Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Review of the film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

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We went to see the third Pirates of the Caribbean film, At World’s End, last night. As longtime readers may recall, I loved the first one, but was disappointed in the second one. The third one completes the story begun in the second one.

In that film, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) had been betrayed by Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly) and was killed by the kraken controlled by Davy Jones (a CGI construct viced by Bill Nighy). Jack’s crew, as well as Elizabeth and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) go to a witch friend of Jack’s, Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), to find out how to get him back, and she hooks them up with Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), apparently back from the dead.

In this film, Barbossa and crew try to persuade the other pirate lords (other than himself and Jack) to band together to defeat Davy Jones, who is now under the control of the British Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), who is set on wiping out the pirates. Barbossa gains control of a ship, and he and his crew sail over the edge of the world to bring Jack back from the wasteland of Davy Jones’ Locker. On their return, the principals all have different agendas: Jack is under the allure of killing Jones to take his place as an immortal captain; Barbossa simply wants to stop Jones and Beckett, and remain alive. Will wants to rescue his father, Bill (Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd), who is a servent aboard the Flying Dutchman. And Elizabeth, well, it’s never entirely clear what her motivations are, since she remains torn between Jack and Will, has some other curve balls lobbed her way, and remains something of a muddled character.

Like the second film, At World’s End is rather muddled. I agree with Peter David that it’s not a hard film to follow, but that doesn’t mean it’s altogether clear. Jack ends up talking to hallucinations of himself, but once he’s out of Davy Jones’ Locker, it’s not clear why. Will and Elizabeth are working out the broad strokes of their relationship during the film, and don’t seem to trust each other on a fundamental level, but none of it rings true; it feels contrived for dramatic effect, which just makes it hard to get invested in either of their characters. And far from lending needed gravity to the film, Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa is mostly played for comedic effect, often as a foil for Depp, but since he’s not a true adversary, he ends up seeming like a fifth wheel.

The film is full of sumptuous special effects. The effects of Davy Jones, the Dutchman, and his crew all feel a little old by now, but the climactic battle between the Dutchman and the Black Pearl is pretty impressive. The surrealistic land Jack finds in the Locker is cleverly portrayed, but not at such length that it gets boring. But the CGI does get in the way sometimes, often seeming to cry out, “Look at me! Look at how clever I am!” The final confrontation with Lord Beckett is very much in this vein: It’s a very impressive scene, but its sheer technical audacity takes away from the drama of the scene itself.

The characters and acting are uneven. To be fair, even the best writers would have had a hard time pulling off Captain Jack’s character through three films, making him basically likeable, and yet an almost-completely self-interested rogue. Hell, that they pulled it off for the first film was an accomplishment all by itself. Depp’s gotten a little criticism for mincing his way through the role a little too gleefully, and I think the charges have some warrant. He’s still a lot of fun to watch, though.

At the other end, Elizabeth went from being overmatched in the first film to rather unlikeable in this one, and Knightly not nearly a good enough actress to pull off this sort of challange. In the middle, Bloom does a decent heroic job with a decently heroic role, while Rush does about as well as one could hope with a poorly-written one. On the other hand, the cast of the Black Pearl’s crew fill their partly-dramatic, partly-comic roles quite well; I particularly enjoy Kevin McNally as Jack’s right-hand-man Gibbs.

The film takes an interesting turn at the end, completely dispensing with one major plot element, while sending one of our main characters in an unexpected direction. It actually works, but it all feels a little too messy, and a little too dragged-out, to be a really satisfying story.

The net result is that the film is much like the second: Enjoyable, but haphazard and too long. I wish it took itself a little more seriously, and a little less flamboyantly. But, sequels often feel the need to top their predecessors, and often try to their detriment. The first one is far better than either of the other two.