Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) -vs- Spider Man 2 (2004)

Bryce Zabel, Editor-in-ChiefThe Smackdown

With “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and “Spider-Man 2,” we’re putting two sequels in the ring today, both films coming off fantastically successful launches to their respective franchises. They are each the very definition of a studio film “tentpole” as they own the box-office during the weekend of their release and likely several to follow. The question is: did these follow-ups learn from the films that launched them and get better or did they take success for granted and get fat and lazy?

The Challenger

First, let’s just say that “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is way too long as a title, and it’s way to long as a movie, too, clocking in at two-and-a-half hours. Director Gore Verbinski has his same team of actors at his disposal and all of them know their characters and how to hit their marks. The bad guy this time is Davey Jones, captain of the Flying Dutchman, doomed to cruise the seas for all eternity instead of the Geoffrey Rush character in the last installment’s “Curse of the Black Pearl.”

Jones and his gang are fish-people sitting in for the first movie’s literal skeleton crew. The plot is a little convoluted and involves needing to get a key to open a chest to do something else and involves
a lot of attacks by giant squid monsters. One thing I learned writing the “Blackbeard” mini-series (aired in 2006) is that there is a great deal of authentic pirate drama and character to pull upon to make a movie with, but very little of it seems to have made it into this mega-budget production. Instead, it is even more the theme park ride than its predecessor.

The Defending Champion

“Spider-Man 2” is generally acknowledged as a superior film to the original and maybe (probably) the best super-hero movie that Hollywood has made. It got a lot of great reviews, partly because its effects for both Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus were superior but also because this was a movie that was about something. Namely, that Peter Parker was burdened by being Spider-Man and wasn’t quite sure how to handle the direction his life had taken since he became a super-hero. He became the emblematic Marvel Comics hero: somebody like the rest of us and not a God-like hero from on high. When he’s getting the crap kicked out of him, he shows true grit by coming back for more, and the people of New York cheer him on because he’s got their spirit in him.

The Scorecard

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is not as good a film as “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.” There’s even less character investment, the action is bigger and even more over-the-top, and the running time is longer, making the whole package a greater disconnect to the audience. In contrast, “Spider-Man 2” exceeds the film that inspired it noticeably by being even more about the character and putting that character to tests that the audience isn’t exactly sure will be met. “Spider-Man 2” rises above its genre in its second outing, daring to be the better film, gaining confidence and growing stronger. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” succumbs to its genre, deciding that the audience isn’t looking for anything but a great ride to chow down on some popcorn. Let’s give praise where it’s due. “Spider-Man 2” pulls off something that is incredibly rare: like “Godfather 2” it stands alone and the number in the title is the only reminder that it is a sequel.

The Decision

One franchise is getting smarter and growing. The other is getting goofier and trying to hit its marks without taking chances. It really doesn’t matter what the box office stats are here. The winner is easy — “SPIDER-MAN 2” completely blows away the competition.


About Bryce Zabel

Drawing inspiration from career experiences as a CNN correspondent, TV Academy chairman, writer/producer and fast-food cook, Bryce is the Editor-in-Chief of Movie Smackdown. While he freely admits to having written the screenplay for the reviewer-savaged "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation," he hopes the fact that he also won the Writers Guild award a couple of years ago will cause you to cut him some slack. He's also a member of the Directors Guild, creator of five primetime network TV series, and author of a new non-fiction book about UFOs.
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3 Responses to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) -vs- Spider Man 2 (2004)

  1. Poze says:

    One of the worst things that can happen in a sequel to a successful movie is that audiences will feel like they’re seeing the same movie again with slight variations on the theme. Dead Man’s Chest gives us all the characters we loved in the first movie, but puts them in a refreshingly original movie. The action sequences will keep you on the edge of your seat. And there are more laugh-out-loud moments in this movie than in most comedies. I felt entertained from the beginning right through to the special scene after the closing credits. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I and my entire family will be going to see it again today.

    For parents with young children: This movie is more violent than the first movie. There is a lot of killing, though none of it is shown close up or in a grisly manner. Davey Jones and his gang are very gross. In the screening I attended, there were a lot of “Ewwww!”s from the audience. If you have sensitive young ones, you should probably leave them at home.

  2. Mark says:

    Spider-Man 2 wins out in the end good call.

  3. Beau says:

    Yes, easily Spider-Man 2 takes the cake here for being smarter. However, smarter didn’t work for Superman Returns as it went up against POTC and was devestated at the box office. Go figure…

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