Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 05/25/07 12:18:29

"Big, breathless, and ballsy. Savvy?"
5 stars (Awesome)

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is too long, too confusing, too cluttered, too much. It’s also great cinema. There’s a reason the fans are abbreviating this film “AWE” - for the most part, you’re sitting there absolutely agog at the sheer excess of it all.

You already know the franchise backstory: Disney surprised everyone with “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” which remains one of the most downright fun films in recent memory. The success ensured two sequels, filmed back-to-back; “Dead Man’s Chest” earned shrugs from critics who found it too muddled and too bland, although the public ate it up, making it one of the highest grossing films of all time. (As for me, I named it one of last year’s best, a worthy successor and a damn fine entertainment all its own.)

“Dead Man’s Chest” also ended on one heck of a cliffhanger, which brings us to “At World’s End.” I’m reminded, perhaps not coincidentally, of “Return of the Jedi,” as, like that film, this third “Pirates” chapter drops us into a story already in progress, a rescue mission underway in a new villain’s lair. Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and the mad crew of the Black Pearl have arrived in Singapore, something about tracking down the Pirate Lord Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat), all part of their scheme to save Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from Davy Jones’ Locker. It’s not long before Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) makes his presence known, and before ya know it, we’re right back in the thick of things.

This third entry, once more directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, uses this opening scene to set the tone: go for broke, don’t look back, avast ye mateys. Here are 168 minutes of adventure that plow forward at a pace that makes “breakneck” seem like a term best used to describe golf tournaments. Even when we think we’re getting a piece of down time, we later realize even the slow moments are being used to drive things ahead; “At World’s End” is the movie equivalent of the proverbial unstoppable force.

This can be exhausting at times, of course, and while you’re in the thick of things, you might get that “Lord of the Rings” feeling of “just how much more could there possibly be?” But, like that fantasy franchise, with “Pirates” the “how much more?” question is never a complaint - especially in retrospect, when you finally see all the pieces put together.

Of course, it’s obvious one full viewing isn’t enough to see all those pieces - the plot is labyrinthine to an absurd degree, and I doubt much of it will make sense even after the tenth go ’round. And yet this is not a problem, for “At World’s End” is a movie that lives in the moment. When Jack Sparrow (of course he returns from beyond, although the hows and whys of such a return I dare not spoil) cuts a deal with the vile Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), we don’t need to understand the intricacies of the arrangement, only that an arrangement has been made, and that’s enough to bring us to the big showdown at Shipwreck Island where an army of pirates will face off against the British fleet.

“At World’s End” is a film epic in scope, so much that even its smallest scenes have a grandeur to them. Watch as we find Jack alone in his own personal afterlife, which gives us one of the film’s most memorable visuals: the Pearl stranded in the middle of a vast white desert, with Jack not-so-quietly going mad in the process. Later, we see an ocean of the dead, spirits set on their way to the other side, one dinghy at a time; this scene is used as an unexpected dramatic high point, and while other movies would find smaller ways of presenting the same information, only a “Pirates” film would bathe this scene in overwhelming visual wonder.

Naturally, then, if these quiet scenes are larger than life, the spectacular action set pieces must be doubly so. Admittedly, we spend too long waiting to find a scene as dazzling as the ball-cage escape or the water wheel swordfight of “Dead Man’s Chest,” with “At World’s End” saving its biggest moments for last. But the wait is well worth it. Here we have a finale that out-excesses anything else in the trilogy: Jack and Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) clash blades atop the mast of the Flying Dutchman, in the middle of a raging storm, in the middle of a blazing naval battle, in the middle of a maelstrom. The ship has locked itself with the Pearl, and the two spiral ever so downward toward certain doom. “At World’s End” is a movie brassy enough to decide that all of this is not enough, so let’s throw a wedding in there, too.

It is, then, the most satisfying of conclusions, a bona fide popcorn-muncher of an epic adventure yarn. “At World’s End” may lose yet even more of the first film’s element of surprise - by episode three, we’re fully aware of what to expect from the franchise - but it makes up for the loss by piling on the gusto. And in a season where overindulgence has led to other films’ downfalls, the very same indulgences and overloads work in this film’s favor. This is a franchise built on the premise of Bigger, Better, Faster, More, and Verbinski knows how to take such unchecked overkill and use it for good. “At World’s End” may seem like too much of everything, but actually, it’s just enough in all the right ways.

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