War is often an ugly and confusing mess. I don’t know what the heck is going on in the Middle East right now. Such is the case with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Swords are drawn, cannons are fired and squid-headed men fight but half the time I didn’t know what was happening. Although visually impressive, At World’s End is a bitter disappointment considering how fresh and exciting the crew was just a few years ago.
From what I could gather the British are after the pirates, the immortal Davy Jones is after more pirates – Jack Sparrow (Jonny Depp) in particular – and essentially all of pirate-dom is after one another. Alliances are made then broken, mended and broken again. Sword fights ensue, Johnny Depp prances around like Keith Richards, Keith Richards plays himself and pirate ships sail about the ocean blue. And somewhere in there Jack Sparrow somehow managed to escape the sea creature that he jumped during the film’s previous installment.
I didn’t hate At World’s End, but the simple fact that I could never fully grasp what was going on was frustrating. Leaps were made beyond explanation – and that’s with the idea of suspended disbelief fully in hand – and allegiances were turned on faster than anything in professional wrestling. I didn’t want a paint-by-numbers plot but let’s at least have it make some sense. I think a big part of the problem is the general idea that in the realm of Hollywood sequels, bigger is better. Now in its third film, there are so many characters and storylines following them that it’s impossible to build any sort of rhythm until they all converge. But by then it’s too late. For example, although I think Captain Borbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is the most entertaining human character in the film, he is redundant. His story finished with The Curse of the Black Pearl. Yet he was brought back in the second film and continues to play a central role. But does he need to be there? For the story’s sake, not really. A little tweaking and the plot would have still made sense. The cast continues to expand with more piratey goodness but they’re so big in number, they’re more recognizable by their caricatured nationality than their actual characters.
At three hours minus a coffee break in length, At World’s End is on the longish side. The first hour is essentially spent undoing the hanging parts of Dead Man’s Chest and even that is done somewhat haphazardly. These final two films in the series could have easily been combined into one and the result would have been something tighter, less bloated and ultimately more exciting. But when you’re raking the hundreds of millions (or low billions) per film, can you really blaming Disney for double-dipping?
Some fans might be disappointed to find Jack Sparrow as almost a supporting character in this film. He’s gone for the first half-hour and pops in here and there for the remainder. While Depp is still great in the role, the spottiness of his appearances make him simply a member of the crew rather than the standout that he’s been.
Despite my disappointments, there were some enjoyable moments in At World’s End. I don’t know if they were moments of confusion or inspired visions, but director Gore Verbinski and his design team seem to have a tight hold on the visual aspects of the series. Although none of the three films in the series have lacked in the visuals, there’s just something about At World’s End where it all comes together. For example, Jack Sparrow’s dream sequence is marvelous, albeit surreal – something you don’t really expect with a blockbuster.
Even still, At World’s End is a very disappointing installment for the franchise. It’s in need of a new direction story wise, one in which the number of characters will hopefully be trimmed and some favourites can even get a bit of a reprieve. If not, I’m afraid I’ll have to walk the plank as a viewer.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End DVD Review
The third film in the Pirates series appears to be taking the animated route as far as the marketing of the two-disc special edition DVD. It promises to only be available until next fall, leaving collectors with only the single-disc edition (or some fancier re-release somewhere down the line).
The enhanced widescreen presentation (2.35:1 aspect ratio) is stunning with vivid colours and sharp picture. The soundtrack shows why 5.1 Surround Sound is so impressive. One minute you’re in the middle of a naval battle, the next you’re entranced by Hans Zimmer’s iconic soundtrack. There’s also an optional Spanish audio track and Spanish and English subtitles.
The two-disc edition has a bounty of extra features, although not the treasure chest you might expect from such a major release. The only extra on disc one is five minutes worth of bloopers. Disc two kicks off with “Keith & the Captain”, a five-minute hero worship of Keith Richards, who makes a brief appearance in the film and was a big inspiration on Depp’s take on Jack Sparrow. “Anatomy of a Scene: The Maelstrom” breaks apart the key action scene in the film. “The Tale of the Many Jacks” looks at perhaps the strangest scene in the entire trilogy as Jack Sparrow commands a ship’s worth of Jack Sparrows. In “The World of Chow Yun-Fat” goes behind the scenes with the largely under-appreciated actor. One of the most memorable parts of the Pirates trilogy is the score from Hans Zimmer. “The Pirate Maestro: The Music of Hans Zimmer” gives an abbreviated look at the third film’s musical muse. “Hoist the Colours” shows the how and why of the opening scene’s song and the technology used in the collaboration. The final featurette is “Inside the Brethren Court” in which each member of the pirate council is give a brief background. The DVD also includes two deleted scenes with optional commentary from director Gore Verbinski and several Disney previews.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End Gallery