Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ★★★★

Considerably more loose and drastically more symbolically playful than The Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man's Chest immediately upends the rather flat, unconvincing ending of the former film. The form this takes is to set its characters in relation—with varying degrees of cognisance—to death (e.g. Jack Sparrow is first seen in a coffin, using one foot in the grave—another's foot—to paddle), with the film hurtling compellingly through the franchise staple crosses and double crosses as each character wrestles with their specific mortal threat and how it sets them in relation to piracy, the sea, and each other.

As dance with death—a circling specifically vitally associated, yet only tangentially so for the film's characters (to their doom), with colonial enclosure—yet profoundly motivated by self-interest, the film visually expresses these existential and psychological dispositions in immensely humourous if morbid ways: 1) an early set piece sees two groups of pirates hanging from spheres made of bones race each other for survival, 2) the wheel set piece of the final act functions as a literal "spinning of the wheels", each character as a spinning monadic fractal, afraid to die, even as their colonially organised exploitation and demise encroaches due to their self-involved introspective cycling.

As others spin, Cutler Beckett draws maps, is seen multiple times observing the earthen sphere, arranging the board in the name of an economic disenchantment and disenfranchisement of myth and play.

While Dead Man's Chest could have served to have been more focussed and balanced—one gets the sense that its only late into the movie that the screenplay stopped eluding its writers—its introduction of deeper, more expansive threats, vistas, and motivations is wholly welcome. Indeed, Verbinski here becomes considerably more astute as a visual organiser and designer, and the improvisatory canvas given here inspires a symbolic inventiveness and lucidity in dancing delirium that fully reaches its zenith in The Lone Ranger.

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