Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

A rousing final hour and superb production design are strong elements of this third installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean, even if ultimately they can’t really keep the commercial franchise afloat. Director Gore Verbinskis latest seafaring effort still feels overstuffed with characters and subplots, resulting in a movie that boasts some decent set pieces but mostly plods along from moment to moment, trying to tie up loose story threads.

Picking up where Dead Mans Chest ended, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) travel to Davy Jones Locker to rescue Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who now resides in that netherworld after dying at the hands of the Kraken, a hideous sea creature. Once returning Jack to the land of the living, the team must do battle with Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), who means to rid the world of pirates. Another foe, Captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), is in league with Lord Beckett in hunting down Jack.

Rather than delve deeper into the three central characters (Jack, Will, and Elizabeth), the movie continues to dwell on side characters and infuriatingly complicated plot points. Between the Nine Lords of the Brethren Court (a sort of United Nations of pirates), the East India Company (led by Lord Beckett), the Flying Dutchman (Davy Jones haunted ship), the Black Pearl (Jacks ship), and the different venues the characters must reach during the film, the location jumps make the movie feel impossibly bulky, badly hurting the momentum of an almost three-hour sequel.

Almost all the supporting characters are pursuing their own separate agendas in this third film, creating a dizzying labyrinth of comings and goings. Expository dialogue pops up throughout as the characters explain to other characters (and the audience) their motives. Rather than creating a fleet of protagonists with sympathetic motivations, the films many speaking parts start to resemble a Tower of Babble.

While The Curse of the Black Pearl, the film that launched the franchise, was also weighed down by its sheer length and dense plotting, there was an undeniable swiftness to the action. In addition, the first film was consistently funny, anchored by Johnny Depps clever turn as the flamboyant, slippery Jack Sparrow. The glee of Depps creation was contagious, and his playful spirit seemed to instill the entire project with a similar light touch, a rare thing among studio summer tentpoles.

But that light touch is nowhere to be found in At Worlds End, which is no more apparent than in Depps strained performance. Perhaps his lack of spark can be partially blamed on an uninspired script, but Depps Jack Sparrow no longer holds the disparate elements of the movie together. In fact, with his character almost taking a back seat to Will and Elizabeths burgeoning love as the movies emotional center, Depp is reduced to playing mostly unfunny comic relief, responding to the action rather than informing much of it.

As Depp fades into the periphery, Bloom and Knightley grapple with roles that have never been thoughtfully developed. Blooms Will remains a hunky nonentity, while Knightleys Elizabeth is a tough chick dangerously low on charm. At Worlds End brings closure to their on-again/off-again courting.

However, after three films, these two young actors still still don’t have much chemistry together. One of the series biggest liabilities is that she and Depp clearly displayed sexual tension, further highlighting how limp the Will/Elizabeth relationship was by comparison.

Not helping matters is Verbinski’s logistic challenge to keep track of many moving parts, since the two sequels were shot back-to-back to help alleviate production costs, resulting in a structurally messy picture.

Even so, some of the supporting roles have a nice moment or two. Bill Nighy, Stellan Skarsgard (reprising his role as Wills cursed father), and Jonathan Pryce (playing Elizabeths doddering father) are each given one tender scene, and all three actors carry them off with aplomb. While the film is unapologetically aimed at the raucous multiplex crowd, these rare quiet moments indicate how loud and empty so much of the rest of the film is.

Burdened by many juvenile gags and mediocre quips, the films script has most certainly devoted the bulk of its creative energy on imaginative set pieces and an appropriately gonzo finale involving two boats battling one another in the midst of a paralyzing maelstrom.

Fortunately, the special effects and production design are consistently stunning, creating a rich world filled with one memorable location after another. Davy Jones Locker is particularly effective because of its creepy simplicity.

But while the multiple swordfights, cannon blasts, and feverish storms that close At Worlds End demonstrate that no expense was spared, its telling that the ending is the films best segment precisely because none of the storys earlier liabilities are present.

Rather than focusing on the performances or myriad plot strands, Verbinski simply concentrates on state-of-the-art battle scenes, and the sheer spectacle of it all is potent and engrossing. Its an effective send-off for this occasionally satisfying, obscenely lucrative trilogy, but you have to wade through a lot of clutter to get to it.

Credits

Running time: 167 minutes

Director: Gore Verbinski Production company: Touchstone Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films US distribution: Buena Vista Pictures Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer Executive producers: Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Bruce Hendricks, Eric McLeod Screenplay: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio (based on characters created by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert) Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski Editors: Craig Wood, Stephen Rivkin Production design: Rick Heinrichs Music: Hans Zimmer

Cast

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) Captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat)