Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keria Knightley, Jack Davenport, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Cook, Kevin R. McNally, Stellan Skarsgård, Tom Hollander, Naomie Harris, Chow Yun-Fat

MPAA Rating:   (for intense sequences of action/adventure violence and some frightening images)

Running Time: 2:48

Release Date: 5/25/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

I distinctly remember the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films being fun. They worked like a teeter-totter—trying to weigh campy acting and comic innovation against the ridiculously serious business of their incoherent plots. In spite of the broad strokes, they were deceptively simple and delicate balancing acts. With Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, someone threw a load of self-importance on the latter end while the fun-and-games part went off to have coffee. Remember, this is a franchise based on a Disney theme park ride featuring a bungling pirate modeled after a British rocker who has to deal with men who are slowly turning into sea creatures. Whose bright idea was it to treat this stuff like a Patrick O'Brian novel? Gone are the clever, innovative action sequences, and practically gone is the tongue-in-cheek handling of the material. Instead, we have generic sea battles (against men becoming sea creatures, though), occasionally violent moments, tons of new mythology and secret revelations (none of which mean much, and all of which feel forced), and a tone more in tune with a serious epic than a post-modern swashbuckler. It's not a terrible movie, but it is terribly misguided and highly disappointing.

It all starts with a young boy being hung. I chuckled when they brought out the barrel for him to stand on, then I realized it was meant to be taken seriously and felt bad. Then all the condemned pirates started singing a pirate song, and I chuckled again. This time when I realized it was meant to be serious, I didn't feel so bad. After all, when did this become Les Miserables? Anyway, the East India Trading Company is trying to eliminate all pirating from the seas, and in the singing of the song, nine pieces of eight that are held by the nine pirate lords across the world are awakened or signaled or something to tell them a meeting of the brethren court is in order. Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) are in Singapore to convince Capt. Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) to help them in their quest to rescue Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from Davy Jones' Locker. Negotiations failing, they, along with Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), steal Feng's map to the end of the world, where the underworld is located, to find Jack, attend the court's meeting, and stop the EITC from using Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) to attack pirates.

The plot here is even more convoluted than the previous installments, with lots of new characters introduced and older ones discovering or revealing their fates and secrets, and is it ever heavy-handed. We learn (multiple times) of a kink in Will's plan to kill Davy Jones and rescue his captive father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgård): the person who destroys Jones' heart will have to take his place for eternity. That presents a bit of a problem in his plans to marry Elizabeth, but then again, their relationship has hit the rocks after Will spotted his wife-to-be kissing Jack before the pirate's untimely death at the mouth of Jones' Kraken. Jones is missing for a good chunk of the movie, which is unfortunate as his character's establishment in the previous entry held a lot of promise, and when he does appear, he's merely a tool of the EITC or having strange encounters with Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), the oracle accompanying the not-so-merry-anymore band of pirates. Jack doesn't arrive for a while, either, and his exploits in an afterlife that seems like a bleached-out acid-trip is the movie's first attempt at cracking the overly serious façade that has taken over the presentation of the story.

Even Jack, so genuinely strange and humorous in the last movies, seems trapped in director Gore Verbinski's attempts to make this silly stuff into a serious epic. He and Barbossa bicker—fighting for command of The Black Pearl, comparing telescope sizes, and debating the proper pronunciation of the word "are" in the process—but it's nothing compared to the way Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush hammed it up with aplomb in the first movie. On the rare occasions that the pirates are left to be the scurvy dogs they are, the movie finds its humor (the brethren court scene is funny as it turns into an all-out brawl and punctuated by a unfortunately forgettable cameo by Keith Richards, Depp's inspiration for the role of Sparrow), but otherwise, two seamen (Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Cook) who have traveled the whole of this voyage provide amusing asides to the proceedings while a monkey steals every scene it's in. A monkey stealing scenes is rarely a good sign, and it's an ill omen here as well. There's little action in between a surprisingly violent gunfight at the beginning and the climactic battle-at-high-seas between Sparrow and Jones' crews, and while the special effects are quite effective, these sequences just don't have the inventive thrills of the last films.

And it's long, too. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End runs an unnecessary two hours and fifty minutes, and there are only about ten or fifteen of them that actually seem to be part of the series to which we've become accustomed. The rest is a ham-fisted epic with little joy, lots of outlandish things presented with tongue forcibly removed from cheek, and only some brief moments of the series' trademark humor. It's actually, sadly, pretty dull.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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