Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Review
By Joe Lozito
When evaluating an entry in the "Pirates of the Caribbean"
series, the question is not if it's a good movie. I don't think anyone is expecting a masterpiece out of a film based on a theme park ride - let alone the third
in the series. The question is: does it deliver what we've come to expect from these movies? In the case of the "Pirates" franchise that would be: protracted action scenes, absurdly confusing plots, over-long running times and Johnny Depp. As expected, since this is the second sequel, everything is amped up that much farther. But what "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" is able to do, which I never thought possible, is achieve a perfect balance between incomprehensible story and over-the-top action. Yes, I'll say it: "At World's End" is the best in the series.
The film has a shaky opening which will be mostly impenetrable to all but the most ardent fans of the second film. Tearing a page from the book of another third installment ("Return of the Jedi"), "World's End" opens with a rescue. It seems stalwart heroine Elizabeth Swann has teamed up with Captain Barbossa to save Will Turner from the clutches of the mysterious Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat, struggling with his watery dialogue). A rescue is always a great way to introduce characters and open with a bang, but what this sequence doesn't give us is the franchise's secret ingredient: Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow. As I'm sure you all remember from 2006's messy, bloated "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
, Captain Jack was last seen diving into the gaping maw of the monstrous Kraken, and when "World's End" gets around to picking up that story thread, it really takes off.
Perhaps hearing the complaints that "Dead Man's Chest" didn't have enough Depp, the saga's writers, Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, pull a "Matrix" and give Captain Jack the "Agent Smith" treatment. When we first find the Captain, he's trapped in an existential, underworld nightmare, surrounded by multiple clones. These doppelgangers pop-up throughout the story and prove once again that the actor's contribution to the series is immeasurable. Indeed, without his instantly iconic performance, it's uncertain if the series would have gotten past the first installment. All the actor's eccentricities build, at long last, to a poetically perfect cameo - years in the making - by a certain Rolling Stone which itself nearly makes the film worth watching.
Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly fare less well. Perhaps taking some of his past reviews to heart, Mr. Bloom really tries to turn up the bravado this time around. Sadly, he's still a laughably light actor, but that makes his Will Turner the perfect match for Mr. Knightly's frustratingly expressionless Elizabeth. These two are clearly supposed to be the Han and Leia of the series, but neither has the range to pull it off. Thankfully, we have Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbossa to root for. The villain of the first film, Mr. Rush turns in some fine work as a full-on ally this time around (or at least as much of an ally as a pirate can be). While Jack may be an entirely unique presence, Barbossa is an old school "Ar, Matey!" pirate of the highest order. And as she did in the second film, Naomie Harris returns as the sorceress Tia Dalma to inject some new wind into the film's sails.
"World's End" has the same kind of absurdly labyrinthine plot that all but scuttled the second film - I'm sure all the double-crosses and mixed loyalties make some degree of sense if you are so inclined to spend the time deciphering them - but what makes "World's End" work is that the filmmakers no longer have anything to prove. Mr. Elliott and Mr. Rossio churn out characters (witness the fantastic "Brethren Court" sequence) and action (Jack must turn his ship upside-down in the film's most beautifully realized moment) with impressive imagination, and director Gore Verbinski proves to be growing into a master of CGI craftsmanship, wielding an unthinkable number of special effects in a climatic sea battle atop a whirling vortex. All this is wrapped up over an unbelievably breezy two and a half hour running time - but of course, not before leaving room for a possible fourth installment. This may be "World's" end, but series still has a way to go.