Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (PG-13)

Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp
May 2007

“Scatterbrained Sequel Makes Us Grateful for ‘The End’”

In preparation for this review, I was half tempted to write, “Please refer to my review for Pirates 2.” After all, both movies were filmed at the same time and both suffer from writhing, meandering story lines packed to the gunnels with bizarre characters, insipid love triangles and as much obtuse silliness as Johnny Depp can cram into each millisecond of his onscreen time. With their numerous inherent similarities and identical ratings, it’s hard not to point this review to my earlier one, so if you’re so inclined…

Before Depp and crew sailed into our collective consciousness, pirate-themed movies had never been very successful at the box-office. In fact, the finest example the genre had produced in recent years was the debacle known at Cutthroat Island (1995), which starred Geena Davis as a swashbuckling heroine and Matthew Modine as her quick-witted sidekick. With very few exceptions, pirate movies have fallen short of anything remotely resembling high art and have been widely rejected by audiences and critics alike. But that knowledge didn’t stop Disney from rolling the dice on a movie, now trilogy, based on one of its theme park rides…which would seem to be double jeopardy since the other films based on Disney rides, Country Bears and The Haunted Mansion, were undisputed flops. The first Pirates movie was slightly above average, but each sequel has failed to live up to its predecessor (further substantiating the cloning principle of replicative fading) by moving farther away from the comical and whimsical joyride that was the original.

In some ways, I enjoyed this new Pirates film, subtitled At World’s End, a swabbie’s chin whisker more than the middle movie—it has a stronger opening act, is darker and moodier, isn’t quite as pedestrian in the script department and features action sequences that your brain can almost keep up with…almost. Although the overarching plot and purpose is a bit nebulous, some of the movie’s subplots actually make sense this time; like Capt. Jack Sparrow’s (Depp) rescue and the Council of the Nine Pirate Lords.

Unfortunately, this movie has succumbed to the same kind of free-wheeling buffoonery that plagued
Pirates 2; for supporting evidence, look no further than the inane scenes where Sparrow carries on conversations with his cadre of imaginary alter egos. What’s more, Jack and Will are still at odds with each other and allegiances continue shifting like the wind: the parlay scene on the island spit, where Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Will (Orlando Bloom) switch sides, reminds me of picking teams at recess. Boy, have these movies regressed. Thankfully, the story’s anemic ménage trios is finally resolved, but Barbossa’s mysterious return from the dead at the end of Pirates 2 is given the barest of explanations here, but hey, this is just escapist fare so who cares. Right?

In 2006,
Pirates 2 won the Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, and Pirates 3 seems poised to nab the statuette for the second year in a row. In addition to spirited ship battles (like the show-stopping shot of the Endeavor exploding into smoldering splinters), the CGI on Bootstrap Bill is amazing, especially when the barnacle-encrusted prisoner becomes one with the wall of coral in his cell. The movie’s cinematography is also superb, particularly in such tableaus as the Chinese village, the glaciated ocean, the conglomeration of ships known as Shipwreck Island and the breathtaking, swirling maelstrom. However, the giant-sized Calypso is a tad hokey and the avant-garde crab concept is just downright strange.

Even with some new faces like Chow Yun-Fat as Chinese Captain Feng and Keith Richards as Jack’s inebriated father,
At World’s End—though a bit more stylish than number two—is little more than a jumbled mass of seaweed. If mindless entertainment is your bent, there’s a veritable cornucopia of random silliness for you to feast upon here; everyone else will regard the film as a banquet of barnacles. With its pointless plot and tired premise, Pirates has become a caricature of itself…we’ve gone from laughing along with the first movie to laughing at the last two.

So, will this be the end of
Pirates, as the subtitle would suggest, or will Disney drag the battle-worn ship out of mothballs for more high seas high jinks? In an age where dollar signs trump artistic integrity, you can bet your glass eyeball there’ll be another sequel on the horizon in the not-too-distant future. You’ve been sufficiently forewarned, Matey.

Rating: 2