Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

When it comes to the final hour, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, delivers the goods. The last 60 minutes offer adventure as rousing as anything provided in either of the previous installments, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Unfortunately, that doesn't account for the other 108 minutes of this gorged, self-indulgent, and uneven production. During the course of nearly two hours of exposition and setup, there's little in the way of charm or action. There are memorable moments, to be sure, but the overwhelming sense is that the film is desperately spinning its wheels trying to shock and awe with unexpected plot developments.

As an end to a trilogy, At World's End does its job, although with less flair and economy than one might hope. It resolves myriad subplots and gets the surviving characters to places where their stories can end or go on, as future sequels demand. Like the other two entries in the series, it's too long and needlessly convoluted. The movie is also more ponderous than the previous Pirates. The defining quality of Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man's Chest was a sense of breezy fun. This movie lacks the same feel. Perhaps it’s the weight of expectations and the need to top what went before. The thrilling final hour is almost enough to make one forget how much of a labor it is to trudge through the first two-thirds - almost, but not quite.

The movie's first act concentrates on the rescue of Cap'n Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from Davy Jones' Locker, where he ended up after dueling the Kraken at the end of the second installment. Jack and his ship, The Black Pearl, are stuck in limbo, where's he's seeing multiples of himself and being followed by a crab that looks like a rock. Meanwhile, his former companions - including Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley), and the newly resurrected Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) - go to the Orient to enlist the help of Pirate Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat). Their goal: travel to the land beyond death and retrieve Jack. Then, with him in tow, they can attend a gathering of the Nine Lords of the Brethren to determine the future of piracy in the Caribbean. With Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) in his thrall, Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) and his lacky, Admiral James Norrington (Jack Davenport), have control of the seas. No normal ship can stand against The Flying Dutchman.

At World's End doesn't blend the humor and the derring-do as well as its predecessors. For the most part, the jokes are lazier and Cap'n Jack has lost some of his zing. Maybe it has something to do with his being killed at the end of the last movie. Geoffrey Rush's Barbossa is more restrained; the intimidation factor is gone. Maybe it has something to do with his being resurrected at the end of the last movie. The on-again/off-again love affair between Will and Elizabeth is on again (following her brief dalliance with Jack) and, while sparks don't fly, at least both characters evidence more pizzazz this time 'round. Meanwhile, Cap'n Jack finds his screen time leeched away to others. A late entrance and too may extraneous side-stories take the focus off our swishy hero, and that's not a good thing.

Three films into what could be a very long run (as long as the box office holds up and the actor remains interested), Depp has found his alter-ego's skin to be a comfortable fit. He's a little less flip this time around, but he still has a good one-liner or two reserved for special occasions. Kiera Knightley continues the ascendancy she began in Dead Man's Chest, evolving from damsel in distress to full-fledged pirate and swordswoman. Is there anything sexier than a woman with a naked blade? Sadly, her sparkling chemistry with Depp is absent this time around - the two say no more than a handful of words to each other. Orlando Bloom has grown into his role. Finally, Will Turner has becomes something a little more interesting than a one-dimensional hero type. There's a little Han Solo in this Luke Skywalker.

As far as the bad guys are concerned, they're not an intimidating bunch. Without his Kraken, Davy Jones is just another fishy looking CGI creature. As Cutler Beckett, Tom Hollander does a good job being nasty, but one never gets the impression that he'll be able to get the better of Jack. Defining other villains could be misleading since numerous characters changes sides, some more than once. At times, a scorecard is needed to figure who's on which team at any given time.

Most of the film's special effects budget was consumed in the final 45 minutes, during which At World's End throws everything one could ask for from a pirate movie at the audience. There are swordfights in the rigging, sea storms, ship-to-ship battles between entire fleets, monkeys loaded into canons, a woman dissolving into crabs, and all manner of other excesses to shiver one's timbers. And, for those who are patient and willing to sit through the entire seven minutes of end credits, there's a nice reward at the end. I won't reveal anything about the "bonus" scene except to say that it's more significant than the one following the credits for Dead Man's Chest.

The need to make longer, more busy second sequels is an undesirable trend. By throwing so much into the mix, the filmmakers - including director Gore Verbinski, who has helmed all three pirate yarns - risk losing what attracted viewers in the first place. The initial Pirates was an unexpected hit. The need to do things bigger and more spectacular led to fissures in Dead Man's Chest. Those fissures have widened and deepened in At World's End.

Most Pirates aficionados won't complain (at least not too much). This is a chance to re-visit old friends and see where some of their stories end. It's a chance to sail with Cap'n Jack from death to life and meet his dad (played, as has been reported everywhere, by Keith Richards). The movie does enough things right that it won't leave scores of despondent fans in its wake. Unfortunately, it does enough things wrong to keep me from giving it a wholehearted recommendation. It could have been better, but it also could have been worse. We can be thankful it's not the latter while mourning it's not the first.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 2:48
U.S. Release Date: 2007-05-25
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1