Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
directed by Gore Verbinski
(Walt Disney, 2007)

There's one doozy of a shipboard wedding.

And, assuming you have suspended every last iota of disbelief -- including gravity -- it's a hell of a sea battle, too.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the third (and final?) installment of the popular Disney franchise, doesn't make a lot of sense, but it still manages to entertain on a purely sensory level -- assuming, of course, you like flashy swordfights, explosions, really bad dental hygiene and Keira Knightley's legs.

But there are disappointments as well, particularly in Disney's choice of villain.

In the first film, The Curse of the Black Pearl, the bad guy was the sinister Captain Barbossa, played by Geoffrey Rush at his scenery-chewing finest. The sequel, Dead Man's Chest, gave us Bill Nighy as the tentacled Davy Jones; while not on a par with Barbossa for pure piratical enjoyment, it was fun just to watch his costume -- one big special effect -- at play.

But in the latest film, Barbossa is back and working with the good guys, and Davy Jones is working for the East India Company because they have his heart in a box -- except that doesn't really make sense because sometimes they don't have his heart in a box but he glumly keeps working for them anyway. The villain this time around is Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), a glorified merchant.


Of course, fans are filling seats mostly to see the further shenanigans of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and learn the outcome of the romance between Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley). And there's plenty of that -- in fact, some people might argue there's far too much of Jack (for reasons that quickly become clear when you watch).

The plot this time centers on Beckett's desire to rule the seas and nail down a higher profit margin for the EIC. Besides holding Davy Jones at bay, that also means eradicating the threat of piracy, which forces the nine pirate lords to gather to confront the threat. Of course, the nine lords, all of whom adhere to various pirate stereotypes, are better at fighting each other than they are at fighting a mutual threat. And even Keith Richards, in a brief but charming cameo as Captain Teague, can't bring them together.

One of their schemes relies solely on releasing a sea goddess (Naomie Harris) from years of captivity in human form, but that doesn't work because she just grows really tall, bursts into a torrent of crabs and causes a maelstrom that doesn't help anyone. Then she leaves, I think, but that's not really clear.

So all that's left for the pirates is battle, but the EIC has assembled a vast, visually stunning armada that puts the wee pirate fleet to shame. But for reasons never explained, the issue is settled with a one-on-one assault, and that grand body of ships is never put to use. (One assumes the film exceeded its budget and the impressive armada was really just a background matte.)

While Pirates is without question a fantasy series, logic often fails. For instance, the rules governing death seem flexible and vary from case to case. It was easy to bring Barbossa back from the dead, it seems, but it's hard resurrecting Jack (you'll recall, he ended the second movie by leaping into the maw of the kraken, a fearsome sea creature who is conveniently written out of World's End). And, while both captains can be revived, Elizabeth's father (whose death was a rather pointless plot twist) is for some reason beyond saving. Huh.

There are also uncertain laws of physics regarding swinging from rigging, and gravity itself must yield to Disney's need for visual wonderment. Some elements of the plot simply don't make sense. And if you're not already familiar with the first two movies in the series, be sure to watch them before seeing this one or risk being lost at sea.

Ultimately, the plot really doesn't matter because no one really cares -- as long as Depp, Bloom and Knightley fill the screen and there's plenty of CGI swashbuckling to fill the senses. That, as Beckett would no doubt tell a meeting of Disney shareholders, is "just good business."

review by
Tom Knapp

2 June 2007

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