Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)
Looking back over my review of the first two 'Pirates' movies, I'm struck by how positively I viewed 'Dead Man's Chest' (henceforth DMC). Having seen it several times, I'm fairly confident in saying that the first one, 'Curse of the Black Pearl', will hold up for years to come. DMC on the other hand, contrary to my prognostication - "I suspect that repeat viewings will be more rewarding" - does not hold up that well at all, particularly in the context of 'At World's End' (AWE), which makes many of the events in DMC redundant; for most of its running time DMC failed to develop its plot or characters in a manner that had an impact on the denouement of the third film. Watching it again I realized that it was hollow, overblown spectacle saved by some good performances, effects, and action sequences. AWE, sadly, is more of the same, but is less satisfying.
AWE begins well enough. Following an escapade in Singapore, the gang embarks on a daring rescue attempt to bring back Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from the oceanic purgatory that is 'Davey Jones' Locker'. It's a bizarre journey, but one that is straightforward and fun and in tune with what made the first movie so entertaining. After Jack is rescued (spoiler! as if you couldn't guess!), everyone sets off to a secret location for a big 'pirate meeting' where the Pirate Lords will gather to discuss the problem of the East India Trading Company's war against piracy. The company has been using Davy Jones (Bill Nighy and CGI), who is under the control of Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) by virtue of the fact that Beckett has his heart, and his ship the Flying Dutchman to decimate piracy on the high seas (I'll bet Hollywood wishes it had a Flying Dutchman of its own to tackle so called movie 'piracy'). Of course the journey to the meeting is by no means straightforward, with myriad events and double and even triple crosses, and that's before the shit really hits the fan at the Pirate Meeting itself!
None of this is particularly engaging, it has to be said. There's virtually nothing in the way of character development, and the plot just twists and turns randomly. The lean storytelling of the original film is replaced with labyrinthine, nonsensical attempts at mythologizing. And the humour is absolutely zilch, with most of it coming in the form of recycled jokes from the earlier movies, a trend that was annoying enough in the first sequel and is downright intolerable in the second. The story in DMC didn't really merit its two and a half hour runtime; neither does this film's story merit its even more bloated, near three hour runtime. It is excess to the point of excess. With the second sequel the series completes a massive turn from where it began, taking itself way too seriously and trying with a straight face to pass off an inane theme about how vicious pirates represent that last bastion of 'freedom'. That's right, pirates represent freedom from the tyranny of the evil Empire that, as far as we can tell, is only attempting to keep the seas safe from cutthroats (albeit through unscrupulous means, but still)! To compound matters, this time around there's little in the way of action until the climactic battle, which overcompensates by outstaying its welcome and dragging on for over 30 minutes.
Having said all of that, it's a fairly decent, if hollow, slice of entertainment. Visually it's spectacular, and the effects work is stellar even if it does take the action from fantastical to ludicrous (like the scene where two ships fight each other while slowly swirling down a whirlpool). The action scenes, as with part two, are well put together and mix together pure action with gags and dialogue quite deftly, though there's nothing quite as awesome as the mill-wheel fight sequence from DMC. Depp's Jack Sparrow is still occasionally fun, but the routine is starting to wear thin and the character is just too one dimensional to be interesting in the long run. Geoffrey Rush makes a fun return as Captain Barbossa, and Keira Knightley's Elizabeth is sprightly, but the rest of the cast are merely adequate. Even Bill Nighy as Davey Jones, so memorable in DMC, has a subdued presence.
'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End' is disappointing end to a franchise that started off so well. To compare franchises, I find the similarities between the trajectory of the Pirates sequels and that of the Matrix sequels to be frighteningly similar - it's a shame Gore Verbinski, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rosso didn't learn anything from the Wachowski Brothers' efforts (though I think I'll take the Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions over DMC and AWE any day of the week). As entertaining spectacle the Pirates films all deliver, but for me there's only one worthwhile entry in this franchise and it ain't 'Dead Man's Chest' or 'At World's End'. You work out which one I'm talking about! Still, the box office and reception for these films seems to suggest that the majority are of a different opinion, with both making in the region of $1 billion worldwide, so what the hell do I know?