Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End Review
Well, this is a bit better! Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End is not a great movie by any standards. It's not even in the same league as the original, flawed 2003 blockbuster. However, it's a much more satisfying movie-going experience than Dead Man’s Chest, last year's soulless, frenetic mess of a sequel. It manages to recover at least some of the heart and the high-spirited fun that its predecessor was lacking.
Still, At World’s End is weighed down by the same problems that marred the first Pirates and ruined the second. The most obvious is that it's unforgivably long. The first movie lasted an excessive two hours and twenty minutes; the second went on for an arse-numbing two and a half hours. This one runs two hours and forty-eight minutes. That's including the ten minutes of credits at the end but you'll need to sit through those if you want to watch the touching little coda that follows them (one of the film’s best scenes).
Here’s a brief list of films shorter than Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End - The English Patient, Pulp Fiction, Munich, Goodfellas, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gladiator, The Last Emperor, Amadeus, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, Apocalypse Now. Those are cinematic epics; this is a pirate movie - a tongue-in-cheek pirate movie based on an amusement park ride! When you take into account that Dead Man's Chest and At World's End tell two halves of the same story, we're talking about a five hour and twenty minute pirate movie here.
Look, I'm fine with long films when the running time is justified, when there's a lot of story to tell. The Pirates sequels have plenty of story alright but let's face it, half of it is padding. Stripped to its basics, At World's End is about how Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and their onetime enemy Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) team up to rescue Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from Davy Jones' Locker, the pirate Valhalla. They then join together with some other pirates to fight a final battle against their enemies (a slimy English aristocrat played by Tom Hollander and Davy Jones himself played by Bill Nighy) and save Will's dad (Stellan Skarsgård) from an evil curse. Sounds familiar? It's Return Of The Jedi on the Spanish main.
This simple story is inflated to nearly three hours largely by an endless, labyrinthine series of betrayals and shifting allegiances that add nothing to the film (no one seems to care much about being betrayed) but complicate the plot to the point where it's quite difficult to follow. There's more scheming and backstabbing in Pirates III than an entire series of Dallas. I think every character apart from the monkey changes sides and sells out his or her shipmates at one point or another.
And that leads us to major problem number two: the story really is difficult to follow. To keep up with who's betraying whom to whoever and why, you'll need to pay the sort of attention you'd pay to The Usual Suspects for nearly three hours and you'll have to have both the earlier Pirates movies fresh in your mind. If you've never seen a Pirates film, don't even think about starting with this one. You'll be sitting there with the same expression I used to wear during trigonometry lessons.
Besides being confusing, much of the plot is irrelevant. The gathering of the pirate lords for example - what do the pirate lords actually do in the end? We're primed for a huge sea battle between the pirate fleet and the British navy that never happens. At World’s End is littered with story strands that come and go. It feels as patched together as any film I've ever seen. The relationship between Davy Jones and Tia the voodoo chick (Naomie Harris), which looks like it’s going to be central to the story, is cast aside and forgotten without any resolution at all.
I suspect what happened is that writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio came up with a plot for one Pirates sequel and they were instructed to split it into two. This story could easily have been told in one film the length of Pirates I, much more entertainingly and with a lot more emotional impact. The final scenes are moving but they would have been more effective had these characters not spent the previous five hours pointlessly double-crossing each other to stretch out the plot.
Of course making two sequels instead of one has worked out very nicely for producer Jerry Bruckheimer and the Disney corporation. They’ve certainly filled their treasure chests with gold: Dead Man's Chest made over a billion dollars worldwide and ended up the highest grossing film of last year and the third highest of all time. I'll be surprised if At World's End doesn't at least match its success and I don’t doubt there will be more Pirates to come. This is less a film series than a money making machine.
Enough of what's wrong with Pirates III. What's good about it? Naturally, given the $200 million budget and the people behind the camera (Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski), it looks the business. Every shot appears to have cost a million dollars (some shots probably did) and the special effects are absolutely phenomenal. The climax, a battle between two pirate ships sailing around a swirling ocean vortex, is breathtaking to watch. Gore Verbinski is no Spielberg but he knows how to direct this stuff.
The script, for all its flaws and all its reams of exposition, does have some wit to it in places and the actors frequently salvage the parts that don't. Johnny Depp is a treat once again as Jack Sparrow, the shiftiest buccaneer on the seven seas. Stellan Skarsgård, Bill Nighy and Naomie Harris add colour and feeling to their scenes and no one talks like a pirate quite like Geoffrey Rush, says I. Keira Knightley is a lot livelier in this one. This time she gets to act tough as well as look pretty. As for Orlando Bloom, he's received some fairly savage criticism but I think the problem is less with his acting than with his horribly written character, who's a drippy boy scout one minute and a conniving little git the next. Finally, there's a very welcome cameo that I won't spoil just in case you'd not heard about it. Let's just say that no one on God's earth looks more like a grizzled, weatherbeaten old pirate than this man.
So if you're planning to go and see Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End, don't let me be a killjoy. Millions loved the last film and millions will love this one too. It's a technical marvel and there's plenty to enjoy if you can get past the outrageous length and the unbelievably messy script. I do worry though that this amiable monstrosity represents the future of mainstream cinema and that Hollywood is coming to believe all it takes to please audiences is to recycle brand names, extend the running time and throw money at the screen.