The Golden Age of Hollywood pirate adventure movies consisted of swash-buckling, swordplay, thin mustaches and derring do. Occasionally, the hunt for buried treasure was thrown in before the hero sailed into the sunset with the girl on his arm.
In the formative years of the franchise, the first film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl did a great job of breathing new life into the genre by mixing in a dash of supernatural tonic. It's tale of cursed Aztec gold and undead skeleton pirates made for a frolicking popcorn blockbuster.
It's sequel, the overlong but technically superior Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest upped the ante by constructing mythology around the Pirates universe and branding an indelible mark on film history by introducing one of it's most memorable villains in the entirely CG-created Davy Jones (performed brilliantly by Bill Nighy).
In the third (and possibly last) movie in the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, there was very little territory left to cover and the film dives deep into the metaphysical and surfaces with six kinds of weirdness. What made the originally Pirates inventive and the second compelling feels overdone in the third movie.
At the film's onset, our merry band of sea-faring adventurers - including Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly and Geoffrey Rush - meet with the Pirate Lord of Singapore, Sao Feng (plays with a craggy slither by Chow Yun-Fat). From him they seek an ancient map that will lead them to the the so-called "End of the World" that will literally plunge them into the barren limbo of Davy Jones's Locker. Contained therein is the perpetually loopy Captain Jack Sparrow, whom they seek to rescue.
Nothing about Davy Jones's Locker makes sense. Not the ego-driven hallucinations it seems to inflict on the increasingly unhinged Jack, not the fact that his ship, The Black Pearl, seems to have survived the cross-over in tact and certainly not the oddity of a million rock-shaped crustaceans that billow under the hull of the Pearl, pushing it toward water. All of this non-sense is representative of the bigger problem in At World's End. There's a lot of stuff in the movie that looks really cool, but all of it feels inconsequential because the film either changes the rules of it's universe (or worse) makes it up as it goes along.
Discussing the plot of the movie will do it no service. There are so many double-crosses, hidden agendas and obscured half-truths uttered throughout that it makes it difficult to follow which characters have allegiance with another at any given point in the movie. I wasn't bothered by that so much. I haven't yet mistaken a Pirates of the Caribbean movie for a David Mamet film and I'm not about to start.
What bothered me most about the film is that never once did I feel that any of the characters were in any kind of danger. Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbossa came back to life at the end of the second film. It gives nothing away to say that Captain Jack Sparrow matches the feat when he is rescued from Davy Jone's Locker in this movie. Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio wrote too many loopholes of supernatural origin into the mix. Between the mystical map that leads to the Locker, to Jack's compass that lead's you to your heart's desire, to the 9 pieces of 8, to the sea-goddess Calypso bound in human form to the voodoo priestess Tia Dalma, to the contents of the Dead Man's Chest... Too often characters seem to pull these trinkets or pieces of information out of their back pocket at the last minute to make bargains or back out of sticky situations. In more capable hands, it could be clever. In this instance, it just feels tacked on.
Particularly when we're informed that killing Davy Jones won't end his curse, that his ship - The Flying Dutchman - will ALWAYS need a captain... It's a set up for an emotional payoff later in the film. But it feels like a contrivance that Jones is no longer a singular scourge of the seven seas. That his is some kind of mantle passed down from cursed sailor to cursed sailor. It strips the character of a great deal of individuality and makes it less satisfying when he is finally dispatched.
That's not to say that there aren't a lot of things that the film gets right. The humor that is peppered throughout the film hits it's mark and, as always, the performances from Depp, Rush and Nighy push everything forward. All three of them seem to be having a hell of a time and they're a great deal of fun to watch. Rush, especially - who seems to have returned to his role as Barbossa having sharpened his flinty gaze and reveling in a cathartic madness that is four sheets to the wind.
Visually, the film is astonishing. The Pirates universe has always been one that is very tactile. Set design on this film is beyond compare. The Pirate stronghold of Shipwreck Cove is breathtaking. Davy Jones is an even more emotive, slobbering menace and the sight of a 30' tall woman on the deck of The Black Pearl dissolving into a wave of crabs looks great even if it doesn't make any sense. Anyone who goes to At World's End expecting a feast for the eyes will not be disappointed.
The film has been taken to task for being too long, but I found it much more brisk than Dead Man's Chest even when the film seemed to linger (as each of the scenes set within Davy Jones's Locker.) The only time I stopped to look at my watch was during the final battle - which probably isn't a good thing since this was the sequence that was meant to send the franchise out in a spectacular blaze of glory.
When it's all said and done, the third installment of the Pirates franchise is serviceable as both a conclusion to the series or a potential continuation of it. They left a window open, let's say that. Those of you who might have been frustrated by the first two films will probably have the same complaints with this one. But for those of you that like to play in the sandbox along with all the other unique characters of the series, you'll have a good time.
For more discussion regarding At World's End, be sure to tune in to The Triple Feature talkcast at TalkShoe tonight at 9:00 PM CST where myself, Joe Dunn from Joe Loves Crappy Movies and Gordon McAlpin from Multiplex will discuss our reactions of the film. If you saw the movie this weekend, call in with your opinions! We'll be taking your calls live! See you then!