Franchise Retrospective: Pirates of the Caribbean – Star Wars For A New Generation

Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Since the first Pirates film was made without a sequel in mind, the creatives behind the scenes were faced with a decision. They could have gone the route of other franchises like James Bond or Indiana Jones that saw a beloved character go on a separate adventure with little to no continuity with the previous film (a route they would adopt in making the fourth film, On Stranger Tides). Or they could try to craft an epic trilogy, retroactively making the first standalone film the beginning chapter. This meant making minor background elements into major pieces of lore. Examples of this include Jack’s compass that doesn’t point north, in the first film a minor character detail that implies how mad Jack Sparrow is that his compass is as directionless as him. It became THE central McGuffin that has the ability to point to whatever the person who wields it wants most. It meant bringing in Bootstrap Bill, a character who in the original film was only meant to give Will a connection to the main plot and a sense of history. Here he appears as a full character and one that Will has to reconnect with.

Dead Man’s Chest, at the time of its release, was met with mixed critical reception. Part of it was natural. The first film was a lightning in the bottle moment, you could never recapture that magic of meeting Jack Sparrow for the first time, so it always had that going against it. But another is the classic issue that arises when you film two sequels back to back (which also happened with The Matrix): a lot of mythology is built up that can become confusing for the audience.

A lot of the internal mythology here that is set up isn’t paid off and doesn’t come into play until the third film. The concept of the Dutchman always needing a captain is stated, but it is never addressed in earnest until the third film. The weight of who will become the captain if Davy Jones dies feels like an obstacle in the way of many of the characters in the second film, but it doesn’t dawn on anyone till the third. Will is ready to stab the heart to kill Davy Jones to free his father, but doesn’t seem to consider the factor that he will take his place as the new Captain. This is also information that Will knows because he is the one who is told directly. The ‘Liar’s Dice’ sequence, which is pretty important in the plot mechanics, is a little confusing on the first watch (I used to own the actual board game Disney sold for this and I still can’t tell you how the rules work).

Now some of the lore mythology is teased pretty well. Tia Dialma’s true identity and connection with Davy Jones is hinted at but it doesn’t slow down the plot. It is only kept to minor background easter eggs, so an audience that is really paying attention may connect the dots, but you don’t need to know them to enjoy this film. It does make the rewatch a little more interesting, because you realize the hints that were hiding in front of you the whole time.

Despite its flaws, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest works so well. It has a much richer fuller color palette than the previous installment, with a higher contrast ratio. It has a green hue to it that works to make the environments look lush and Davy Jone’s crew more sickly. This film has the whitest sandy beaches and the bluest clear oceans: you can practically feel the ocean breeze and warmth of the sun while watching it. Davy Jones and his crew are a technical marvel that still holds up today. Each member of Davy Jones’s crew is overflowing with creativity and minor detail (it was only on this watch I noticed the crewmate who is joined together at the shoulder who pulls a worm to eat out of its chest while Will is explaining the rules of Liar Diar). There are films that are supposed to design aliens from other worlds that don’t hold a candle to the level of imagination here. The humor is still fresh as ever and the action is the best of the franchise. There are two great sequences with the Kraken. The first allows you to see the might and destruction, so when we get to the climax and it arrives we know the threat our heroes are truly in (plus allowing Will to see the first attack gives a great in-universe explanation on how his battle plan may work since he has seen it in action). The standout action sequence is still the three-way swordfight between Sparrow, Will, and Norrington. It is a sword fight that moves from the sandy beaches to an abandoned church with many levels, onto a moving platform in a spinning wheel. It is exciting and innovative, but it keeps the Pirates of the Caribbean humor and charm.

Also that ending sequence, where the big final reveal is Barbosa and he takes a bite of the apple and Jack the monkey turns his head…best cliffhanger ending to a movie and just perfect.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest opened in theaters on July 7, 2006, and was the biggest movie of the summer. The audiences’ love of the first film combined with incredible marketing that had every trailer ending with Jack opening the chest and making audiences go “what’s in it?!”. To understand how big this was, this summer also consisted of Mission Impossible 3, The DaVinci Code (an adaptation of one of the best selling books of all time that generated a large amount of media attention due to the controversy with the Catholic Church), the third (and assumed final) X-Men film in X-Men: The Last Stand, and Superman Returns which was the first new film for the Man of Steel in nineteen years. It topped all of them to become THE movie of the summer and the movie of 2006. Now it appears the most popular Halloween costumes are superheroes, but this was the year everyone was a pirate.

Dead Man’s Chest opened to $135 million in its opening weekend, dethroning Spider-Man as the biggest opening weekend of all time (a record Spidey would take back the next year with Spider-Man 3) and it remained number 1 at the domestic box-office for three consecutive weeks. At the time was the fastest film to gross over $1 billion at the worldwide box office (63 days). It was the highest-grossing film in 2006 both domestic and worldwide and as of this writing is the 34th highest-grossing film worldwide. The groundbreaking technical marvel of Davy Jones and his crew earned an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and the film was nominated for three more (Best Art Direction, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing). 2006 truly was the summer of Pirates of the Caribbean. And audiences were left with quite a cliffhanger, one that they would have to wait less than a year to get answers for.

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