Shipwrecked

With a cluttered, confounding storyline and a three-hour running time, 'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End' sinks faster than a three-ton anchor

There is a terrifically clever moment in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the third and unlikely final installment in the box-office blockbusting series, that conjures the Disneyland dark ride on which the movies are based. It occurs just after a pirate ship containing Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and feisty Elizabeth Swan (Kiera Knightley) tumbles over a massive waterfall and plummets into Davey Jones’s locker, where their friend Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is held in limbo. The screen goes black and we hear voices and music — snippets of scenarios drawn from the popular Disney ride. It’s so subtle, it almost doesn’t belong in this film.

I wish I could call POTC: At World’s End a fantastic voyage, a fitting capper to a tremendously enjoyable adventure series. But it’s more like a shipwreck. The first — POTC: Curse of the Black Pearl – remains the best, but I still admire the filmmaking craftsmanship director Gore Verbinski poured into the second film, Dead Man’s Chest. This time, however, perhaps yearning to wrap things up into a little package with a tidy bow on top, Verbinski and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio fill the film with narrative clutter to the point of absurdity. The plot is convoluted and complex, as each character sets forth on his or her own agenda and, ultimately, deception and betrayal. Somehow or another — probably by sheer writer’s will — it all comes together at the end, pointing the way to a fourth film if Johnny Depp is game.

Piartes of the Carribbean: AT WORLD’S END
starstar
Starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush
Rated PG-13
167 Minutes
Area Theaters

What’s truly miserable about the experience is that it’s nearly three hours long. The Godfather can be three hours. Once Upon a Time in America can be three hours. Lord of the Rings can be three hours. But NOT Pirates. POTC: At World’s End strives for epic-ness, but it’s not really an epic. It’s fluff. And fluff should never, ever exceed more than 1 hour and 47 minutes, including end credits.

Call it overstuffed seafood, since much of the padding turns out to be long, self-indulgent shots of pirate ships passing by the camera, ever so sloooowy, accompanied by music fit for a royal funeral. There is none of the fun and friskiness of the second film’s action set pieces, and it’s not until the final hour, when Jack Sparrow’s Black Pearl and the squid-faced Davy Jones’ Flying Dutchman face off in a maelstrom, that the movie finally achieves the spirit of fun and adventure it so desperately seeks. After the fight is over, the 20 minutes or so of character ”wrap-ups” that follow the squabble are just plain annoying. What? We can’t go home yet?

Verbinski remains a fine director with a keen visual sense — and to that end there are some gorgeous, striking moments in the third film, such as a shot in which a ship explodes in slow motion, bit by wooden bit, behind its shell-shocked commander, and another in which a mass of white, stone-like crabs transport the Black Pearl through a bleached, barren landscape to the lip of the sea. But Verbinski loses all sense of reason trying to make reasonable sense of a storyline that should have never evolved into a trilogy.

Depp does his usual mincing, half-cocked drunken thing — and, in fact, we even get more Depp than we bargained for, as poor Jack Sparrow has taken to talking to multiple versions of himself. He’s still fun to watch. Knightley takes on the Mel Gibson Braveheart role, becoming king of the pirates (don’t ask), and rallying her fellow scoundrels, under siege from the tyrannical ”company,” to action. Elizabeth’s big speech comes dangerously close to parody. Bloom seems ready to chuck it all and move to the next trilogy that awaits him. I won’t divulge his character’s fate, but he can count himself out of any future Pirates movies if he so chooses.

Naomie Harris gets an expanded role as Tia Dalma, the voodoo enchantress with a diction problem (you can barely understand a single word she says — subtitles would be incredibly helpful). Her character holds a surprise that amounts to the movie’s biggest (and I mean that literally) disappointment. Mackenzie Crook and Lee Arenberg are back as the bumbling Ragetti and Pintel, though their antics are wearing thin. Clearly, some freshening up is needed.

The filmmakers try to infuse some new blood in the form of eight additional pirate lords, but aside from Yun-Fat Chow’s nefarious Sao Feng, they have nothing to do other than yell at one another and cheer on cue. ”It’s politics,” says Jack. Yeah, well, we don’t come to a Pirates film for politics, matey. The pirate lords don’t even engage in the final battle. Finally, a much-ballyhooed cameo from Keith Richards as Jack Sparrow’s pop is a fizzle. Richards, who looks like a badly sculpted chunk of clay, should stick to his day job with the Stones.

The high points remain Bill Nighy’s Jones, whose octo-visage is a masterpiece of CGI, and the return of Rush’s Barbossa, who, along with Depp, steals every scene he’s in. Rush invests himself so completely into the role, with such scenery-gnawing robustness, that the film perks up whenever he growls a line.

Still, when it comes down to it, this third ride is by and large a snooze. It turns ”yarrrs” into yawns.

Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.

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