Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

So the most awaited movie of the summer is finally here. Theaters all over the country are packed this weekend with moviegoers hoping that once again that lightning will strike twice in the same place as it were. That once again, Gore Verbinski will manage to make a movie filled with spectacle and wonder based on a Disney ride. Plenty of people had doubts about the first one. I count myself (perhaps I should say “meself”) among their number. I was pleasantly surprised with the first Pirates.

That’s the understatement of the year. I loved the first movie. It was fun and funny and exciting and a touch scary. My older daughter was too young to see it in the theater, but she’s grown a couple of years and discovered a love of what she calls “funny-scary” movies. So she’s seen the first one. She didn’t have to twist my arm too hard to take her to Dead Man’s Chest.

I prefer not to keep you in suspense here. “How is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest?” I hear you asking. “It’s a sequel,” I answer. “It’s good, but it’s not the first Pirates.”

Now for a little detail. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest picks up not too long after the first Pirates of the Caribbean left off, but it starts in a way that seems like it should be a dream sequence. Elizabeth Swann sits in her wedding dress in the rain awaiting her fiancÃ?©, Will Turner. But it appears that Will has stood her up. Can this be? Of course not-Will has been arrested by the new man in charge of Port Royal, Cutler Beckett, a representative of the East India Trading Company. He’s been arrested for helping Jack Sparrow (that’s Captain Jack Sparrow) escape. And Elizabeth is arrested for the same thing.

Beckett wants Jack Sparrow. Actually, he wants Jack’s compass, and is willing to do anything to get it, including offering Jack a full pardon and letters of marque from both the British crown and the East India Trading Co. All Will has to do is track Jack down, get him to give up the compass, and he’s free to go on with his life with Elizabeth by his side.

And so sets up the chase to find Jack, who has his own problems. It seems that the compass, which was the key to finding the Isle de Muerte in the first Pirates of the Caribbean is no longer functioning properly. Jack and his crew end up on a tropical island filled with cannibals who believe Jack is a god. Will, after searching through Tortuga, finds the Black Pearl beached on that island. And the two comic characters from the first movie (named Pintel and Ragetti-Pintel is the short, bald one and Ragetti is the one with the wooden eye) have managed to escape prison, and have come to the same island to commandeer the Pearl. One miraculous escape later, they’re off for a sail.

So what’s Jack’s problem? It seems that he made a deal with Davy Jones (not the Monkee, the guy who has a locker at the bottom of the ocean). Jones raised the Pearl so Jack could be its captain, but the time has come to pay off the debt. Jack owes Davy Jones 100 years of service on the Flying Dutchman. Naturally, Jack doesn’t want to pay. His only solution is to find (wait for it) the dead man’s chest. According to the legend, Jones once fell in love with a woman who couldn’t be tamed. To save himself from the pain, he removed his own still-beating heart and placed it in a chest. Whoever finds the heart can control Jones, because if the heart is stopped beating, Jones dies.

And thus the plot is born. Jack needs to find the chest holding the heart of Davy Jones. He also needs to find the key, which Jones is said to keep on his person. The usual chicanery of Jack Sparrow double and triple crossing everyone continues, and Will runs off to find Jones and get the key. In the meantime, Will is reunited with his father, Bootstrap Bill Turner, who appears only by reputation in the first Pirates of the Caribbean.

I’d rather not spoil the various twists and turns the plot takes. Suffice it to say that the bad/good guy from the first Pirates of the Caribbean, Commodore Norrington, returns in the sequel in much different circumstances. It’s impressive that the filmmakers have gathered virtually all of the major characters from the first film and a number of the bit players as well, giving this movie a seamlessness with the first that helps it quite a bit.

It’s also worth noting that this movie, which runs nearly three hours (and feels like it), is very little more than a setup for the third movie, planned for release next summer.

So, good things about the movie? The characters haven’t changed, the level of action hasn’t changed, and the music hasn’t changed. It’s fun. It’s an exciting romp, much like the first Pirates of the Caribbean.

The bad things? Well, many of the jokes haven’t changed, either. And it suffers in the same way that many middle movies in a trilogy suffer. It doesn’t feel complete. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl told a complete story from beginning to end. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest tells half a story, and ends on a cliffhanger rather than giving a satisfying conclusion. In many ways, it feels like a three-hour commercial for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

Ultimately, it’s worth seeing, but it’s not going to be as good as you hope. It will be about as good as you expect from a big budget summer blockbuster sequel. It’s good enough to pay full price for, but not good enough to see in the theater twice, and that more than anything is the real disappointment here. See it for what it is: a spectacle and a fun ride, not unlike Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyworld.

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