The Curse of the Black Pearl took us all by surprise when it came out in 2004. It was a big hit, financially and critically and it was the genesis of a billion dollar franchise for Disney. So naturally, sequels we’re inevitable.
While Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End we’re not as well received as their previous instalment, they we’re both hits financially. But are the bad reviews warranted? I am a supporter of both films and while they do have flaws there are deeply weird and ambitious sequels. Let’s delve deep into what worked and what could have been improved.
I absolutely adore Dead Man’s Chest. I honestly don’t get the complaints. It’s an extremely fun and creative adventurous movie that raises the stakes and is much darker than it’s predecessor. Davy Jones is a terrific and memorable villain. His design is incredible and he is a menacing and methodical presence, one that will create a challenge for Jack Sparrow and Will Turner to overcome throughout the two sequels.
Dead Man’s Chest expands the mythology of the first movie by exploring new horizons and expanding the world by giving us things we’ve never seen before in any adventure film of it’s kind. We’ve never seen a villain who ripped his own heart out and hid in it a chest. We’ve never seen pirates mutated as sea creatures. We’ve never seen a kraken this size on film before. Dead Man’s Chest does a great job at making us feel like this is a real universe and all the while making us care about the characters involved.
While Curse of the Black Pearl ends with a happy note, this movie immediately starts off somber. Elizabeth and Will Turner are arrested the day of their wedding by Lord Beckett, who demands Will Turner to get him Jack’s compass, that will point to whatever you desire the most. Will goes on the search for Jack which lands him on an Island inhabited by cannibals whom wish to eat Jack since they believe a god is trapped inside his body. Jack manages to escape and all of them flee on board of the Black Pearl, where Jack tells Will about Davy Jones.
As this movie wasn’t dark enough, this segment feels almost like a horror film. Davy Jones has a fantastic introduction, as Will goes to investigate a sunken ship where he finds almost everyone dead… until The Flying Dutchmen crew arrives and Will tells Davy Jones that Jack Sparrow has sent him to settle his debt.
Jack makes a deal with Jones to trade Will Turner until he gets what Davy Jones wants, which are one hundred souls. Aboard The Flying Dutchman, Will meets his father for the first time.
Meanwhile, Jack gathers men at Tortuga where he is reunited with Elizabeth Swan, whom managed to escape prison and is looking to help Will. They bring along Norrington, who is now a drunk and jobless and who is looking to redinkle his honor.
Everyone soon arrives on Isla Cruces where Jone’s chest is buried. Jack, Elizabeth and Norrington are the first too dig out the chest, just when Will Turner arrives and demands for Jack to give him the heart so he can kill Davy Jones but then Davy Jones’s crew arrives on the island. All three men clash for the chest, which leads to a really fun sequence on an old mill in a graveyard. Jack manages to get the heart and hides it in his jar of dirt but has no idea that Norrington has stole the heart. They return to the Black Pearl and are pursued by the Dutchmen and the boat is attack by the Kraken, who kills most of the crew. The kraken in this film is truly well done and looks incredible. All the designs in this film are absolutely breathtaking. The CGI is great and all the creatures are so well done.
Upon realizing that the Kraken is only after Jack, Elizabeth tricks Jack by kissing him and ties him to the boat. Jack manages to get free just when the Kraken appears and opens his mouth. Jack, his sword drawn, gets into the beast with the intent of killing it.
Do I have to say that the music is absolutely amazing? Every time an action sequence is starting, the music amps up and it becomes absolutely exciting and fun to watch. The music has become such a living character with this franchise that it’s hard not to imagine the series without it just like any piece of music in Star Wars or The Lord of The Rings.
Dead Man’s Chest ends on a cliffhanger, which is not an unfamiliar thing to do with most sequels. The Empire Strikes Back, The Two Towers, The Desolation of Smaug, The Dark Knight, Spiderman 2 etc. all ended with cliffhangers and while Dead Man’s Chest one is huge it stays true to the rest of the film.
Jack goes down with the pearl; Norrington brings the heart of Davy Jones’s to Beckett in Port Royale; Davy Jones opens the chest too discover it empty; Will, Elizabeth and the rest of the survivors have a drink in Jack’s honor at Tia Dalma’s place, where they all agree to go to the world’s end to rescue Jack from Davy Jones’s locker and everyone is greeted by a resurrected Barbosa who takes a bite in an apple and asks “So tell me, what has become of my ship?”
While Dead Man’s Chest wasn’t a perfect sequel, it was damn close. The story could have benefited with one more re-write and a tighter narrative, but Dead Man’s Chest is a really entertaining movie from start to finish.
Enter At Worlds End. The film just might have the strongest opening sequence of the entire franchise. Pirates are being condemned by Lord Beckett, so that Davy Jones destroys all the pirates ships at sea. The prisoners start to sing, “Hoist the colours” just before they are executed to compel the nine pirate Lords to convene at Shipwreck Cove to hold the Brethren Court. This opening is extremely dark and unusual for a Disney movie and a billion dollar franchise to open with, the but Gore Verbinsky took the risk and it paid off.
Barbosa, Elizabeth Swan and the crew of the black pearl head to Singapore to meet with Captain Sao Feng, who owns navigational charts to Davy Jones Locker. They then head to find Jack Sparrow, imprisoned in a deserted land of dread.
Jack is loosing his mind as he is talking to numerous versions of himself aboard The Pearl. The ship is on land and there is no way he can get it to sea. He tries to drag it himself but with no luck, until crabs arrive and do it for him. That’s right. Crabs drag the pearl to the sea out of Davy Jones’s Locker.
At World’s End is the film that is perhaps the most ambitious of the franchise, but often fails to explain any of the plot points it raises. What is Davy Jones Locker? Did Jack really need saving? The crabs got him to shore, so he could just have left as easily as he had gotten in. I do believe that At World’s End is too ambitious for it’s own good. There are too many characters, too many subplots and too many things unexplained. If the narrative were tighter and more linear, the film would have been absolutely amazing. As it’s stands, it’s a good third instalment but I prefer Dead Man’s Chest as a whole.
There is also the gathering of the nine pirate lords, which is probably the segment I am least interested in in the entire film. It doesn’t seem like it has a purpose in the story. Elizabeth Swan becomes a pirate, which doesn’t really matter at all in the end and it’s a segment that sort of drags. The movie becomes a political adventure film, which is not something we want in a pirate movie. But I do love Jack and Barbosa’s back and forth though, they have amazing chemistry with one another.
There’s also the plot point of Tia Dalma, which is revealed to be Davy Jones’s ex lover. This plot point does humanize Davy Jones as a villain since we do see him as a human, in that great scene between the two of them in the brig. But Tia Dalma’s character gets wasted when she is turned into a giant and transformed into crabs for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Like, what the fuck was that?
The movie also squanders Davy Jones who could have done more but can’t since Beckett has control over his heart. He becomes kind of pointless until the third act, which is spectacular. The final battle, in the maelstrom is absolutely breathtaking. The action is exciting, the visuals are top notched and finally we feel like the stakes are high and the story has been building up to this very moment. Jack and Davy Jones face off on boat during the storm while Will and Elizabeth ask Barbosa to Mary them, which is way too cheesy but Jack finally gets ahold of the heart. But Davy Jones is quicker and stabs Will Turner with his sword. Bootstrap attacks Jones. The two battle against each other, but Jack and Elizabeth manage to grab Will’s hand and stab Davy Jones’s heart. Jones’s fall down to the abyss, dead. How he can be still alive at the end of Dead Men Tell No Tales is beyond me but guess we’ll find that out in the sixth instalment.
I like At World’s End. It’s a beautiful looking movie. The imagery and cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. There’s a lot of brilliance in this film like the opening sequence, the action scenes, the characters, the mythology. But the film meanders more than the first two and there are two many subplots. But At World’s End is incredibly ambitious and original as is Dead Man’s Chest, which is something I totally stand behind. I give full credit to Gore Verbinsky for doing something inventive and trying out new things and not sticking to a formula. They’re unique and weird movies. So I don’t understand the hate. To me these sequels are epic, grand adventurous films that aren’t perfect, but much better than people give them credit for. So if it’s been a while you’ve seen these films, give them a try and go into them with an open mind. The voyage is a long but a satisfying one also and there’s always a calm feeling in watching Captain Jack Sparrow sail out to sea in the beautiful sunset. “Now bring me that horizon. And really bad eggs. Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!”