The Dead Man’s Chest is a movie that can barely hold itself together. One slight cough and the film would come crashing down quite spectacularly. However, what makes it tolerable is in its surprising central virtue, which is a patently and wholly ceaseless absurdity.
The best example of this is an utterly earnest exposition scene that explains what is in the titular Dead Man’s Chest. It turns out to be the heart of the primary antagonist, Davy Jones. (played with chilling cruelness by Bill Nighy) Before this revelation is revealed all of the pirate characters try to guess what is inside the chest in question.
Pintel (Lee Arenberg) who was formally part of the cursed Black Pearl crew in the first picture says “He couldn’t literally put his heart in a chest, could he? This question is amusing to consider in the context of the last film where Pintel was an immortally cursed figure, and now he questions another miraculous event. Dead Man’s Chest is full of these amusing moments.
Another such moment is in the final sword battle between Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), James Norrington (Jack Davenport) and Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) The moment takes place after Turner and Norrington’s fight on a spinning wheel. One attempts to get up and then immediately falls into the water. Whereas the other heroically stride across the sea before tripping over. Even more entertaining is the commencement of the fight where Pintel and Ragetti explain the motivations of the characters in the three-way land-based duel.
This primary strength of Dead Man’s Chest makes it a better film than its predecessor because of how it fixes a major problem with the first picture. In Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow was the overwhelming source of comedic relief, which ultimately made the film a chore to sit through.
In Dead Man’s Chest, the absurdity permeates the entire movie; resulting in the character of Jack Sparrow much more palatable because he blends in with the rest of the proceedings as opposed to sticking out as an overt source of irritation. Additionally, director Gore Verbinski crafts scenes that directly remind the audience of Johnny Depp’s prowess as a physical comedian.
For example, in a segment, that feels perfunctory, and pointless in the context of the picture; Sparrow ends up on an island where he is embraced as a God, who will be sacrificed by the indigenous population. While fleeing, he ends up tied up to a giant stick and ends up having pieces of fruit stuck to him until he looks like a human fruit cocktail stick. This long sequence culminates in Sparrow being on the edge of a cliff.
He loses his balance as the fruit from one side stacks up, and as a result, he falls off the cliff from a great height. The stick then bobs from side to side in a dangerous and comical way until finally, he lands on the ground. The remaining fruit fall around him and the sharp stick narrowly misses him.
There are also great small moments where Verbinski constructs great short scenes that are striking in their visual storytelling and evocation of cinema’s rich past. The opening scene is an atmospheric rain-drenched scene that visually showcases a wedding that has been left in ruins, which was ultimately a great subtle start to a truly bombastic movie.
There is also a scene where Davy Jones plays the pipe organ. It called to mind Lon Chaney’s Phantom in the 1925 silent Phantom of the Opera film where his anger masked a deep seeded sadness as he played the piano violently. The contrast between the CGI creation of Davy Jones and what the film was evoking was sublime and illustrates the picture’s rare moment of great film-making along with a powerful illustration of a character’s inner state.
At this point, it seems that equating any summer franchise movie to a rollercoaster seems to be an exercise in damning a picture with faint praise. Nevertheless, with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the comparison seems apt. The movie series is based on a Disney ride and in some ways, one can see the construction of these pictures in that vein.
Dead Man’s Chest shakes its audience around with its jarring tonal states. However, by the end of it, one does not feel shocked, fed up and frustrated. The audience still cares about the fate of the characters. Unfortunately, this quality does not reside in the subsequent instalments of the popular film franchise.