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Movie Review

Jack is back. And once again, the eccentric pirate is a wanted man.

After arresting lovebirds Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann for abetting Capt. Jack Sparrow's escape (which ended the first Pirates movie The Curse of the Black Pearl), the malicious Lord Beckett of the East India Trading Company offers Will a deal: Locate the pirate and return him—and, more importantly, the mystical treasure-bearing compass he possesses—or else face sure execution. With no other option, Will sets out to find the outlandish buccaneer, promising to return and free his love.

Meanwhile, Jack, who's been captured by a group of cannibals who think he's a god, is after something of his own: a key to legendary pirate Davy Jones' locker. The key unlocks a chest containing no swag, merely the still-beating heart of the feared sea marauder. According to Jack, whoever seizes Jones' heart will control the half-squid, half-man himself—and his crew of undead, sea-ruling souls that includes Will's cursed father, "Bootstrap" Bill Turner.

Will wants Jack so he can escape the gallows. He also wants the heart to free his dad's soul. Jack wants Will in order to settle a debt with Jones. Jones wants Jack, whose time of scheming as a living swindler is up. Lord Beckett wants Jack and the compass, which ultimately leads to the chest. Elizabeth's ex-fiancé, Commodore Norrington, wants revenge on Jack and hopes to earn the approval of Lord Beckett. And Elizabeth just wants to be married—or so it seems. Whew! Talk about your tangled and mangled treasure hunt.

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Positive Elements

Main characters frequently put their lives on the line to rescue each other. Chief among the selfless acts are those of Will Turner and his father. More than once Bootstrap tries to intervene and spare his son punishment, and after he goes out of his way to ensure that Will won't suffer the same soul-damning fate as him, his son promises to return and rescue him. "I will not abandon you," he swears.

Elizabeth affirms her belief in Will to his face, then tells her father, "He's a better man than you give him credit for." Though ultimately for ulterior motives, she also asserts that Jack, at his core, is a good man. "I have faith in you," she tells him while arguing that simply because of the captain's curiosity, he'll end up doing the right thing. Later, when (to a degree) he does, she thanks him. Elizabeth also shows kindness to her ex-fiancé—after knocking him out.

Elizabeth's father tells Lord Beckett he is "willing to accept any price" to save his daughter and steals her away when he learns a terrible secret. During an isolated incident, Jack places his crew's safety ahead of his personal gain and tells them to abandon ship. When his first mate asks him if he's certain he wants to lose his beloved Black Pearl, he uncharacteristically responds, "She's only a ship, mate."

Spiritual Content

A dim-witted pirate is mocked for his attempt at turning toward Christianity (albeit a garbled version of it). He credits "divine providence" for his release from jail and for his friend's intelligence. However, when that comrade points out that the Bible-toting pirate can't actually read, the simpleton reasons, "It's the Bible—you get credit for trying." At various times during the rest of the movie, the duo and others make cross signs and refer to stealing a ship as "saving souls." Crosses are shown at a few gravesites.

A cross-clutching prisoner faces execution with a degree of fearlessness, even though Davy Jones taunts him before having him killed. "Life is cruel—why should the afterlife be any different," he preaches to his prisoners and crew. The hideous-looking pirate plays God as he offers captives an escape from eternal damnation.

Island cannibals believe Jack is a god in human form. They set out to liberate him from his flesh by roasting and eating him. Sailors believe their ship is cursed by the spirit of a virgin bride, and there's talk of consulting the ghost. During her lengthy screen time, a voodoo priestess speaks of "a touch of destiny" and uses a set of crab claws as fate-determining dice.

Characters bet on their souls, and Davy Jones tells Jack that "one soul is not equal to another." In Christological fashion, Will takes a series of whip lashes after being unjustly accused. The man whipping him? His father, who, after offering to take the punishment himself, goes through with the deed. (At the time he has tears running down his cheeks and he later explains to Will that this unfortunate event was an "act of compassion" that was ultimately for his own good.)

Sexual Content

Although Dead Man's Chest refrains from overt sexual content, it's not without blemish. After finding an abandoned dress, a ship's captain rouses his crew by telling them there's a female stowaway—"and she's probably naked!" The piece of clothing also leads to some jokes about men donning it. Jack makes a suggestive comment to Elizabeth regarding her going without a dress, and male prisoners creepily call out to her while she sits in her cell. The priestess suggestively speaks of "knowing" Will and asks him, "What service may I do you?"

Sexual tension between Elizabeth and Jack leads to a passionate kiss. Dialogue between the two includes a few double entendres. Will and Elizabeth kiss. Several women show cleavage in period costumes.

Violent Content

Sword fights are common. Though the camera cuts away from each execution, several prisoners are decapitated, hacked or have their throats slit. One headless victim's body gets tossed overboard. The camera doesn't miss a sword being run through a man, and several prisoners plummet to their deaths off a cliff. Jack also falls, but his path is slowed by several wooden bridges. He smashes through these and still ends up hitting the ground hard. (The scene is played for laughs.) Likewise, he hits his head on a metal bar and, at another time, falls to the ground while bound.

Various sailors are tossed around like rag dolls by a giant octopus-like monster. We hear the sounds of one man being crushed to death by a tentacle. Several very long scenes feature this underwater beast smashing through ships. One of Jones' undead has his head knocked off in a scene that turns into a virtual comedy routine as his body bangs into trees and ultimately abandons him. A massive explosion ends up burning a monster, and we later see its tentacles bloodied.

Early on, a caged prisoner has his eye plucked out by a crow, and his carcass is later shown being picked at by another bird. Emerging from a coffin, Jack shoots a bird. Later, he shoots an undead monkey to prove that the beast can't die.

A woman slaps Will. We see Will's bloodied back when he is whipped. Onboard slaves are lashed while powering the vessel. Several characters are held at gunpoint or by the sword's blade, and others get shot at with spears and arrows. Cannonballs connect with ships and men.

A bar fight ends up in a melee involving punches thrown, bottles smashed over heads and bodies tossed over a balcony. Will is sedated by a cannibal's blowgun dart. A story is told of Davy Jones cutting out his own heart.

Crude or Profane Language

A single (improper) utterance of "d--n" is combined with a handful of British crudities and profanities ("b-gger," "bloody"). A drunken sailor claims that he doesn't give an "at's rass." "Git" is tossed out abusively.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Rum. Lots of rum. In Dead Man's Chest, the rule of thumb seems to be that if a (living) bandit isn't shown with a bottle of rum in hand, then he has run out—and is on a desperate search for more. Aside from characters guzzling it by the pint (especially in a scene at a pirate's tavern), alcohol also serves as the center of a few jokes. Jack and dozens of other pirates are shown either fully drunk or at least tipsy. Davy Jones smokes a pipe.

Other Negative Elements

Elizabeth stages a cold-blooded act of betrayal which she's confident will end in death for her subject. "Fate" decides a game of dice in which characters gamble with their souls. (More specifically, Will is ultimately willing to give his up for romantic love.) Jack bites at a human toe offered to him by cannibals. He also gets doused by a monster's slimy innards. A hungover commodore throws up (twice). Several characters lie, steal and cheat to better themselves.

Last, but certainly not least, a sea full of pirates is deemed preferable to a sea controlled by the East India Trading Co. Sure, Lord Beckett's "corporation" is hardly above reproach, but there's still a sense here that the anarchy that breeds such things as piracy equals freedom. (In other words, pirates are cool!)

Conclusion

I never thought the words swashbuckling and tedious could ever describe the same thing, yet that's the rare combination found in the much-anticipated follow-up to 2003's rollicking box-office hit, The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Johnny Depp still shines as one of Hollywood's most memorable characters in recent years. And Dead Man's Chest even includes some Christ-like themes of self-sacrifice. But those plusses are hard to appreciate when you're checking your watch only an hour into this surprisingly plodding, convoluted story that's basically a string of loosely connected mini-adventures.

Understandably, director Gore Verbinski faced a daunting challenge in trying to top the action, wit and sheer "bigness" that made the first film a summer blockbuster. But whereas "onscreen heroism and fun" and (somewhat) noble characters in Black Pearl tried to elbow their way past what, in our review we called "creepy, prolonged violence," Dead Man's nonstop violent effects and an overall ghoulish, voodoo-infused tone suffer little positive competition. The villains here aren't just crusty, peg-legged pirates who break out in a round of "Arrrgh!" competitions every once in a while. Instead, they're ghastly monsters who behead prisoners, thrive on torturing their own and swallow men whole—and that's just for lunch. Not exactly family theme park kind of stuff. (Does anyone even remember anymore that this franchise is based on a Disney ride?)

Verbinski says he knew the Pirates movies would push Disney into new territory (Black Pearl was the first PG-13 movie Mickey and Co. ever released). "I just make the movie and they decide whether they're willing to take the soccer moms through that," he says. "They've developed a certain trust relationship with the Disney brand throughout the years, so [Disney has] to look at the material and say, 'Hey, is this something we want to put our name on or not.' And in this case, they've agreed to."

Thinking cynically for a moment—hard not to do considering the subject—it's not radical to suggest that the mammoth success of Black Pearl (which made more than $650 million worldwide) and likely similar results for Dead Man's Chest will keep Disney from second-guessing its decision to venture into darker family fare. But money won't be the motivator for families who already squirmed their way through the original's macabre moments and were hoping for a fun reprieve. For them, Dead Man's Chest will be the end of the line, the last breath, the eternal yawn. It'll be ... Davy Jones' locker.

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