When Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the final installment of John Williams' six-opera cycle Star Wars, came out a few years back, many people were confused about what had happened in episodes I and II, so I put together a little recap of the story so far. Several people said they found it helpful, and it certainly helped me get things straight in my own head.
Similarly, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was a picture in which a hell of a lot happens, and many folks, including yours truly, came away a bit confused. With Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End opening very shortly, and the trailer looking really fun, I thought I would try my hand at recapping again.
So, in brief:
Dead Man's Chest was the story of the quest for the heart of Davy Jones. Jack Sparrow wants it as a way to escape from having to pay the debt of his soul to Jones. Lord Beckett wants it as a way to command Jones to use the Kraken to secure the sea for the East India Trading Company. Elizabeth Swann wants it to trade it to Beckett in exchange for freedom for herself and Will Turner ... who wants it not for himself or Elizabeth, but to fulfill his oath to kill Jones that he may win his father's freedom from serving aboard Jones' ship the Flying Dutchman. Former commodore James Norrington wants it to trade to Beckett to regain his honour and his sea captaincy. And Davy Jones himself wants to protect it from all of these interlopers.
The film concludes with the heart in Beckett's possession, through Norrington. Jack has perished at the tentacles of Jones' Kraken ... through Elizabeth's treachery. Everyone save Elizabeth mistakenly thinks that Jack died a selfless hero's death. Will mistakenly thinks that Elizabeth betrayed him by becoming Jack's lover. Davy Jones mistakenly thinks that Jack absconded with his heart.
Voodoo witch Tia Dalma has proposed that the crew of the now sunken Pearl attempt to bring back Jack Sparrow by traveling to World's End under the command of the mysteriously resurrected Barbossa.
Those are the basics, but there's a lot of stuff that has evidently been set up for callbacks in the next picture. I find that the best way to be clear about the details is to revisit the dramatis personæ:
Evil captain of the Flying Dutchman
As cruel and frightening as the Devil himself, Jones commands a host of magical powers which make him the greatest scourge of the sea. He can bind men to him and his ship in a Faustian bargain that extends their lives but slowly transforms them into monstrous sea creatures. He can command the terrible Kraken, whose great tentacles can sink any ship. He can mark men with the Black Spot, which draws the wrath of the Kraken.
Jones has two important vulnerabilities. He may only set foot on land once each ten years. And, to escape the pain of lost love, he carved out his own heart and locked it in the Dead Man's Chest, which was concealed on Isla Cruces until it was stolen; Jones believes Jack Sparrow to be responsible for his lost heart.
Pirate captain of the Black Pearl
Jack gained the captaincy of the Pearl through a bargain with Davy Jones, who raised the ship from the depths for Jack in exchange for the promise of Jack's soul. Once in command, Jack lost the Pearl to a mutiny by his first mate, Barbossa, regaining the ship after defeating his mutinous crew and killing Barbossa. Knowing that Jones would soon come to claim his soul, Sparrow discovered that Jones possessed a valuable key which Jack hoped to steal and use as ransom.
With Capt Sparrow's contract up, Jones sent his crewman Bootstrap Bill Turner to mark Jack with the Black Spot. Thus vulnerable to the Kraken on the open ocean, Jack beached the Pearl on Isla de Pelegostos, where he was recognized as chief of the local cannibal tribe. But when the Pelegostos attempted to cook and eat him, Jack retook the helm of the Pearl and went to consult with the voodoo witch Tia Dalma.
Tia Dalma was surprised to have Jack coming to her for aid, since he possesses a magic compass which she traded to him some time ago. The compass points to the thing which the bearer wants most; Jack used it to find the hidden Isla de la Meurta when seeking his vengeance on Barbossa. But the compass has failed him; did he not know what he wanted?
Using the undead monkey mascot of the Black Pearl as payment, Sparrow learned from Tia Dalma several of Jones' secrets: that Jones kept the key with him at all times, that the key unlocked the Dead Man's Chest containing Jones' heart, Jones' inability to set foot on land, and a location where Jones and the Dutchman could be found. (Jack also acquired from Tia Dalma a jar of dirt of uncertain value, which would later be lost in a mishap during the confronatation with the Dutchman.)
Tia Dalma's guidance brought Sparrow to an encounter with Jones and the Dutchman at a shipwreck. Sparrow tricked Will Turner into being shanghaied onto Jones' crew, and won a few days' reprieve from Jones by promising to find a hundred new crewmembers for the Dutchman.
Seeking new crewman to trade to Jones at the pirate port of Tortuga, Jack fails to recruit the requisite hundred men ... but he does take on a few new crew members, including James Norrington and and Will Turner's fiancée Elizabeth Swann. Jack tells Elizabeth that Will has been captured by Davy Jones—leaving out his own complicity—and informs her that in order to rescue Will she wants to locate the Dead Man's Chest. Handing her his compass, Elizabeth's desire to find the Chest directs its needle, and with it Jack and crew come to Isla Cruces and unearth the Chest.
But Davy Jones has also come, frightened by his loss of the key to the chest. Will escapes from the Dutchman, bearing the key, and finding Jack, Elizabeth, and Norrington digging up the Chest. These four, plus the crew of the Dutchman and Pearl crewmen Pintel and Ragetti all compete to secure the chest ... and by extension, Jones' heart.
Jack removes the heart from the Chest and puts it in the jar of dirt, without realizing that it subsequently gets stolen out of the jar.
Back aboard the Pearl, Jack faces Jones and the Dutchman, confidently thinking he can escape Jones' wrath through possession of his heart. When Sparrow and Jones learn that Capt Sparrow does not in fact possess the heart, Jones summons the Kraken to attack the Pearl. In the confusion, Sparrow first attempts to slip away in the Pearl's single remaining longboat, but then he has a change of heart and returns to aid in the ship's defense. Largely as a result of Will Turner's leadership and daring, they succeed in driving back the Kraken briefly. But knowing that the Kraken will return, Jack regretfully orders the crew to abandon the Pearl.
As the crew departs, Jack is confronted by Elizabeth, who reminds him that the Kraken is not pursuing any of them—it only wants Jack. She tricks him, shackling him to the mast so that they may escape. He escapes from his shackles, too late to escape the Kraken but in time to stand and face his certain death sword in hand.
Lord Cutler Beckett
Carribean agent of the East India Trading Company
Cutler Beckett, wishing to see the era of piracy ended in favour of a maritime order of global trade, set many things in motion with his pursuit of Davy Jones' heart. With possession of the heart, he will control Jones, who controls the Kraken ... meaning that Lord Beckett will control the sea.
He possesses warrants for the arrest of Captain Jack Sparrow, as well as for Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner for having aided him. His soldiers seize and imprison Elizabeth and Will, and they face the death penalty. But Beckett also possesses a pardon and a letter of marque and reprisal, both signed by the King. The former will mean acquittal from the death penalty, the latter will turn its bearer into a privateer, a pirate with England's protection.
Beckett dispatches Will to find Jack Sparrow, offering Will the pardon and Jack the letters in exchange for Jack's compass. Beckett has encountered Jack Sparrow before, knows the compass' powers, and intends to use the compass to locate Davy Jones' heart.
Beckett is confronted by Elizabeth, who has escaped from prison with the aid of her father, Governor Weatherby Swann. At gunpoint, he gives her the letters of marque.
Though Elizabeth remains at large, Beckett threatens Governor Swann with his daughter's eventual capture and hanging. In exchange for Beckett's leniency with Elizabeth, Swann grants Beckett his loyalty and political influence.
At the end of Dead Man's Chest, Beckett acquires Jones' heart through James Norrington.
Beckett's reach is enhanced by his right-hand man, the shadowy cutthroat Mr Mercer.
Blacksmith turned freebooter
Arrested by Lord Beckett, together with his fiancée Elizabeth Swann on the morning of their wedding day, Will faces the death penalty for having aided Captain Jack Sparrow in the events of Curse of the Black Pearl. Beckett dispatched Will on a search for Capt Jack, offering the letters of marque to Jack and a pardon to Will in exchange for Jack's compass.
Will tracked Jack to Isla de Pelegostos, there joining his crew. Jack offered the compass to Will in exchange for Will's aid in locating Davy Jones' key. Trickery by Jack put Will aboard the Flying Dutchman, where he discovered his father, Bootstrap Bill Turner, among the crew. To locate the key, Will challenged Jones to a dice wager of his soul against the key. His father joined the wager, and overbid to protect Will, thus condemning himself to an eternity of servitude aboard the Dutchman. While among the crew, Will also learns that the key opens the Dead Man's Chest which contains Jones' heart.
Will stole the key and swore an oath to liberate his father by plunging his father's knife into the heart of Jones. Slipping off the Dutchman at Isla Cruces, he was reunited with Jack and the crew of the Dutchman, including Elizabeth, who he tells about Jack's treachery putting him aboard the Dutchman. He united the key with the Chest and joined the contest for possession of Jones' heart, drawing swords against both Jack and Norrington unsuccessfully.
Returning to the Pearl with Jack and the crew, Will daringly led the defense against the Kraken, having been a witness to previous attacks by the beast. He urged Jack to use the Pearl's superior speed in a bid to defeat the Dutchman so that he might liberate his father, but Jack preferred to try to run ... unsuccessfully, as they were overtaken by the Kraken. When Jack finally ordered the abandonment of the Pearl to the Kraken, Will surreptitiously saw Elizabeth kissing Jack just before Jack's final, fatal confrontation with the beast.
Returning with the Pearl crew to Tia Dalma's shack, despondent over both the lost opportunity to rescue his father and what he imagines to be the loss of Elizabeth's love, Will joins the Pearl crew in vowing to attempt a journey to World's End to recover Jack from death.
Tia Dalma asserts that Will has “a touch of destiny about him,” and with the possible exception of Elizabeth, Will is the most skilled swordsman of all of the characters.
Governor's daughter turned freebooter
Confronting Beckett after her escape and Will's beginning his quest for Jack's compass, Elizabeth learned of Lord Beckett's desire for the compass as a tool to find the Chest, and obtained from Beckett letters of marque and reprisal.
Disguised as a boy, Elizabeth made her way to the pirate port of Tortuga, where she found Jack recruiting sailors (as part of his ploy to deliver new crewmen to Davy Jones). Joining the crew of the Pearl, she learns from Jack that Will has been shanghaied aboard the Dutchman. Jack convinces her that the way to recover Will is through possession of the Dead Man's Chest, and her desire for the chest enables her to locate it using the compass ... though occasional thoughts of lust cause the compass needle to drift over to point to Jack Sparrow.
When it became clear that the Kraken was inescapable, Elizabeth realized that the remaining crew of the Pearl could survive if they were separated from Jack, who bearing the Black Spot was the Kraken's true target. Distracting Jack with a kiss, she shackled him to the mast of the Pearl so the crew could make good their escape.
Jack, almost pleased, calls her “pirate” as she leaves. But she is guilt-ridden at her betrayal of him, and this guilt drives her to join the crew in their attempt to recover Jack in a quest to World's End.
Rum-soaked former Commodore
Onetime rival to William Turner for Elizabeth Swann's affections, Norrington lost his commission in the British Navy after his obsessive pursuit of Jack Sparrow drove him to sink a ship in a hurricane. A broken man, he became a drunkard haunting the alleys of Tortuga ... until, desperate, he joined Sparrow's crew.
Once aboard the Pearl, Norrington overheard Elizabeth offering Beckett's letters of marque and reprisal to Capt Sparrow in exchange for the Dead Man's chest, and so under cover of the confusion at Isla Cruces he stole both the letters of marque and Davy Jones' heart. The crew of the Pearl presumes Norrington dead at the hands of Jones' crew, but in fact he survived to bring the heart to Lord Beckett and thus claim Beckett's signature on the letters of marque.
Aiding the crew of the Pearl for her own hidden purposes, Tia Dalma may once have been lover to both Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones. (Tia Dalma and Davy Jones possess matching heart/crab shaped lockets.)
By means unknown, she has resurrected Jack's old rival Barbossa, who she says can lead the crew through the treacherous waters of World's End to recover Jack Sparrow from death.
Mutinous captain of the Black Pearl
Leader of the mutiny against Jack Sparrow, died by Jack's hand at the end of Curse of the Black Pearl, but found alive in the company of Tia Dalma at the end of Dead Man's Chest.