Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End spends the first hour digging its own grave, much of the second falling into it, and then does an admirable job with the third in trying get back out of it.
Yes, the third. There simply is no reason for what is essentially a summer action movie to last nearly three hours. The Jack Sparrow story is neither Harry Potter nor Lord of the Rings. Being an idea born directly to the screen, there aren't millions of pre-existing fans who will be disappointed at every minor element that fails to get translated from book to screen.
Photo © Walt Disney Pictures
The movie doesn't feel that way, though. With this third installment, director Gore Verbinski and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio try to deliver a fully conceived mythology as dense and as self-important as anything put forward by Tolkien. For example, in Curse of the Black Pearl, once everybody agreed there'd be zombie pirates, the story explaining them seemed merely an after-the-fact decision; in At World's End, on the other hand, the mythology seems to be driving factor for the storyto damaging effect.
The movie does not quite start up where the last one left off. It seems the East Indies Trading Company has declared outright war on pirates and is steadily driving them to eradication. Apparently the pirates' only hope is to reconvene the Brethren Council, which consists of the nine pirate lords from around the world. Of course, it turns out Jack Sparrow is one of the nine lords, so everybody's interests point toward saving him from Davy Jones's locker.
Everybody has their own problems, but at least to start they all have reason to want Jack Sparrow back among the living. Captain Barbossa needs all of the pirate lords alive so that they can gather. Will Turner needs the Black Pearl to save his father from Davy Jones's crew. Elizabeth Swann just feels guilty about her part in Jack's death. Of course, once they have Jack Sparrow back from the dead, that won't really solve anybody's problems, but will just once again put them all at cross purposes (including with Sparrow, who still needs to solve his debt to Davy Jones).
All very complex, and, as it turns out, all very serious. The fun of the first two movies (though the first more than the second) was that they were irreverent of themselves. At least until the final act in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, that is no longer the case. The movie starts with mass government hangings and quickly manages to get more violent from there. Yes, there is humor, but the surrounding seriousness saps it rather than elevates it. By the time the writers get things back into the proper mood towards the end, it takes a while for it to sink in and become a rollick you can just roll with.
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That isn't to say they don't try, though. A big push is made to give the early scenes with Depp in "the Locker" a Terry Gilliam-weirdness. But frankly, not even Terry Gilliam is consistently successful at his own weirdness, and it was during these scenes that the gloss began to dull on Jack Sparrow's tics and mannerisms.
A lot of these flaws, though, are redeemed by the romp that is the final act of the movie. If only that it happen an hour closer to the opening credits all would have been fine. There are two movies crammed into these three hours, and if anybody cares enough to do it, I envision fan edits that cut out all of the side trips and unnecessary story elementsit will only make the movie better. As much as it saddens me to say, the presence of Chow Yun-Fat is completely wasted. It boggles that you'd take the star of Hard Boiled and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and not give him a decent swordfight.
Tia Dalma's storyline is supposed to be the mythological core of the movie, but it could have easily been unraveled from the screenplay and cut altogether. Jack, Elizabeth, Barbossa, Willthey were what made the first movie fun. They were what made the second movie enjoyable. The East Indies Trading Company, Davy Jones's backstory, and the kraken were just necessary foils, but they've been elevated to full-blown distractions. So much time is spent on those stories that somehow Barbossa and Elizabeth seemed to have become leads.
Photo © Walt Disney Pictures
It isn't until the final hour that the story once again gets trimmed down to focusing on just Jack, Elizabeth, Barbossa, Will (plus Davy Jones), and it is no coincidence that this is when the movie recaptures the old irreverence with a naval battle scene that is too long, and too grandiose, and somehow despite that, too much fun.
That final hour isn't enough, though, for me to recommend it. Most of this movie just screams out for DVD with the convenience of nap breaks and chapter skips. At World's End has two movies within its 168-minute length: One pretty good and one really boring. If only someone in charge had shown the leadership to get that boring one cut out. If they'd done that and brought it in around two hours, I'd be offering to drive you to the theater myself.
Warning: For the parents reading this, one big thing to note. Although At World's End is rated PG-13, this may be the most violent PG-13 movie I've ever seen, and I'd venture that it is definitely the most violent ever released under the Walt Disney Pictures label (as opposed to Touchstone). While blood and gore are kept to a minimum, as I mentioned, things start with mass hangings and then move on to massive fire fights and sea battles with cannons ripping ships and crew to pieces. There are also many deaths; several of which are shown up close and personal (though still mostly bloodless).
Finally, even though you're not going to want to sit through 10 minutes of credits at the end, there is yet another scene at the end. This was done for the previous moviesbut where they were revelatory and humorous, this one is just the film's fourth epilogue (and only about a minute long). If you skip it, I don't think you'd be missing anything.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is a Walt Disney Pictures release
Wide theatrical release May 25, 2007.
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Screenplay by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Kiera Knightley, Bill Nighy, Chow Yun-Fat, and Geoffrey Rush
Running time: 168 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of adventure violence, including frightening images [Parents: See Alex's warning near the end of the review]
Alex's rating: 6 out of 10
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Alex Stroup works in Web functional design and married his way into this Disney thing. He currently focuses on movie reviews for Disney theatrical releases and other family-friendly films.