2006: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio
Sequels are always about how much people liked the first movie. They generally don’t exist because there’s more story to tell, or new directions to explore; they exist because audiences spent gobs of money on the preceding film, and are therefore likely to spend gobs of money on more of the same. So when you see a sequel breaking records on its opening weekend, that’s less a sign of excitement for that particular film and more a sign of affection for what came before. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is odd in that sense though. People loved Curse of the Black Pearl, so a second film was a no-brainer. But Dead Man’s Chest, as a middle film, served not only to siphon that love onto itself, but onto the upcoming third film as well. It wasn’t cinema so much as a conduit. And an effective one at that, even if At World’s End didn’t meet the lofty expectations set for it.
Dead Man’s Chest is an effective conduit though because it knows one of the key aspects of show business: always leave them wanting more. I’ve seen plenty of films I was absolutely ho-hum on until they reached deep and pulled out an absolute corker of a final scene. If you can send me off into the credits on a high note, I’m likely to think a little more highly of what you subjected me to in the previous two hours. This happened with another 2006 film, The Da Vinci Code; it’s a fairly ordinary, often ludicrous story for most of its length, but then Hans Zimmer’s score starts soaring and Tom Hanks kneels before the tomb of Mary and the whole thing becomes so damn elegiac and uplifting. Never mind that that one moment contains more mystery and wonder than the entire film that preceded it; last impressions work.
And Dead Man’s Chest had one hell of a last impression. I don’t think anyone expected to see Barbossa come strolling down those steps. But there wasn’t a person leaving that theater who didn’t want to see the next film right that second. From the build to the reveal to Geoffrey Rush’s perfect line reading, the whole scene just works, and was a more effective piece of advertising for At World’s End than any trailer they could have released. And in that one moment, what had been kind of a sprawling mess of a film took on a bit more luster, the sense that it was part of a bigger epic.
Or so we were meant to think, until At World’s End showed up and fumbled the ball. But we were still there for it opening weekend. In that sense, the conduit — and its final scene in particular — had done its job.