny and swashbuckling-sexy and crammed with adventure and romance and all those yummy things. Anything less than that, and it’s Jack Sparrow 2: The Quickening.
None of this — I thought with that particular kind of pointless dread that afflicts people who really, really love movies but who know most of them suck — was boding well for Dead Man’s Chest.

And for the first half an hour, gosh, maybe even the first 45 minutes of Dead Man’s Chest, it was seeming as if my fears were coming to pass. You can feel the film straining to duplicate the effortless magic of the first: there’s the odd and amusing entrance for Jack Sparrow, even if it doesn’t quite feel organic; there’s the two Shakespearean-fool pirates bickering, even if their Laurel-and-Hardying is more a struggle than it should be. Everything comes at us just a little too fast, just a little too inexplicably, as if returning screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and returning director Gore Verbinski (The Ring) felt a truly urgent need to shove us into the middle of an ongoing story when a softer landing into the fray would have worked just fine and achieved the same effect. Everything’s a bit… forced.

Not the cast. Johnny Depp (Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, The Libertine) is, I suspect, not entirely “acting” as the pirate Jack Sparrow — as gracefully wacky and unaffectedly outrageous as he is, I can’t help but imagine that there’s a lot of the resolutely independent Depp in the character: Depp is Hollywood’s Jack Sparrow. Perhaps it sounds strange to call one of the most over-the-top characters in all of movie history “graceful” and “unaffected,” but Sparrow is not a cartoon, perhaps even less so here than he was in the first film — here, he struggles a bit with maintaining his aloofness, sparring with Elizabeth over just what pleasures propriety can bring and letting his desire for a taste of that trip him up in a big way. Keira Knightley (Domino, Pride & Prejudice), as proper-lady-gone-just-a-little-renegade Elizabeth Swann, is a corker, dressed in boy’s duds and snatching the opportunity to do some swashbuckling of her own. And Orlando Bloom (Kingdom of Heaven, Troy), as the upstanding Will Turner, imbues even Will’s silent moments with a kind of torn ache: he loves Elizabeth so much that, well…

Well, that all comes later. The point is, the charming cast carries us through the first awkward act until, suddenly, at around the 45-minute mark, everything suddenly snaps into focus, and by God, it becomes The Empire Strikes Back. And since this is a two-and-a-half-hour movie, that means we’ve got plenty of Pirates of the Caribbean Strikes Back to go. Not that those early bits of the movie are unnecessary — they set the stage and usher us along to the good stuff, and you won’t even find yourself thinking that all that early bits should have been better, because the rest of the film is so spectacular that you will forget that you’d been squirming in your seat just a moment before. Characters pop up that we may not have been expecting but should have, like Norrington (Jack Davenport: The Wedding Date, The Libertine), the once bewigged, stuffed-shirt naval commodore and Elizabeth’s former intended who’s suddenly not at all bewigged and far less stuffed-shirted (and boy, is he a lot cuter all piratey or what?). And Will’s dad, Bootstrap Bill — he’s played by Stellan Skarsgård (King Arthur, Dogville), who’s all but unrecognizable and, surprisingly, tenderly poignant.

But wait. Weren’t we told in Pearl that Bootstrap Bill had gone down to Davy Jones’s locker? Why, yes, we were… and Bill makes his appearance here courtesy of the film’s big bad guy, Davy Jones himself. And here is the seriously freaky and newly dark and gloomy aspect of Chest: Davy Jones (Bill Nighy: The Constant Gardener, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, totally hidden under makeup and CGI and yet somehow instantly identifiable) and all his curs’ed crew are turning into sea creatures; Jones is an octopus-like creatures; Bill’s got barnacles and starfish sprouting from his face. The undead walking skeleton pirates of Barbossa and his crew in Pearl were way cool, sure, but we’ve been seeing undead walking skeletons since Ray Harryhausen flicks in the 60s; Jones and Co., on the other hand, are like nothing we’ve seen on film before, and there’s something really ooky and really disturbing about these half-man, half-fish things, something that touches on the dangerous lure of the sea, on the seductive power of following your dream, and on the peril that comes with seeing your dreams come true. These half-fish men are men who pledged their lives to the sea, and now that’s come back around to bite them on the ass…

Oh, and the Kraken, the bad-ass sea monster Jones commands? Awesome… and very much out of classic Hollywood flicks.

Once it finds its groove Dead Man’s Chest just gets it all so damn right, bouncing back and forth between out-and-out physical humor that — Disney appropriate — makes you think of amusement-park rides, makes you think that bit in particular will actually show up as a Disney World attraction, and sly wit that you almost can’t believe they managed to sneak in, like how the real bad guy here is the weasel Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander: Pride & Prejudice, The Libertine), a representative of the East India Company, which wants to rule the world. Between Jack Sparrow’s delicious wickedness… and Jack Sparrow’s delicious wickedness setting him up for a big fall.

Like The Empire Strikes Back did, Dead Man’s Chest kinda kicks you in the teeth in the end. In a good way, sure, a way that reminds you why you love the movies — cuz they wrap you up in characters you suddenly realize you care deeply about, cuz they take you away to places you wish you could visit, scary as they are. Dead Man’s Chest takes advantage of its own power to put you on the edge of your seat and leave you hanging there, leave you screaming, No, don’t make us wait three years to find out what happens!

But it’s not that bad a tease. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is scheduled to be released May 25, 2007.

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MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of adventure violence, including frightening images

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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  • Becca S

    Mild Spoilers

    I saw the movie at a midnight show last night, and one of the things that impressed me the most was how morally ambiguous Elizabeth was. In the first film, she was basically the female counterpart to Will Turner, all goodness and bravery and morality — as a captive for much of the movie, she didn’t get much of a chance to show any other side of her personality. In Dead Man’s Chest, however, she took a much more active role in the story, and I think it was interesting how the writers interpreted her character. While Will is running around trying to complete impossible tasks and making deals with evil cheaters, Elizabeth threatens people at gunpoint or manipulates their superstitious natures. She’s shown to be by far the most practical character in the movie — I won’t even mention what she did at the end.

    I knew going into this movie that I was there to see Johnny Depp, and he didn’t disappoint in the least — Jack Sparrow is just as fun to watch as ever. But I was surprised to see a character I had dismissed in the last movie as a slightly-better-than-average plot point/love interest change into a complicated and interesting character.

    Ms. Filosopher — I love your site, and I’ve been reading it for years even though I’ve never contacted you until now. I’m not usually this up-to-date on movies:)

  • MisterBadIdea

    It’s a big, bloated sequel, all right, just like I feared it would be. More Matrix Reloaded than Empire Strike Back, I’m afraid. But that’s being much too harsh, as I’m actually pumped for the next movie, whereas I have yet to see Matrix Revolutions. Not as good as the original but a good night at the movies.

  • Ashley

    I AM OBSESSED WITH THIS MOVIE!

    jonny is so so so hott

    orlando was orgasimic

    keira is GORGEOUS!

    its a perfect twist of humor & drama to satisfly all types

  • David

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWq89t9q5gg&search=ask%20a%20ninja%20pirates

    Heh, this made me chuckle.
    (Disclaimer: I love this movie)

  • Frances

    What I liked best about this sequel was its ability to piggyback on the first installment. Seamless segue it is. A bit awkward in the first few minutes but as you said yourself, the movie went right on track after the first few trips. And oh, the Capt. Jack Sparrow run should be trademarked or something. Savvy, eh? Arr!!

  • Pooky

    What’s the quote about curiosity? Jack and Elizabeth are talking on the Black Pearl and he says she will be a pirate (or something like that) she says why, he says “curiosity” I have been searching everywhere for this quote- plz help

  • MaryAnn

    I haven’t memorized the movie, so I can’t supply the quote. Sorry.

  • Missi F

    ohemgee i want that freakin quote too thats how i found this site cause i was looking for that quote

  • MaryAnn

    Go see the movie again and bring a notebook.

  • marissa

    What did you guys think of the Liz and Jack thing..myself I know it was mean but I loved it…what do you people think should happen in the next one with Jack and Liz?(short for elizabeth)

  • Andrea

    I am trying to get the quote for the part early in the movie where jack has the drawing of the key and gibbs asks if they are going after the chest. Then Jacks says something about not having the thing to unlock it so Gibbs asks if they are going after the key. Then Jack says now your not making any sense at all. Does anyone know that exact quote?

  • Holly

    ooh i’m lookin for a specific quote too…the part where jack comes over to talk to elizabeth on the pearl, just before the whole “curiosity” part, and says somethin about his good sense of the female gender telling him that she is troubled…or somethin like that. I’ve seen the movie 4 times already and i suck at remembering lines, but i just love that part!
    someone should just write the dialogue of the entire movie out on the web somewhere :D

  • Charlie

    Curiosity Quote:
    Jack responds to Elizabeth: “One word, luv. Curiosity. You long for freedom. To do what you want because you want it. To act on selfish impulse. You want to see what it’s like. Someday, you won’t be able to resist.”

    Key Quote:
    Jack responds to Gibbs: “No. If we don’t have the key, we can’t open whatever it unlocks, so what purpose would be served in finding whatever needs be unlocked without first having found the key that unlocks it?”

  • Excellent review – we are in complete
    agreement…thekeez

  • Drave

    I’m actually surprised at how badly a lot of people are reacting to the movie. I’ve had plenty of friends think it was mediocre, and I haven’t been able to figure out why. I mean, I had very high expectations for PotC2, and I got exactly what I was expecting, only moreso! I can’t even remember the last time I had so much fun at a movie. Wait, yes I can. It was the first Pirates movie.

    I actually got into a huge argument with a friend of mine last night, and my head darn near imploded trying to understand his viewpoint. It was very odd. He was complaining about the movie’s lack of certain qualities, where I was raving about the movie’s excess of those same qualities. Character development was the biggest example. He felt that all of the characters were two dimensional and less developed than in the first one, whereas I felt that I understood every character better after the second one, and that most of them evolved heavily.

    He also felt like the movie had no plot, like it was meandering aimlessly and didn’t know where it was going, whereas I felt it was packed with little clues and hints and whatnot that clearly revealed a bigger picture. *shakes head sadly*

    I can’t help but wonder if some people haven’t let their boundless love for the first film put it on a pedestal and transform its memory into something very different from the actual movie. The first PotC movie is great art, but it ain’t high art, and neither is this one. Two matching chunks of deliciously cheesy, rip-roaring popcorn pleasure, in my humble but always correct opinion. *grin*

  • Destiny

    My incredibly intuitive sense of the female creature tells me you’re troubled.

    [something goes here I’m not sure what]

    You seem very certain.

    One word luv; curiosity. You long for freedom. You long to do what you want to do because you want it. To act on selfish impulse. You want to see what it’s like. One day you wont be able to resist.

    Why doesn’t your compass work?

    [pause] My compass works fine.

    Because you and I are alike and there will come a moment when you have a chance to show it, to do the right thing.

    I love those moments, I like to wave at them as they pass by.

    You’ll have a chance to do something, something courageous and when you do you’ll discover something; you’re a good man

    All evidence to the contrary

    [laughs] Oh I have faith in you. Want to know why?

    Do tell dearie

    Curiosity. You’re going to want it a chance to be admired and gain the rewards that follow. You wont be able to resist. You’re going to want to know what it tastes like

    I do want to know what it tastes like

    But seeing as you are a good man I know that you would never put me in a position that would compromise my honor

    [Jack sees the spot on his hand]

    I’m proud of you Jack

    But how does this conversation get started? I can’t find it anywhere

  • Dana

    Okay so I do believe it starts like this…

    My incredibly intuitive sense of the female creature tells me you’re troubled.

    {Takes the bottle of rum Jack offers, takes a gulp}

    It’s just that I thought I would be married by now… I’m so ready to be married.

    Well you know love, I am a captain of a ship, and being a captain I can preform a marriage… right here, right now

    {Gives dirty look and thrusts the bottle back into his his hand}

    {insert something here}

    And they he goes off to say something about how they are alike and she says something to the extent of oh yeah, except the sense of honor and good personal hygeine.

    And it continues with that…

    I’ll be seeing the movie again this week at some point and I’ll get it down.

  • Destiny

    Thanks but I actually found the scene on YouTube

    My incredibly intuitive sense of the female creature tells me you’re troubled

    I thought I’d be married by now, I was so ready to be married.

    [Jack hands her a bottle of rum and she takes it, taking a gulp]

    You know [clears throat] Lizzy, I am captain of a ship and being captain of a ship I can in fact perform a marreeagh right here, right on this deck,
    [pauses] right now

    [Elizabeth gets a look of disgust on her face and pushes the bottle of rum into his chest]

    No thank you

    Why not? We are very much alike you and I, I and you, us

    Except for a sense of honor and decency an-and a moral center
    [She pauses to look at Jack]
    and personal hygiene

    [Lifts his arm and sniffs]
    Trifles. You will come over my side, I know it

    You seem very certain

    One word luv; curiosity. You long for freedom. You long to do what you want to do because you want it. To act on selfish impulse. You want to see what it’s like. One day you wont be able to resist.

    Why doesn’t your compass work?

    [Jack gets an indignant look on his face and says in a huff]
    My compass works fine

    Because you and I are alike and there will come a moment when you have a chance to show it, to do the right thing

    I love those moments, I like to wave at them as they pass by
    [walks off and kind of waves]

    You’ll have a chance to do something, something courageous and when you do you’ll discover something; you’re a good man
    [Elizabeth walks over to stand next to him]

    All evidence to the contrary

    [laughs]Oh I have faith in you. Want to know why?

    Do tell dearie

    Curiosity. You’re going to want it a chance to be admired and gain the rewards that follow. You wont be able to resist. You’re going to want to know what it tastes like
    [She turns to face him, mere inches away from his body]

    I do want to know what it tastes like
    [Jack responds in a husky whisper]

    But seeing as you are a good man I know that you would never put me in a position that would compromise my honor

    [Jack caresses her face and when he looks at his open palm the black spot appears]

    I’m proud of you Jack

    [Elizabeth says as he pulls his hand away]

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