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Thinking about Pirates

Maybe it was because I liked the first film so much. Maybe it was because when we went to buy tickets for Saturday's 4:15 p.m. showing, we discovered it was sold out until 7:00 p.m. (In all seriousness, I can’t remember the last time a film sold out like that in this town.) Maybe it was all those headlines about all that money the film was hauling in. Whatever it was, my expectations were really high for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. And I really, really, really wanted to like it. But, alas, while it was great fun and I laughed a lot, I just didn’t like it as much as the first film.

It has a great premise. Basically, the central question around which the plot revolves is what is your price to do what you know is wrong in order to a) save yourself or b) save someone you love or c) get what you want. But then the film spends two-and-a-half hours setting up those dilemmas for each main character (and there’s a lot of ‘em) and virtually no time exploring the ramifications of those decisions. But of course, that will be fodder for the third film (shot back-to-back with this one) which will be released next summer.

Also, while the film does hint (if not begin to show, in some cases) that there are consequences for those decisions (both doing what is right and suffering for it, or doing what is wrong and suffering for it), by the end of the film I was as dizzy as Captain Jack Sparrow’s compass with trying to keep track of what motivates each character and what it was that caused their individual crisis of conscience. There’s that wonderful exchange between Elizabeth and Jack about deciding to do the “right thing” or the “pirate thing” based on the desire just to know what it feels like (the pull of good and evil, or “the dichotomy of good and evil” as one character says later in the film). But then there’s also the drive of another character to save his love and another to thwart the one who wants to kill him. Or there’s the desire of yet another to get his honor back. Or how about the chance to pull your father from the clutches of eternal damnation or the desire to keep your daughter from it to begin with? And don’t forget the yearning to cheat death.

Also, the literal God-talk is rather spattered and ineffectual in this film compared to the first, relegated to the gushes of an idiot-savant comic-relief sailor or another sailor who chooses a nebulously-believed-in-afterlife to servitude to the literally-heartless villain.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is entertaining and a giant romp with a great premise. I laughed (and covered my eyes—this film is lots scarier and more gruesome in effects than the last) quite a bit. And Cap’n Jack is, well, Cap’n Jack. But in the end, I guess I felt a bit cheated. Though, I must admit, I felt that same way about Empire Strikes Back—until I saw Return of the Jedi. So maybe there is hope for this trilogy as well. We’ll see.

For reviews, see Christianity Today (who really liked it), Crosswalk (liked it), Hollywood Jesus (review coming soon) or Rotten Tomatoes (where it’s running at 53% rating, ouch).

(Image:
Disney)

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