Before the press screening of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, my fellow film critics and I were handed a printed request that read, in part: “Please do not reveal the many plot resolutions that occur throughout the film.”
The note encouraged me. I figured that this notice meant the movie would at least have a plot, unlike the previous installment, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Alas, I was to be disappointed. Oh, a lot of stuff happens in this third film in the series, but I’ll be hanged from a yardarm if I can keep half of it straight. The movie begins with Will and Elizabeth (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley) gaining the support of the recently resurrected-from-the-dead Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to bring back Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from the netherworld to which he was spirited off at the end of the last film. Their quest encounters interference from Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, who’s in everything these days, and I don’t mind one bit), a pirate captain from Singapore (Chow Yun-Fat, who adds very little here), a brotherhood of other pirate captains, the sea goddess Calypso, and possibly Shrek and the Pirates of Penzance. When these characters aren’t squabbling about how to retrieve Captain Jack, they’re trying to rescue Will’s father (Stellan Skarsgård) or Elizabeth’s father (Jonathan Pryce), or battling over the heart of Davy Jones, and I’m still not entirely sure what that damn heart is supposed to represent or do.
The story contains more betrayals and double-crosses than The Departed, yet it isn’t nearly as much fun. I found myself slipping into that state of mind familiar to anyone who’s watched many movies like this — stimulated yet completely uninterested, following the action yet uninvested in the outcome. The movie does shift more of the focus back to Captain Jack, which is good because Johnny Depp’s antics help pass the time. Still, over the course of 165 minutes, the film makes only token stabs at trying to tie this sprawling story together. There were two bits that actually engaged me. The first glimpse of Captain Jack shows him gone quite mad, with his ship marooned on an expanse of sand, commanding an imaginary crew of clones of himself. The sequence’s uncharacteristically calm vibe and all-out weirdness (Captain Jack very deliberately licks a rock at one point) helps make this perhaps the most bizarre movie scene Johnny Depp has ever acted in, and that’s saying a lot. The other bit that grabbed my attention was Elizabeth’s rally-the-troops speech to the other pirates. Who knew Keira Knightley had this kind of old-fashioned blood and thunder in her? I may have underestimated this actress. That makes two more points of interest than Dead Man’s Chest could boast, but they still aren’t enough to justify this bloated exercise that whips itself into a frenzy in an attempt to convince ticket-buyers that they’re having a good time.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End Starring Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, and Orlando Bloom. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Rated PG-13.