06 March 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Ok, so maybe this has something to do with the fact that I started watching this movie at 3 am, but can someone explain the plot to me? Please? Seriously. Let's try, shall we?

So Elizabeth and Will are about to get married (in the midst of a torrential downpour?) when the militia rolls in and arrests them for saving Captain Jack Sparrow. It turns out that what they want is for Will to get Jack's compass (which apparently now does more than tell you how to get to the treasure in the first movie?), in exchange for a full pardon. Will sets off to get it. Meanwhile... there's some kind of political intrigue with the East India Company. Reflections of globalization and encroaching modernity. Immediately followed, appropriately enough, by Will finding Jack, decked out in some gorgeous facepaint, on some kind of island with the standard Other, the native tribesman. Who speak a strange language that occasionally sounds like French with a Chinese accent. But Captain Jack seems to have learned some of it. And it turns out that they consider Jack to be their leader, and therefore want to eat him. Those wacky natives! But they escape, and it turns out that Jack needs his compass because he's on some mysterious mission. Will's dad, Bootstrap Bill appears out of nowhere and tells him that he owes Davy Jones, who is pissed, and is sending the Kraken to collect. Then he turns his hand black. Meanwhile, Elizabeth escapes, with the signed pardon and stows away on a ship. Clever crossdressing is involved. Back on the ship, Capt. Jack declares his intention of going after this mysterious key. They travel down a river and meet up with a voodoo sorceress type lady with very bad teeth. He finds the Flying Dutchman and its crew of squidmen, abandons Will there, and heads back to Tortuga to collect some souls for Davy Jones. Which is where Elizabeth finds him, along with the Commodore from the first movie. Jack needs Elizabeth, because his compass is not working (a curious feature we shall return to). Meanwhile, Will is reunited with his father, and plays a game somewhat similar to Liar's Dice (except with some modified rules that don't quite make sense) in which his father's soul is indentured for life (it wasn't before?), and then manages to steal the key everybody wants, and escape. Meanwhile, there's all kinds of sexual tension between Jack and Elizabeth. Will somehow gets reuinited with them, after facing the Kraken. They arrive at the island where the chest, which contains Davy Jones' heart, is hidden. They open the chest, it turns out everybody wants it for their own reasons, a mad scramble ensues. The squidmen attack, but are defeated. The commodore escapes with the heart. Everyone else gets back on the ship. The Kraken attacks. They battle it, and then decide to flee. Elizabeth betrays Captain Jack and leaves him for fish food, but not before Will sees them making out. Captain Jack dives into the jaws of the Kraken. The rest of the crew return to voodoo lady, and resolve to set off to the afterworld in pursuit of Jack. The evil captain from the first movie rolls in to assist. Am I missing something here?

I know it's part two, and various things are left open to be resolved in the next movie, but still, huh? What's the deal with Davy Jones' heart anyhow? Why is his crew composed of men who are gradually metamorphosing into sea creatures? When did they gain the ability to teleport? What does Jack owe Davy Jones anyhow? What's with the political rumblings? And the wacky tribesmen? And, perhaps most interesting to me, why doesn't Jack's compass work for him?

This last question, I can venture to answer in non-diagetical terms. The compass apparently points to what a person most wants. Now, I don't think the purpose here is to provide an additional layer to Sparrow's character by showing him to be a man of conflicted desires, rather, the idea is to get the compass into the hands of the lovely Elizabeth and stir up some trouble. Suddenly, the compass seems to be pointing to none other than Captain Jack! This occasions some confusion on the part of the young heroine. Doesn't she love Will the mostest? Is she really pining after Jack Sparrow (honestly, who in their right mind wouldn't be?)? I was waiting for it to turn out that it was actually pointing to Will after all, but nope, instead, the sizzling sexual tension between Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley seems to be developing into something a bit more serious. Elizabeth, formerly as morally uptight as her adorable fiancee, seems, in the process of getting to be more of a badass, to have developed the same ambiguous moral status as the delightful pirate captain. She's manipulative and calculating, and deliciously tempting. Of course, when the shit hits the fan, she's just as liable to scream like a little girl, fall over a lot, and hide behind the toughest man in sight as she is to run some fools through with a sword, but what can you do. Interestingly, the movie at first seems to be allowing her to use her feminine wiles as a powerful weapon, but then has this curious scene where she tries to stop the (somewhat silly) three way duel between Jack, Will and the Commodore with various girlish tricks that utterly fail. Because men will always be more interested in sword fighting than fainting women, doll. But to get back to the original point, the compass is our most explicit pointer to this blooming love triangle. Will she go with the roguish captain, or the nice guy? I'm glad that the movie allows the nice guy to also be a badass, even if he can't do it in the same flamboyant style. But it makes the choice between the two men more tricky than it normally would be in such films.

Interestingly, though, I suspect that Elizabeth's betrayal lost her a lot of fans. This is interesting, because structurally, it actually works to show her similarity to Jack - it's EXACTLY the kind of thing he'd do. And he knows it, which is why he looks at her with adoring eyes the minute he realizes what's up. I really enjoyed the subtle exploration of pirate morality that this movie offered, and the way it problematizes the typical hero/villain dichotomy.

Because all plot confusion aside, I really enjoyed this movie. Of course. It's a blast. It's fantastically over the top and unapologetically ridiculous. There are these fantastic Waiting for Godot bits where these two pirates go all meta that are hilarious. The dialogue is clever, the action scenes are completely preposterous, the special effects are totally neato (those squidmen man, wow), and it's a great time. And even though the plot doesn't make sense, you don't care, because the movie doesn't take itself seriously anyhow (unlike, say The Departed). Which isn't to say that it doesn't have substance, or even a kind of depth. But it's one of those movies that's meant to be a good time, and is, and if the plot not making sense really bothers you, then go be a grumpass at some other movie, because this one is a damn good time.

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