Why could they not have just stopped Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Pearl (2003)? Oh yeah, because the movie took in over $500 million above its cost to produce. Sigh. If I may rail for one more moment against this film, why is its subtitle The Curse of the Black Pearl? The only hex placed on anyone is for those who stole gold coins from an Aztec chest full of the precious metal. Yes, the majority of the afflicted are the crew of the eponymous boat, but it seems that anyone who takes from the pile is made to have their bones revealed in the moonlight. And then every time this happens, you have to return the coin along with a little blood. Actually, talking about this ancient loot is a good tie-in to today’s movie, its sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006). In this one, we finally get to meet Will Turner’s (Orlando Bloom) father, William “Bootstrap Bill” Turner (Stellan Skarsgård). In the previous one, though he is not pictured, we are told he gave one of the Aztec gold pieces to his son, Will, which eventually ended up in the hands of Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). Was he also turning into a skeleton at night while serving aboard the Flying Dutchman? The point I am trying to make is that little makes sense in these films, but here we go with the next!
There is nothing like a wedding, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest begins with one. At least, it is supposed to, but sitting dejected in the rain is Elizabeth. Like any bride who has had her big day interrupted, she is upset because her planned marriage to Will has been derailed by the arrival of Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), chairman of the East India Company. He has come with arrest warrants for Elizabeth, Will, and even Elizabeth’s father, Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce), for their aiding in the escape of the infamous pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). In exchange for his freedom, and those of the Swanns, Will agrees to go after Jack for Lord Beckett. What Lord Beckett wants from Jack is the buccaneer’s compass, a contraption that instead of giving cardinal directions, points the way to whatever its holder most desires. So, where is (everyone’s favorite pirate but me) Jack? Well, he is out and about looking for a key, which does not exactly thrill the crew of his ship, the Black Pearl. Making matters worse is a visit Jack gets from Bootstrap Bill, who reminds Jack of the debt he owes to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and his mythical ship the Flying Dutchman. In order to drive home his point, Bootstrap Bill places a black spot upon Jack’s palm. The final warning comes with the threat of the kraken, a beast of the depths that Davy Jones can summon to devour any ship. Seeking to avoid his fate, Jack orders the Black Pearl literally onto land. The land is the island of Pelogosto, which is inhabited by cannibals, and it is where Will finds Jack. Actually, Will comes upon Jack being worshipped by the natives as a god, although they plan to eat him. Hence, Will is imprisoned with the rest of the crew, but no matter, they all manage to escape and head out to sea once more on the Black Pearl. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has not been sitting idle. While her prison break is stopped by Lord Beckett, he gives her the opportunity to go after Jack as well, this time giving her letters of marque (legal piracy, basically) to exchange for his compass. As she sets out, Jack and Will visit the voodoo priestess Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), who gives Jack some advice about Davy Jones. This is where we learn that there is a chest inside which resides the tentacled pirate’s heart, and whoever possesses it controls the Flying Dutchman and the kraken. She also tells Jack to carry with him a jar of dirt so that Davy Jones cannot reach him aboard the Black Pearl since fish face can only go on land once every ten years. I guess that is not this year. Back out at sea, they come across one of the Flying Dutchman’s victimized ships, and Jack sends Will to investigate, and hopefully settle his score for him with Davy Jones. It results in Will being captured, but at least he reunites with dad. As for Jack, he heads for the famous pirate hang out Tortuga, which is where Elizabeth finds him. They are also joined by the one-time Elizabeth suitor James Norrington (Jack Davenport), late of His Majesty’s Navy. Jack pieces together that Lord Beckett seeks the chest in order to wipe out piracy, and thus they head to Isla Cruces where it is buried in order to prevent the East India Company from getting it. Will manages to make it there, too, hoping to destroy the heart inside and free his father. Of course, Lord Beckett is not far behind all of them. James wants the chest to give to Lord Beckett and hopefully restore his good name. Hence, a ridiculous three-way fight breaks out between Jack, James, and Will, the long and short of which is James managing to make off with the contents and the key. Seeking to flee, the Black Pearl heads out only to be found by the kraken. While they put up a spirited defense, their efforts are no match for the giant sea beast. Understanding (because she read the script, I guess) that the kraken is only after Jack, Elizabeth kisses him after he orders them to abandon ship, and chains him to the mast. While the others go off in a row boat, Jack is taken by the kraken. Will had seen Elizabeth’s gesture, but not understood its intention. In any case, they visit Tia once more to learn how they might get Jack back from the afterlife, and they are shown an old acquaintance, Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who can guide them.
The reason I asked in the beginning why they had to make Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (and four more stinkin’ sequels!) is because of Elizabeth and Will. I prefer happy endings to my stories, and the first had an acceptable one, even if I did not enjoy how they arrived at it. By the end of the second, they do not trust each other. And it is all because of Jack. In my review of the original, I opined on my inability to understand why we idolize such an untrustworthy character. Jack continues to tempt in the follow up, working his wiles particularly on Elizabeth. He tells her that what she really wants is the kind of freedom that a life as a pirate offers. Freedom is a complicated word to a Catholic. Actually, it is more complicated for non-Catholics, but they have a different perspective. The Bible authors, particularly Paul, describes himself as a slave for Christ. At the same time, he has the more opportunity to go where the Holy Spirit guides him to preach the Good News of Salvation. This is not what the world equates with freedom. To most, the concept is tied to the ability to do whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want. To a pirate, it means going out and plundering and killing at will, and this is the more innocuous way of putting it. Historically speaking, pirates are not nice people, but movies like this series makes them seem romantic. I take issue with this presentation. We humans know very little about what is best for us, but God knows. That is why true freedom is found in following Him, not becoming a pirate.
Another annoying thing about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is that its only reason for existence is to set up the film that follows it. That is usually a big turn off for this reviewer. What would make this fractionally, minutely better is if they recut this and the third film, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) together into one film. This would eliminate a lot of the parts of each that drag, and there is a lot of dragging. Until they do this, you can safely avoid all of it.