Conference’s End

Another WWDC is in the books. I spent three days working hours in the Mac OS X lab, answering a variety of Xcode questions. I went to see one presentation, and saw a few friends in the developer community whom I don’t otherwise see. I took CalTrain to and from the conference, which is fun, and gave me a bunch of bonus exercise. It did get me to wake up a little earlier than usual, which isn’t such a bad thing.

After I wrapped up the conference today I went shopping. I stopped at Borderlands Books where I bought a couple of things and spent some quality time with Ripley, who very cleverly enticed me back to the couch where I could sit down so she could sit in my lap. No dumb cat, that.

I also went by Comix Experience and Gamescape, where I was less successful, although I did help recommend Fables to another customer at the former.

Now I’m ready for a nice quiet weekend. My legs are tired from all the walking.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 13 June 2007.

  • Countdown #46 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Fables: Sons of Empire TPB vol 9, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Michael Allred & others (DC/Vertigo)
  • Fables #62, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice #12 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Doug Braithwaite (DC)
  • Nova #3, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • World War Hulk #1 of 5, by Greg Pak, John Romita Jr., & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls # 4 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • New Tales of Old Palomar #2, by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
  • Hero by Night #4 of 4, by D.J. Coffman & Jason Embury (Platinum Studios)

I realized earlier this week that Countdown seems to be featuring mostly new artists in its stable. I think the most prominent artist I recognized was J. Calafiore, who’s mainly known for his decent-but-unspectacular work on Marvel’s Exiles. 52 used several artists per issue (until the later issues), which made for uneven artwork, but there was usually some good stuff in each issue. So far, none of the Countdown artists have been duds, so that’s good.

Justice is one of the least-necessary mini-series in recent memory. Ross’ painting over Braithwaite’s pencils was so-so, certainly nowhere near as good as raw Ross. The story was a straight-up classic JLA story: A bunch of villains get together to erase the heroes and take over the world, but the heroes fight back, and one of the villains has a secret plan behind the main plan. Plot-by-numbers, with the additional (and ultimately meaningless) element of the villains knowing the heroes’ secret identities.

The series tries to be different by providing insight into the heroes’ psyches, via first-hand narratives. Frankly, it’s just awful. Somehow Kurt Busiek makes this sort of monologue work in series like Marvels (Ross’ first major work) and Astro City, but it completely fizzles here, sounding contrived and often cloying (which it also did in Ross’ series of tabloids with Paul Dini from a few years ago). For instance, this scene:

[Superman streaks out of the sky, heat vision flashing.]

Superman: No one’s going to die, Scarecrow. Not in your city, or the one that’s sinking. Or in any of them. Not one. Not today.

Green Lantern (internal monologue): There’s fear in Superman’s voice. He doesn’t believe his words. He says them anyway. As if speaking the impossible is the first step to making it possible.

The series was full of tell-don’t-show text like this. Wordy, unnecessary.

If you cut out that stuff, the series is just another Justice League story, with way too many characters. It doesn’t even make me nostalgic for the 70s JLA, it’s just not a good series. But it’s over.

World War Hulk, on the other hand, is a lot of fun so far. Not least because Iron Man and his cronies need their butts kicked by someone, and the Hulk’s a great candidate to do it. I’m not a big fan of John Romita Jr’s artwork but he does have a clarity of layout to make the big fight scenes entertaining. The blogosphere is giving this one good reviews so far, so it looks like writer Greg Pak is going places.

Nova is another side of the Civil War fallout, and issue #3 continues to build on the series’ strong start, as Nova encounters some new enemies and an old friend and see just how messed up the Marvel universe has become. It looks like the series is pulling away from Earth for a while after this issue (presumably because Nova might actually be powerful to take on the Hulk and that would just confuse everything), but hopefully it will continue to be as rewarding. I’m reluctant to bother with any of Marvel’s space-based cross-overs, so I hope the next few issues will be readable on their own.

New Tales of Old Palomar is surreal this month. Disappointing, really. I prefer the character stuff.

John Scalzi: The Last Colony

Review of the novel The Last Colony, by John Scalzi.

  • The Last Colony

    • by John Scalzi
    • HC, © 2007, 320 pp, Tor Books, ISBN 0-765-31697-8

I observed when reviewing Alastair Reynolds’ The Prefect that Reynolds’ writing style is to make the reader wait for the next shoe to drop. Scalzi’s style is also of that sort, but with a different twist: Reynolds’ stories make you wonder, “What awful thing is going to happen to our characters next?”, while Scalzi’s is to make you wonder, “What’s he up to?” In a sense, Reynolds’ stories are about the ramifications of characters pursuing their agendas, while Scalzi’s are about the characters’ agendas themselves and how those agendas reflect the characters and vice-versa.

I digress in this way because it’s difficult to summarize the plot of The Last Colony without giving away some of the plot, because a lot of the fun of a Scalzi novel is when someone shows up and characters engage in some witty banter while you’re wondering “What’s he up to?”, and then you find out, and someone gets pissed off.

So if you don’t want any of the surprises at all spoiled for you, I’ll simply say that if you enjoyed Scalzi’s first two novels in the Old Man’s War series (which I’ve reviewed previously), then you’ll enjoy this one just as much.

So, onwards:

The Last Colony opens with John Perry (the protagonist of Old Man’s War) and Jane Sagan (a supporting character in both OMW and The Ghost Brigades) living on a colony with their adopted daughter Zoë (also from TGB), when one of Perry’s former commanders comes to ask if they’d be willing to oversee a new colony, one being colonized by people from other colonies, rather than from Earth as is the norm. Reluctantly, they agree to take the job.

When the colonists arrive at Roanoke, however, they find that not only is it not the planet they’d thought it was, but that they’re being used by the Colonial Union as pawns: Hundreds of alien races have allied in a group called the Conclave. Recall that in the universe of OMW aliens are all constantly fighting for colony space, so races working together is rare, and on this scale, it’s unprecedented. The Conclave seeks to forge peace by prohibiting colonies by races who aren’t in the conclave (which includes humans), and regulating colonies by members. It’s a lofty goal, but prohibition means “exterminating any colony founded since the Conclave pact was signed if they refuse to leave on their own”. Roanoke is such a colony, and it’s being carefully hidden in the CU’s resistance to the Conclave. So John, Jane, and company have to rough it on a world not-well-explored, worrying if a fleet of ships is going to appear above them at any moment.

And that’s just the first third (or so) of the book.

The Last Colony is about truth and lies, trust and betrayal, and doing the right thing in the face of dire consequences. John is frequently lied to (usually by omission), but bonds of trust between people who deal with each other honorably prove to be the means to solve many of the problems he faces. There’s a lot of “what goes around, comes around” in this book. John doesn’t quite escape without getting his hands dirty, but he does go out of his way to behave honorably towards people he feels deserve it (and even a few he doesn’t). He tries to keep the high ground, but he also tries to be prepared if his more honorable efforts don’t work out.

The overarching theme of the book is one of trust in individuals versus trust in one’s leaders; where does one’s loyalties lie? Can you be a patriot when your nation theatens you and your family for its own greater good? As the colony leader, John works from both positions: He deals with his own superiors, with leaders of other factions, with threats to his own position from within the colony, and with his relationship with the colonists. Even when his own government misleads or lies to him, individuals within that government try to aid him to the extent that they can. There’s a lot of balancing the good of the few against the good of the many. Scalzi does a great job of winding his way through many different tensions of this sort, taking the story to a satisfying conclusion without necessarily drawing any final answers about the larger subjects. Ultimately, these issues tend to depend on the situation anyway; context matters.

As always, Scalzi’s writing is punchy, fast-paced, and funny. The cutting quip and sardonic comeback are his stock-in-trade. Occasionally he perhaps plays a little too fast-and-loose with his subjects: The CU’s plan to battle the Conclave seemed a little too convenient, and a supporting character dies in the final battle in an off-handed manner that felt too casual. These are small complaints, though; demanding that every detail be fully fleshed out isn’t entirely reasonable.

Although the series is not high on the technological ideas index, it is great fun to read, thought-provoking and exciting. Scalzi may write more stories in the OMW universe, but this little trilogy stands on its own as well worth reading regardless of what comes after.

(For what it’s worth, I think The Ghost Brigades is the best of the three.)

Karl Schroeder: Lady of Mazes

Review of the novel Lady of Mazes, by Karl Schroeder.

I had suggested reading something by Schroeder for the Kepler’s book discussion group, and was happy that we’d be reading this one since it’s the one book by him I haven’t read (I read Sun of Suns when it was serialized in Analog). Unfortunately, I think this is the weakest of Schroeder’s four novels to date.

The novel is told in three parts. The first part takes place on Teven Coronal, a ring station whose populace is divided up into separate “manifolds”, virtual reality spaces with different technological levels and cultures. Peoples’ perceptions are carefully regulated based on their belief systems, and it’s difficult to move between the manifolds since it requires being able to consciously change your perceptions. Our heroine, Livia Kodaly, lives in the Westerhaven manifold, which has a veneer of upper-class Renaissance culture (where authority and reputation govern who’s willing to interact with and listen to you), but with a sophisticated technological level. But Livia and her friend Aaron were in an accident some years earlier in which they were stranded outside the manifolds, and this experience changed their perceptions of Teven, and Livia is able to move between the manifolds more easily than most of her peers.

In this part, Teven is invaded by representatives of something called 3340, who are subverting the manifolds by pushing the peoples’ perceptions to the edges of what their manifolds support, which causes the boundaries between them to collapse, resulting in war between the manifolds. Livia, Aaron, and their ally Qiingi – from a low-tech manifold – manage to escape the invaders and cast off into space in a makeshift craft, in seek of help.

This leads to the second part, in which they arrive in the Archipelago, a society of stations in the vicinity of Jupiter. There they learn that Teven is in a part of space which is kept off-limits to the rest of humanity through the authority of powerful posthumans known as the Anecliptics. One of Teven’s founders gained the right to the station through a bargain with the Anecliptics, but no one else is allowed in, making hope of allies to save Teven look bleak. The Archipelago is rather the opposite of Teven: Individuals freely interact, but each has their own computer-managed “narrative” which nourishes their lives to make them as comfortable and rewarding as possible. A handful of people choose to live without narratives, but they’re in the minority. Among these is Doran Morss, a rich man with his own ship who seeks to free humanity from the oversight of the Anecliptics and the narrative system, but his pleas mostly fall on deaf ears.

Livia and company find their way in the Archipelago, covertly trying to find someone to help them save Teven, until they learn what 3340 is and what its goals are. This leads into the third part, in which we learn about Teven’s history, the Anecliptics’ mistakes, and 3340’s plans and allies.

Once again, Schroeder delivers the goods in the form of some thought-provoking and challenging ideas, contrasting the homogeneous society of the Archipelago with the forcibly-separated ones on Teven, and driving the plot with the struggle to free oneself from societal constraints imposed by higher beings. But unfortunately the goods come along with some “bads”: The book’s themes and struggles feel so abstract, and its characters so one-dimensional, that it’s very difficult to figure out what the various sides are, never mind which ones to get behind.

The book is extremely slow to get moving, although others in our discussion appreciated the first part (of three) for its cultural anthropological examinations. I felt like I got the idea rather quickly, and I wish for character development and for the plot to get moving, but it wasn’t until the second part the either happened, and then it was only the latter; the characters never did develop very much. Doran Morss could have been the most interesting character in the book – experienced, thoughtful, passionate – but we only saw brief glimpses of his feelings, so he was only slightly more than a peripheral figure – not much more than a plot device to enable 3340’s ultimate goal, really.

The final third felt quite muddled to me; although Livia’s resolution to the basic problem of 3340 was pretty clever, the story tailed off after that, with a set of epilogues (of sorts) which just didn’t work for me.

There are a lot of crunchy ideas here, but I think Schroeder just didn’t organize them into a good story. The book actually bears a lot of resemblance to his first novel, Ventus, which I’d say was his weakest book before I read this one, but it feels more concrete and like it flows more smoothly, even if its ideas are more conservative. But story counts for a lot, and the story here was both thin and scattered. A disappointment.

Insanity Week

The latest semi-irregular round-up of my life since I haven’t been posting regularly lately.

For most of my co-workers, this is insanity week.1 For me, last week was insanity week, and it had nothing to do with work, which has actually been quite reasonable for me lately (read: I’m not actually presenting anything at WWDC).

Last week was nuts for a lot of little reasons, and most of it revolved around gaming:

Last weekend I had wanted to host a Magic booster draft, but I wasn’t able to get enough interest, so it didn’t happen. That bummed me out. So I made plans to host again this past Saturday, since Debbi was going to be busy from late morning to mid-afternoon. Unfortunately, a couple of people couldn’t make it until mid-afternoon, which made the whole thing questionable.

Meanwhile, my new(ish) friend Lee wanted to host poker on Thursday, which I was also into, but for quite a while it looked like we might not have enough for that either. I eventually recruited my friend James for poker, and we jointly twisted my co-worker Daniel’s arm, so we had 7 people on Thursday, which was nice. We played a mini-tournament and I finished 4th (i.e. “just out of the money, again”), mainly because I took a couple of bad beats when I was the big stack which crippled me. (When I call an all-in bet with my A-9 and my short-stacked opponent turns over A-9 too, and then makes a flush on the river, I think that’s a bad beat.) But I mostly think I played very well, never going all-in until my final hand when I was forced to, and playing with the big stack for quite a while, which was fun. I certainly made some mistakes, but I managed to get away from them. No doubt a close assessment of my play would still make me appear as a newbie, but I was pretty happy.

And then on Saturday we played Magic, specifically the Mirrodin block, which is artifact-based, and which was new to all of us. Again, we had 7 people, and it was a lot of fun. A very interesting block to play. I ended up with a better-than-average deck, I think, with a couple of bombs, but a few weaknesses, too. I got very lucky a couple of times while playing, but then, that’s part of what makes it fun!

Unfortunately, Lee ended up getting sick and wasn’t able to make it, so he still hasn’t been over to see my house and meet the kitties. But we might get together with him and his wife sometime outside of gaming time to make that happen.

So all the gaming turned out well, but it took a lot of time and energy to organize it than it seemed like it ought to have taken. I guess that’s life sometimes. It reminds me why I’m less willing to take on ongoing organizational tasks like the fantasy baseball league these days, though.

Meanwhile, the first weekend we ended up going to a little party thrown by my friend Lucy, whom I haven’t seen in quite a while. It was a party with a Tiki theme and revolving around her writerly friends, but Debbi and I had a great time anyway (by which you can infer that my writing has not been going so well lately). I drank more alcohol at it than I have in quite a while, and was glad Debbi was willing to drive home when we packed it in late in the evening.

And then I had to read the book for last night’s book discussion, Karl Schroeder’s Lady of Mazes, which I kept putting off and then had to frantically finish up Sunday afternoon. Review forthcoming. Okay, this hole I dug myself. But still.

My weekend wrapped up with the discussion itself – which ran about 30 minutes long – and then packing up some stuff I sold on eBay so I could mail it today. And then, whew! My crazy week was over. Fun (mostly), but very tiring.

So anyway, yeah. Now it’s WWDC. I’ll be working in the labs a few days this week, answering questions for folks. Not as easy as it sounds: The questions can be difficult, and there’s a lot of working in-depth with folks to figure out how to do what they need to do. So it’s mentally pretty tiring. But it’s nice to see people out there using the code I’ve written. If you happen to be at the conference, feel free to stop by and say “hi”! (Which would be an interesting change of pace, since I’ve never experienced WWDC as a social event, as I know some people do. I’ve always assumed this is because Mac programming is my vocation, not my hobby, but I don’t really know why. Of course, it takes some effort for me to experience science fiction conventions as social events rather than geeking-out-in-my-own-headspace events, so it’s probably just me.)

(1 It’s not really insanity week, it’s just a very busy week, and many of them enjoy it very much. But it is a very different week from the other 51 weeks in the year.)

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 6 June 2007.

Once again, it’s last week’s haul this week. And once again, it’s a small one:

  • Countdown #47 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, & Tom Derenick (DC)
  • Jack of Fables #11, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Welcome to Tranquility #7 by Gail Simone, Neil Googe & Stephen Molnar (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Ms. Marvel #16, by Brian Reed, Aaron Lopresti & Matt Ryan (Marvel)

The blogosphere has been abuzz about Countdown, and the trend doesn’t seem to be good. The Invincible Super-Blog hates it (my preciousssss…), while Living Between Wednesdays thinks it’s okay. Meanwhile, Comics Should Be Good quotes Jerry Ordway on the darkening of Mary Marvel; Ordway was the architect of SHAZAM!’s most recent successful revival, and he isn’t wild about what they’re doing (and I can certainly see his point). Lastly, Comix Experience observes that orders at their store for Countdown are plummeting quickly.

I’m pretty much with Rachelle at LBW: It’s entertaining, it’s not as good as 52. But then, we’re only 5 weeks in, and I don’t reall the first 5 weeks of 52 being any great shakes, either. (BTW, I’ve heard rumors that Countdown will lead into something called Final Crisis, which is alluded to in the current JLA/JSA team-up. But if you think I believe the word “Final” will actually play true, then I’ve got an abandoned satellite headquarters to sell you…)

This issue of Jack of Fables is my last. It hasn’t found the balance of characters and storylines that Fables did, and this issue shows just how thoroughly unlikeable Jack is as a character, and why he therefore can’t really carry the series. Which is unfortunate, since it’s his series. I gave it a good try, but it doesn’t work for me.

It’s slowly sinking in that Welcome to Tranquility reminds me of nothing so much as Alan Moore’s enjoyable run on Supreme from a decade or so back: The old super-heroes in the present day, the new generation, the occasional old-style flashbacks to previous adventures, and the hint of kitsch in the characters’ catch-phrases. A deliberate homage? Hard to say, since Moore’s approach to superheroes and their legacies is pervasive in modern comics, between Watchmen, Supreme and Tom Strong. Tranquility is a little weird since its characters are so mostly pretty far afield of the archetypes we’re used to (well, that I’m used to), so there’s no real sense of nostalgia but there’s a strong sense that there should be.

I’m not really sure what to make of the total package: There are things I like, and things I don’t, and the whole is strange and off-beat, but doesn’t feel fresh or entirely satisfying. Is Simone just nutty in a different way from your typical comics writer (and since your typical comics writer is a man, the answer is probably “yes, and that’s a good thing”), or is Tranquility just an experiment that doesn’t quite gel? Maybe both.

PokerWiki

PokerWiki is – you guessed it – a wiki for all things poker. It’s actually an impressive resource. For instance, it has a map of casinos in the Bay Area. Also, it appears that local casinos don’t spread No Limit Hold ‘Em because it’s illegal in Santa Clara County (according to the Bay 101 entry), and maybe in the state (according to the Lucky Chances entry).

I’ll have to dig into this site more deeply.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 31 May 2007.

Comics were a day late this week, due to Memorial Day.

  • Countdown #48 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, David Lopez & Don Hillsman (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #6, by Geoff Johns, Dale Eaglesham & Ruy José (DC)
  • The Incredible Hulk #108, by Greg Pak, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (Marvel)
  • Hellboy: Darkness Calls #2 of 6, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • Girls: Extinction TPB vol 4, by Joshua Luna & Jonathan Luna (Image)
  • Pacesettiner: The George Pérez Magazine #8 (Tony Lorenz Productions)

The problem with “The Lightning Saga” currently running through JLA/JSA, I think, is that it’s got too many characters, and hence, essentially no characterization. With only one chapter to go, either this whole thing has just been a set-up for some other story (possible, since Karate Kid has also been appearing in Countdown), or else it’s just going to fizzle. The unfortunate thing is that it feels like it’s undercutting the ongoing story of Starman, who is semi-amnesiac and not all right in the head, but it’s hard to envision him not heading back to the 30th century following this story, and that would be a big disappointment.

Girls wraps up with this fourth collection. This was a moderately interesting story showing how we an turn against each other in times of stress and danger: A group of girls appears in a small town, which is also cut off from the outside world by a force field. The girls reproduce by seducing the men of the town, and also attack and kill any of the women that they encounter. It feels like a good old horror flick, but takes its psychological drama more seriously, and doesn’t just kill everyone off.

As a study of human nature, it’s not bad. As a story with a plot, it’s pretty weak, and the ending feels like J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars series (which is not a flattering comparison). The ending feels empty and a little pointless. I suspect the Luna brothers thought that the human tensions could carry the story, but since there’s been a big “what’s going on?” question hanging over the series since the beginning, the lack of a satisfying answer to that question just means that they were wrong. So it ended up being an interesting read, but ultimately it was lacking.

I’ve been a fan of George Pérez’s artwork for decades, so I decided to give Pacesetter a try. This issue is a hodgepodge of material not often seen in the past, and despite some nice drawings, there’s not much meat here. Ultimately, no matter how pretty Pérez’s pictures are, without a decent narrative – either fiction, or about Pérez himself, as in the Modern Masters volume – I don’t think it’s worth it. I’ll wait until he draws some more comics and buy those instead.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

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

Pirates_of_the_Caribbean_At_World__s_End.jpg

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 Skarsgård), 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.