Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) / Adventure-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some frightening images
Running time: 168 min.
Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Bill Nighy, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Chow Yun-Fat, Tom Hollander, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Kevin R. McNally, David Bailie, Martin Klebba, Keith Richards
Director: Gore Verbinski
Screenplay: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
I think it's fair for me to admit that I haven't the slightest notion as to why the Pirates of the Caribbean movies are as popular as they are, and what would cause someone to not only spend money on seeing them, but what would cause them to wait in long lines to do so. While I called the first film passable (charitably, in my opinion), others were calling it one of the best films of the year. While I could scarcely keep my eyes open for the second film, others were already getting back in line to see it again. It's beginning to remind of of what they say about hypnosis: some people are more susceptible to it than others. Perhaps Gore Verbinski (The Weather Man, The Ring) and the crew at Disney are putting in strong subliminal messages like, "this is a good film,", and "you must watch this again and tell everyone you love it" somewhere embedded in the film itself. Whatever is in there that has everyone drinking Pirates Kool-Aid so readily, I must have imbibed the antidote sometime before viewing.
Around this part of the review I would usually give a plot synopsis. I didn't do it for the second film, Dead Man's Chest, because that film bored me to such an extent that I fell into a state of depression that had me questioning the worth of popular cinema, and of the future of the narrative form itself. I don't think I want to do one for this one either. It's not because I think it's too complex, more like it's too inconsequential. It strikes me that the sequels to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl have quite a bit of plot developments, and yet, there is virtually no story. At least not a story told in the manner in which would make it interesting to someone who isn't impressed by the superficial character touches and the bells and whistles of the visual components. Doing a plot synopsis for a film that is nothing but one plot point after another without a clear direction seems to me to be a waste of my time to write, and of yours to read.
Not surprisingly, At World's End went into production without a finished script, and some of the scenes were already shot while making Dead Man's Chest without really knowing how they'd fit in to this one. I think that says it all in terms of how much effort the makers put into story development. It's the sort of treatment that one might see in one of those stories done in creative writing class that has an author write one sentence before passing it off to another person to write the next, and so on. It's as if screenwriters Rossio and Elliott had an ending in mind, and Verbinski had them write something happening for each scene that built on the previous one, with the goal of getting to those final scenes, regardless of how and why.
What I can tell you is that the Pirates clan goes into Davy Jones' Locker to pull out Capt. Jack Sparrow (Depp, Corpse Bride) from the dead in order to keep the remaining outlaw pirate horde from extinction at the hands of those running the East India Trading Company. Everything else in the film is merely a distraction or superfluous side plot, only of interest to those who take all of these characters as meriting our attention. Not being one who likes any of this kooky bunch of eccentrics and weirdoes, I find little interest in who Elizabeth (Knightley, Pride & Prejudice) ends up with, who winds up as the leader of the pirates, and in fact, I really wouldn't care if the pirate scum were wiped off the face of the Earth, or if their foes were. With no rooting interest, all I could do was watch, occasionally find what the monkey does interesting, and wonder tangential things like whether Depp looks more like a girl than Knightley does a boy.
At 168 minutes, you can imagine that this is quite the ordeal to sit through if you have no interest in the characters, the story, or in the piled-on plot developments. It's like something that won't end, and that you can't kill -- like Davy Jones (Nighy, Notes on a Scandal) himself says when stabbed through the chest, "Did you forget? I'm a heartless wretch.". Between the beginning and end are a bunch of set pieces, some impressive (the capsizing of the ship to escape Davy Jones' Locker is a fantastic visual concept) and some just serve little purpose except to have them (Tia Dalma's transformation into a giant that bursts into a million crabs is a cool effect seemingly just to have one).
I honestly don't know what it would take for fans of the series to ever come away not liking one of these Pirates films. Perhaps removing the cast and replacing them with other actors might do it. Perhaps if the effects weren't so masterful or the imagery that pollutes the screen so pervasively weren't so well designed. Certainly, people aren't coming to these movies to be moved by a compelling story or for rich characterizations. From a story standpoint, it's like a car that does donuts in a parking lot -- turning, spinning and always moving, but never really going anywhere except around and around in circles.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End leaves me at wit's end in terms of just what function it serves except to make more truckloads of cash for Disney and the producers. As the film's Trading Company villain, Cutler, would state, "It's just good business." It doesn't improve upon the original story, and it doesn't really have a sense of complete closure for all of the characters you've come to know except to put an end to the conflict at hand. People will still flock in droves, buy all the merchandise, and tell everyone else about what a wonderful cinematic treasure it is. The fact that they do these things so willingly can only make a skeptic like me feel like that guy at the party who feels all alone, not knowing why everyone else is so happy and laughing without any discernible reason. Perhaps they did spike that Kool-Aid after all.
-- Preceded by Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Followed by Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
©2007 Vince Leo