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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

starring Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom and Geoffrey Rush
written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and directed by Gore Verbinski
rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence and some frightening images.
90%

It’s been a wild ride (no pun intended), but Jack Sparrow and his crew of miscreants have finally brought a whole trilogy into port with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. How to even begin a description of the 168-minute finale? Well, let’s assume you’ve seen the first two.

Hitting the high points: Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is trapped in Davy Jones’ locker with his ship, the Black Pearl, fighting to keep his sanity (and losing). Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) plots to free his father, Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), from the clutches of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) who is himself in the clutches of Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). Lord Beckett, with the willing help of Admiral Norrington (Jack Davenport) and the unwilling help of Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) has the Flying Dutchman hunting down pirates across the seven seas in his quest for corporate domination (“It’s just good business”). Meanwhile, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and the resurrected Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), with the help of Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), have traveled to Singapore to talk Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) out of a ship and crew so they can go rescue Jack. Barbossa needs Jack (who, it turns out, is one of the 9 Pirate Lords) so that he can call a pirate assembly and unleash the wrath of the sea goddess, Calypso, on the East India Company. Any of these characters will readily sell out any other in order to achieve their goals should a conflict of interest arise. And those are just new story arcs belonging to major characters as of the beginning of the movie.

For all intents and purposes, this is the second half of a very long movie that began with Dead Man’s Chest last year. As the conclusion to a trilogy, it does a great job “tying it all together” (much to the detriment, sadly, of standing on its own as a good movie). There is also the device (also mastefully employed by J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter books) of having a recurring element in the series which seemed frivolous revealed to be significant to the larger story. There are some clever little plot twists that add entertainment along the way.

As always, Pirates greatest success is in its characterization. Jack Sparrow is more hilarious than ever (“She is a woman scorned, fury like which hell hath no.”), but be prepared for a long introduction before he makes his first appearance. Watch for an awesome cameo by Keith Richards as Jack’s father (Depp has cited Richards as his inspiration for the character). Elizabeth Swannhasn’t been a conventional damsel in distress at any point in the series, but often her role is to watch the bulk of the action from the sidelines in frustrated annoyance. This time she drops into a very surprising position courtesy of Jack and Sao Feng, which leads to (among other things) one of the greatest stand-off scenes and one of the worst climactic speeches ever.

Oh, and let’s not forget Davy Jones. It would be no exaggeration to say that Jones is the greatest movie villain of the past decade, the Darth Vader of this generation. He is just such a fantastic character, with a great look and feel and presence, and At World’s End adds further layers of intrigue to his already complex background. By far the smartest move, however, was bringing back Geoffrey Rush to play Barbossa for the final chapter. Barbossa is the only character with enough personality and attitude to carry the scenes that lack Jack Sparrow. He is the anti-Jack, and they make great foils for each other once Jack rejoins the heroes.

What At World’s End does not do well is maintain that rare and tenuous balance between great storytelling and tongue-in-cheek hilarity that its predecessors did so well. There are laughs galore in the movie, but they are spread too thin: a one-liner here, aninopportune pratfall there, with several minutes of portentuous dialogue and meaningful glances in-between.

As a serious epic thriller it works reasonably well, but it’s not what we want and it’s not what we came to see. What we end up with is just over two hours of largely unbroken drama. This is all very absorbing, but the flashes of wit and fun break through just often enough to make us wish that this was a very different sort of movie.

Then, during the final half-hour, this movie suddenly remembers what it is, and it proceeds to cut loose with fervor and glee. Too little, too late? Not really. The climax is fun and exciting and nothing went the way I expected it to. The ending managed the difficult trick of catching me completely off-guard while making it impossible to imagine things going any other way. Ignore the nay-sayers, Pirates 3 is a good night at the movies and I plan to own the trilogy on DVD once it’s all out together. That’s more than I can say for Shrek or Spider-man.

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~ by Jared on May 24, 2007.

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