After the two-and-a-half-hour cliff-hanger that was Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest comes the nearly three-hour conclusion that is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. While that might seem like a daunting prospect for even the most ardent pirate lover, PotC:AWE is actually a rollicking good action flick—so far, the least disappointing tent pole release of the summer movie season.
This may come as quite a shock to those who were more than a little put off by the last Pirates outing (myself included). Dead Man’s Chest was an overly long muddle far more interested in slapstick and special effects than in coherent storytelling. That isn’t to suggest that At World’s End is a wildly different beast. It’s just that, for whatever reasons, AWE handles the elements with much greater aplomb.
For this third voyage, plucky corset-wearing cutie Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), pretty-boy swashbuckler Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and grizzled semi-reformed baddie Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) are poised to sail to the land of the dead to recover the soul of poor, dead rogue Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Seems all nine of the legendary “Pirate Lords” must be convened in order to fight off the dire threat of British military jerk Commander Norrington (Jack Davenport) and his supernatural, squid-faced enforcer Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). Jack, being one of the heretofore unmentioned Pirate Lords, is apparently the key to a haphazard plan that involves gathering nine mystical coins and resurrecting some sort of ancient sea goddess who may or may not assist the Pirate Lords in their literal last stand ... or something along those lines.
Admittedly, for its first couple reels, At World’s End is as hard to follow as its predecessor. The sheer volume of backstabbing, double-crossing and two-timing is dizzying to keep track of. (Who’s working for whom to acquire what mystical gewgaw and to what ends?) Still, it seems vaguely appropriate in this most piratey of worlds; and once viewers give up trying to suss out what exactly is going on, this third Pirate outing gets exponentially more entertaining. It took me about an hour to relax and just go with the flow (and given the 168-minute runtime, that ain’t bad). Once I shut off my brain, the film rewarded me by knocking off all the convoluted plot twists and settling into an all-action-all-the-time policy that made the last couple hours sing by at a jaunty pace.
I could still care less about the on-again, off-again romance between Bloom and Knightley. I’m still irked at the series’ insistence at constantly rejiggering its own mythos. Motivations turn on a dime, previously ordinary items are bestowed with sudden, convenient mystical powers and characters are given wildly different backgrounds from movie to movie. (One character in particular goes through a major, out-of-nowhere transformation on this go-around.)
Still, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Chow Yun-Fat (The Killer, Hard-Boiled) is a welcome addition to the cast, playing a menacing Chinese brigand. The more exotic Far East setting gives the cast plenty of colorful sets and costumes to play around with. And an even greater emphasis on the fantasy elements helpfully absolves this film from any sort of historical accuracy. (The surreal purgatory in which our pal Jack Sparrow finds himself is particularly entertaining.)
Thankfully, the film dumps almost all the clunky, repetitive slapstick that marred the second film—trading it in for some surprisingly sharp double entendres. Combine that with the shocking amount of violence on display and you’ve got a film that works quite well for adults, but really pushes the bounds of its PG-13 rating. Add in the bedtime-busting length and you’ve got a film that—fair warning—may not be appropriate for the youngest of youngsters. Adults and teens, however, are likely to find their summer moviegoing money well rewarded.
Depp, who seemed to be more or less repeating his schtick from the Curse of the Black Pearl in Dead Man’s Chest is given much more to do here than stagger around drunkenly. (In fact, his gloriously self-absorbed DT-induced hallucinations are among the film’s wittiest scenarios.) Black Pearl jokes that were lazily duplicated in Dead Man’s Chest (the dog with the keys, the two cowardly guards) are brazenly triplicated here and are somehow funny all over again. (Comedy Rule #114: Two is not a funny number, three is.) My only major wish is that Hans Zimmer’s bombastic soundtrack were a tad quieter, as it tends to drown out the films many witty one-liners.
In the wake of this film’s dizzying, visually spectacular naval-battle-to-end-all-naval-battles climax, I found myself in an unexpected position. Sitting in the theater, exhausted and grinning, I was actually excited at the prospect of seeing yet another Pirates of the Caribbean sequel—a possibility that At World’s End leaves tantalizingly, teasingly open.