Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
12A • 168 mins • 25 May
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Geoffrey Rush
The trouble with pirates is, you just can’t trust ‘em. By sailing under everybody’s radar to take its place in that exclusive little club of quality summer blockbusters, the original movie promised a treasure chest of riches that its sequels have never come close to delivering. Frankly it’s a con worthy of the saltiest of sea dogs.
Like its box office-pummelling predecessor Dead Man’s Chest, this third Pirates outing buckles under the weight of its convoluted story and epic running time. It’s the Matrix effect transferred to the high seas, as two increasingly flabby, overblown orgies of visual effects almost make you forget how good the original film was.
To be fair, At World’s End was always going to have its work cut out; the first film was so beautifully self-contained that screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio had to jump through all manner of narrative hoops just to get the sequel plot rolling. As a consequence, Dead Man’s Chest was so mind-bogglingly complicated that you’d need a couple of novels (and Letts study notes) to sum it all up ahead of part three.
The brain ache continues well into At World’s End. As well as assuming that everyone has at least a degree-level knowledge of the previous film’s twists and turns, Pirates 3 throws plenty more confusion into the mix before it even starts to think about wrapping things up. What the hell are the nine pieces of eight? Who’s this Calypso woman? And why is Captain Jack trapped in a Being John Malkovich-style world packed full of Captain Jacks? If you think about it too much, steam will come out of your ears. There are so many double and triple crosses that you’re never quite sure who’s doing what to whom and why. Pesky pirates – The Lord of the Rings may have had a lot going on, but at least you always knew whose side everybody was on.
Of course you could always just sit back, ignore the complex plot machinations and let the ludicrously expensive spectacle wash over you. Sadly even that’s a disappointment, as it’s only in the climactic sea battle (and an earlier frantic attempt to turn a boat upside down) that any wow factor creeps into the movie. And with Depp’s usually magnificent Captain Jack upstaged by a monkey, the sporadic gags play second fiddle to supposed emotional gravitas and that patented Jerry Bruckheimer slow-mo; clearly someone mistakenly thought that the third part of a mega-budget trilogy needed to be something deeper than it really is.
But this needn’t be the end of the world. Why not go back and pop the original movie back in your DVD player just to remind yourself what made it so great. Banish the memory of the second and third instalments to Davy Jones’s locker once and for all, and dream of happier times, before Captain Jack bowed down to the needs of the box office dollar.