Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Director : Gore Verbinski
Screenplay : Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (based on characters created by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : Johnny Depp (Jack Sparrow), Geoffrey Rush (Barbossa), Orlando Bloom (Will Turner), Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann), Jack Davenport (Norrington), Bill Nighy (Davy Jones), Chow Yun-Fat (Captain Sao Feng), Jonathan Pryce (Governor Weatherby Swann), Lee Arenberg (Pintel), Mackenzie Crook (Ragetti), Kevin R. McNally (Gibbs), David Bailie (Cotton), Stellan Skarsgård (“Bootstrap” Bill Turner), Tom Hollander (Lord Cutler Beckett), Naomie Harris (Tia Dalma), Martin Klebba (Marty), David Schofield (Mercer)
If last year's Dead Man's Chest, the second installment of the lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, was an enjoyably overstuffed B-movie actioneer taken to ludicrous new heights, At World's End, the third and ostensibly final installment, busts at the seams. Running nearly three hours and tying together multiple plot strands left dangling at the end of part two (as well as new ones it creates), At World's End is nothing if not ambitious--the modern blockbuster reconceived as mythic grandiosity. And to think that the original movie was based on a theme park ride.
Everything is bigger and louder and longer this time around, which isn't always a good thing. For one, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), the hilariously devilish pirate fop who has been the series' deranged heart and soul, gets additional screen time via multiplication. Last seen in the jaws of the giant kracken, Sparrow finds himself in “Davy Jones' Locker,” the mythic “bottom of the sea” that is the final resting place of drowned sailors. Envisioned as a massive white desert, the Locker gives Depp a chance to flex his acting muscle by playing multiple hallucinatory Jack Sparrows who interact comically. Even after he escapes the Locker (you know he has to get out at some point), the multiple-Sparrows idea persists with scenes in which the good captain debates different aspects of his personality that are represented as miniatures of himself hanging by his dreadlocks. If you can't make it good, make it weird.
There is so much going on plot-wise in At World's End that it's difficult to even think about the act of summarizing (returning screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio have said in interviews that they intended the film to be at least partially incomprehensible with only one viewing). The romantic hero and heroine Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) are back and bland as ever, despite the heavy dishing of grrrl power as Elizabeth not only asserts herself more than ever, but at one point becomes a pirate king. Will and Elizabeth's romance continues to be laboriously strained, but credit the filmmakers for finding a way to inject some genuine poignancy into their relationship in the final reel. It was the first time I found myself truly caring about these characters in a long time.
Depp's scenery chewing is challenged by the welcome return of Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa, the undead pirate antagonist from the first film, who has been brought back to life by the mysterious Cajun witch Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) to help rescue Sparrow. It all has something to do with battling the nefarious East India Trading Company, which is headed by the smarmy corporate raider Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). Beckett now controls the villainous Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), who is just as grumpy and tentacled as ever. And, while Jones gets much less screen time than he did in Dead Man's Chest, Nighy makes the most of every moment, despite being buried behind pounds of digitally created facial tentacles. The only major new character brought in is Chow Yun-Fat's Captain Sao Feng, who is surprisingly forgettable despite the Hong Kong star's formidable screen presence.
A significant part of the story involves the uniting of the nine pirate lords to fight Beckett, which results in an amusing roundtable scene in which we see pirate “politics” in action (hint: it involves fighting). Even without the inter-pirate squabbling, there are all kinds of deals made and broken, betrayals, and betrayals of betrayals (and, I think, a betrayal of a betrayal of a betrayal). I'm sure a super-fan somewhere out there on the Internet has broken it all down into a flow chart by now, but on first viewing it can be slightly confusing.
Surprisingly enough, this doesn't detract terribly from the film's enjoyment. It has a devil-may-care ridiculousness that returning director Gore Verbinski plays to the hilt, and even when big moments don't click the way they should (including the much anticipated appearance of Depp performance muse Keith Richards, looking waxy as ever), it's easy to forget because the story is off and running in a new direction.
The final battle scene, which brings together every major character as two ships duel it out in an increasingly violent whirlpool in the middle of the ocean, is the very definition of excess, but the way it's cut together keeps it exciting and engaging. At World's End has more of everything, and if there is a near-fatal flaw, it is that it comes dangerously close to taking itself too seriously. The pleasure in the first Pirates movie was its playful subversion of blockbuster tropes, and while At World's End maintains some vestiges of that daring, I fear that the filmmakers may have bought too deeply into their own delusions of grandeur.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2007 Walt Disney Pictures