Reel Opinions

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Before writing this review, I decided to look back at my review of last year's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. I did not give it a favorable review, and stated that "the movie starts out as harmless summer fun, but quickly gets bogged down in endless action scenes and human characters that seem about as personality filled as the animatronics at the actual Disneyland attraction". I suppose many will say the same about the third and (supposedly) final entry in the series, At World's End. However, I personally liked this film more. The action is better, the humor is funnier, and the whole thing doesn't seem quite as tedious as it did the last time around. Yes, the plot is convoluted to the extreme, and doesn't make much sense when you come right down to it. But, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say this movie left a goofy grin on my face.

Those who skipped over the last film will quickly find themselves in over their heads, as this movie picks up where Dead Man's Chest left off, and doesn't even bother to look back. With Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) now wandering the land of the dead after being eaten by a Kraken, it's up to his crew to find a way to bring him back. They include young lovers Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Kiera Knightley), voodoo priestess Tia (Naomie Harris), and Jack's former nemesis Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who just happens to be back from the dead himself. The reason behind their mission is urgent, as the treacherous Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) has begun exterminating any and all pirates without prejudice. He's even enlisted the aid of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and his ship of lost souls in his quest, as Beckett holds Jones' heart in his possession, and thus has control over him. The only way the pirates can hope to save their way of life is to have all the pirate factions from every corner of the world join together to fight as one. The heroes must travel literally to the end of the world in order to find Jack, return him to the land of the living, and enlist his aid in the battle to come.

For a summer blockbuster, At World's End is pretty complex in its plotting. So much so that the above synopsis is really only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many plot and character revelations, double crosses, betrayals, and unions that you would be forgiven for feeling more than a little bit overwhelmed by the proceedings. Returning screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio do their best to keep everything in order, but they can't help but seem more than a bit overwhelmed by the plot they have come up with. They seem to be so overwhelmed that most of the dialogue that come out of the mouths of the characters exists to explain just what the heck is supposed to going on. What we do get is a lot of talk about pirate lords, ancient codes, sea goddesses in mortal form, "singing" coins, and debts setting back hundreds of years that have yet to be repaid. I don't think a single character in this movie utters a line that isn't tied into the plot in some way, unless they are tossing off a sarcastic one-liner. Some of the new additions to the plot do fly in the face of the earlier films as well, creating more logic and plot holes than should probably be necessary. With its trite one-note characters and somewhat sloppy storytelling, At World's End initially seems like it should be a hopeless case.

But here's the thing - This movie still winds up being fun regardless. A lot of this has to do with the many elaborate action and special effects sequences featured throughout, which in my opinion, are the best in the series. One of my complaints of Dead Man's Chest is that I found the action sequences muddled and poorly edited, and they came too close to one another. Here, not only are they spaced further apart from each other so that they stand out more, but series director Gore Verbinski seems to be more in control of the camera this time around. The action sequences are more elaborate, easier to follow, and quite frankly just hold a lot more excitement. They are grander in scale and in scope, but never seem overblown to the point of futility. It's not just the action sequences that have gotten an overhaul, but many of the more subtle moments are photographed quite beautifully as well. There is a sequence as the heroes sail to the end of the world at night where it is shot to look like they are sailing on a sea of stars, with the actual star-filled sky above them. It's a short and subtle moment, but quite powerful in its beauty. Most importantly of all, At World's End just seems much more livelier. I smiled a lot more, and I definitely laughed a lot more. I got caught up in the excitement of the action scenes, and just found that I was enjoying myself despite its many narrative faults. I initially dreaded the fact that the film runs nearly three hours in length, but I seriously did not mind it quite as much as I thought it would. Do I still think a nearly three hour movie based on a theme park attraction is just something that shouldn't be? Absolutely. It just was a lot more tolerable than I could have ever expected.

And yet, something tells me this movie wouldn't be half as much fun were it not for Johnny Depp, who returns to form here after turning in a disappointing performance the last time around. He's funnier this time around, a lot more likeable, and he once again has Geoffrey Rush to play off of, which I sorely missed the last time. Depp and Rush have some great scenes together as they bicker over who gets control of the ship, and have their little private competitions. They are the liveliest characters and performances in the entire film, so it's a good thing that the movie is smart enough to give them so much screentime throughout. That's not to say there's anything really wrong with the other performances, they just don't match the heights of those two. Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley are serviceable romantic leads, but not much more than that, as they both seem to be a bit lacking in the personality department. Most of the other pirate characters are restricted to visual gags and one-liners, many of which are actually funny at least. I still was disappointed with the way Davy Jones was handled. His story doesn't seem to be wrapped up in a successful way, and Bill Nighy still seems to be lost under the pounds of make up and animatronic tentacles that make up his face, and never gets to create a real character or villain. He's just a very impressive walking special effects demo and not much more.
The Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise has been very hit or miss with me, but at least At World's End leaves things off on a mostly positive note. It suffers from the same flaws of the last two films, but I just didn't mind as much this time around. That being said, I do hope the Disney studio is smart enough to know when to quit. The story has been told, and I'd like to leave the further adventures of Jack Sparrow up to my own imagination. Should the all mighty dollar take over better judgement (as it has been known to do) and the story continues, I can only hope they can come up with a plot that lives up to the imagination of the effects artists and the talent of Depp.



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