The Theory of Chaos

Monday, December 24, 2007

From the Archive - MOVIE REVIEW - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Originally published 7/5/07
Full review behind the jump

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

: Gore Verbinski
: Screenplay by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, based on characters created by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert, based on Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean
: Jerry Bruckheimer
: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush, Chow Yun Fat, Bill Nighy, Stellan Skarsgård, Jack Davenport, Tom Hollander, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Naomie Harris, Kevin McNally, Keith Richards

Of last year’s sequel
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest I wrote: “It entertains, to the point of exhaustion, yes, but to its credit, leaving you ready for more.” Well, the more has arrived, and I’d like to send it back to the kitchen. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is an overcooked, overstuffed disappointment, and a puzzling one at that. Filmed near-simultaneously to the previous episode, with the same cast and crew, it somehow whiffs where the other connected, fumbles the ball that was capably handed to it.

With a longer running time than
The Bridge on the River Kwai and a budget that back at the beginning of this millennium would have bought you at least two to two-and-a-half Lord of the Rings movies, let it not be said producer Jerry Bruckheimer is not trying to give you your money’s worth with this episode. But now that the trilogy is coming into port, and it’s time to unveil where it’s been headed all this time, we only realize that the captains have had no better idea than the crew, and have simply been following the winds, hoping for the best.

To their credit, writers Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio, working with pop-sensible director Gore Verbinski, have far surpassed the original mission of extending the brand of a decades-old theme park ride, and created a substantial mythology for what pirates are and what role they are to play in the huggably-grotesque world they inhabit. But that role becomes more baffling and Byzantine as the movie unfolds, one wonders why you would even choose piracy as a profession when it involves so many niggling little rules and responsibilities no one can keep track of (eventually an expert is called in for a by-now thoroughly un-secret cameo).

In a sense they play the role of the last free spirits, standing against a dictatorial Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), who has seized control of the islands and is busying himself with some very PG-13-unfriendly mass hangings and the dismantling of all civil rights. It is a tragic flaw of all dictators that no sooner do they get absolute power than they immediately begin exterminating the people they were looking forward to lording that power over.

Anyway, he controls the land, and by holding the beating heart of the undead Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), he can command Jones’ fearsome ship The Flying Dutchman and its mollusk-encrusted zombie crew, and thus control the seas as well. I think he got into this because he wanted to improve the profits of his tobacco trading company; the mission has exploded somewhat.

So the “pirate lords” the world over are gathering to mount a final stand, which includes both resurrecting the maniacal Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) – who, without his skeletal side and fetish-y yearning to taste apples again, is far less interesting – and sailing to World’s End to enter Davy Jones’ locker and rescue the inimitable Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), last seen being very insouciantly eaten by a Kraken.

Between all the assorted mystic tokens, ancient legends, and modern double-crosses – these characters betray each other with such speed and regularity it’s a wonder they can remember whose trust to violate when – we have an awful lot to keep track of by now, especially Sparrow’s increasingly-questionable sanity. Depp is as enthusiastically-wobbly as ever and some of the movie’s high points involve observing a man who really ought not be left alone with the voices in his head. Jack Sparrow has transcended all the expensive noise surrounding him and achieved pop icon status – I know this because I could have spent a gleeful 90 minutes watching him be slapped by harlots and wig out, and not missed the rest of the movie.

But there’s also the intimated love triangle between he, the now-fully-tomboyed Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and blacksmith-turned-earnest-swashbuckler Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who clearly remembers when he used to be the hero of this whole pageant and is soldiering ahead with his mission to save the soul of his father (Stellan Skarsgård) from The Dutchman. Where that all ends up is rather poetic, but scantly prepared; so many literally earth-shaking changes in fortune occur that the movie seems too busy to let them sink in or even be comprehended. Supernatural events go hurtling by, at one point a character is revealed to be not the slightly-mysterious human we once thought, but in actual fact, a God. In such a long movie, at no time does anyone on-screen stop to register anything approaching appropriate shock at this revelation. This many hours into the story, can they really afford to be introducing so many new elements?

With the ability to spend lots of money includes, of course, the ability to fill the screen with hordes of ships and storms and sword-clanging extras real, digital, or hybridized. The movie is quite picturesque, gifting us sights like a boat sailing off the edge of the world, and a hidden fortress made out of hammered-together shipwrecks. But in the world of the ever-spiraling summer movie budget this alone has long since ceased to be sufficient. If you see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, reflect on the presence of those armadas of ships that face off, and those colorful, briefly-glimpsed pirate lords from the far corners of the Earth. If all of them had never existed – simply never appeared on-screen – would the resulting story have unfolded any differently? Quite simply – no, and if the latent excitement the filmmakers earned from the pirates’ first two adventures could be considered a natural resource, this movie just burned too much to too little effect.


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