An honest-to-God, brawling, hooting, big ball of popcorn spectacle of a movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End fully embraces its ludicrous sense of summer season overkill without succumbing to the bloated tedium that afflicted its disappointing predecessor Dead Man's Chest
. Clocking in at just under three hours, it's definitely longer than necessary, but given the number of unresolved plot strands that the last film left strewn about like so much tangled rigging, it's actually amazing the filmmakers are able to tie everything up quite as nicely as they do.
Starting with its unlikely origin as an amusement park ride, the Pirates series quickly mushroomed into a sort of meta-pirate film, a vast and whirligig universe unto itself that drew in every possible nautical cliché and legend possible. Thus the first film concentrated on yo-ho-ho-ing, rum-drinking, and general pirate-y scalawaggery. The second roped in Davy Jones and The Flying Dutchman -- not to mention an excess of secondary characters and familial drama. For the third (but not necessarily last, given the teaser it ends with) entry, the bursting-at-the-seams script tosses in a raging maelstrom, an actual trip to Davy Jones' Locker, and even the sea goddess Calypso. Dead Man's Chest showed that more is not always better, with excess just leading to more excess and a general sense of lethargy -- they were just setting us up for the conclusion and marking time until then. At World's End, however, shows that Hollywood excess, when combined with the right combination of actors and an occasionally smart script, can work out quite nicely, thank you very much. Article continues below
As for what actually happens in the film, the plot synopsis would keep us here until the next film (maybe) comes out. Suffice it to say that the young lovely lovers Will Turner (Orlando Bloom
) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley
) are still semi-estranged, though grudgingly working together, this time with Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush
). They're trying arrange a high summit of pirate lords to fight as one against the dread Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander
), who's enlisted the near unbeatable Flying Dutchman and its undead captain Jones (Bill Nighy
) to his anti-pirate crusade. Meanwhile, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp
, aka the reason everybody's buying a ticket) is marooned in Davy Jones' Locker and needs rescuing. Things don't go smoothly.
Director Gore Verbinski
has an obvious talent for staging the frequent and massive action scenes. They're more fleet-footed this time out, particularly a full-on broadside duel between two ships swirling around a roaring maelstrom, sword duels raging on both decks. Surprisingly, in this film he also manages to let a little honest emotion sneak into the equation, and it works; note particularly one surprisingly moving scene where a major character sees their father floating by in a small boat ferrying him to the afterlife.
But it's really Verbinski's deft touch with superstar actors (how else can you imagine The Mexican got made?) and providing smart jabs of humor amid the furor of clanging swords, roaring cannons, and howling winds, that make At World's End as enjoyable as it is. With a lesser crew hanging around, the improbably dense storyline would have suffocated the film. But with Depp, Rush, Hollander, and Nighy (not to mention a new pirate lord, played by Chow Yun-Fat
with claw-like fingernails) all in gloriously high-camp mode, it's near impossible not to crack a smile. And how exactly does Stellan Skarsgård
-- playing Turner's Flying Dutchman-trapped father -- manage to wring so much honest pathos out of a role that requires him to have a starfish stuck to his face? Of course, there's also Depp's sun-stroked, prolix looniness ("I'm not in a divulgitating mood"), which is heavily relied on here, as it should be; the film would collapse like a house of cards without his deft, mad Bugs Bunny appeal.
The summer season has definitely seen better. At World's End is too long for what it is, and the blithely bloodless way in which the body count piles up makes that PG-13 rating a little troubling. But for a sequel to a sequel, based on a Disneyworld attraction no less, it's really not half bad in the reckoning.