“Life is cruel. Why should the afterlife be any different?”
The budget is bigger, the stunts are bigger and the scope is bigger. But is the heart still there? The second film of a trilogy is a difficult one. Often they can feel like a stepping stone to the bigger, weightier final instalment. Dead Man’s Chest just about manages to avoid this, and as a result is almost as good as the first film.
A few years have passed since The Curse of the Black Pearl. Will and Elizabeth are about to get married, Norrington has resigned his post and Jack is getting up to all sorts of adventures as captain of the Black Pearl. Things quickly go awry and by quickly I mean literally as the film starts. The wedding is off and Will and Elizabeth are in shackles. Enter the new villain of the series, Cutler Beckett, played with camp relish by Tom Hollander. He is so much fun to watch as he is 100% evil with few to literally no redeeming features. Hollander is obviously having a field say as the uptight Lord Beckett, and introducing himself in the first few minutes of the film by arresting the two main characters is a memorable way to do it. The story takes off from there, Will must go and get Jack’s magic compass that reveals your heart’s desire so Beckett can find Davy Jones heart and control the seven seas. It’s pretty convoluted and the film throws quite a lot at you, but the hefty running time gives the plot time to unfold as it goes. It might not make sense at first but after all the betrayals and scheming die down, you’ll have a clearer picture.
This series is most famous for one person; Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, and he does not disappoint. It’s difficult to top the entrance of Captain Jack in the first film., but the filmmakers try their hardest here. We meet him again floating away from a prison island in a coffin, using a skeletal leg as a paddle. It’s a very strange way to introduce a very strange character and it fits well into this darker, but still funny, sequel. And Depp is excellent throughout, though of course he is the only person in the world who can play Captain Jack Sparrow. The plot here is very personal to him, with Davy Jones hunting him down to repay an old debt. It’s impossible to talk about Dead Man’s Chest without mentioning Davy Jones. Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones is a monumental achievement in CGI, I remember at the time not being to tell if he was real of computer generated and the character still looks breath-taking to this day. Nighy hams it up and puts on his best Scottish accent to make Davy Jones one of cinema’s most amazing bad guys. From his peg leg, to his lobster claw, to his tentacles, he is so cool to watch.
The action in this film is bigger and nothing demonstrates that quite like when the kraken attacks. Watching the giant mythical sea creature attack a ship is a sight to behold. With tentacles smashing down and people going flying, it’s one of the most impressive action sequences I’ve seen. And the kraken itself is an awesome CGI creation, like Gollum or Ceasar or Smaug it feels real. From the tentacles grabbing people from the deck to the sound the suckers make as they scrape through the ship, it’s a fully realized behemoth. Gore Verbinski directs with action with Spielberg –esque talent, and makes sure you always know what’s going on. He also carries on the tradition of having a fight between people who are also balancing on something (like the trains in The Lone Ranger or the ship’s masts in At World’s End). This time and perhaps most famously, in one dizzying scene, the characters are fighting on top of a waterwheel that has broken loose of the mill. It’s reminiscent of the scene where Indy is trying to grab the antidote on the dance floor of Club Obi Wan in Temple of Doom, except now it’s been turned up to eleven. The choreography throughout is amazing but this scene is a standout moment.
As I said earlier the film still has a crazy running time. If you thought the first one went on too long, then this one will not convince you. I don’t mind personally, it’s just more great stuff in my eyes. And even more so than the first film, this is an epic and it’s preparing us for a huge finale. The running time does mean there are a lot of plot threads running throughout and I’m not sure they were all necessary. Elizabeth trying having to choose between Will and Jack just isn’t a good idea. I understand what the filmmakers were trying to do, but it feels a little bit like they’re pandering, setting the two up together just so they can mislead people with the big kiss at the end. Also the film may take a second watch to get to grips with the politics of the world, and to remember all the names that are being thrown about. But it’s important for the final film to have all these pieces in place before it can all come to an end. Speaking of which, Barbossa coming back right at the end is an excellent tease for the third film.
Overall, this is The Empire Strikes Back of the Pirates trilogy in terms of tone. It’s the dark sequel to the first films enthusiastic adventure. It even has a similar downer, cliffhanger ending with Jack getting eaten. But it is still a great film, feeling distinct from the first but just similar enough. The fights are amazing and the acting and music are reliably great. It also introduces a lot of really fun elements like Davy Jones and the Flying Dutchman’s crew. And overall it does what a middle film is meant to do; get you hyped for the finale.
Reviewed by Jack