Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
2007Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Orlando Bloom, Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley
ere we are at the latest installment of the multi-million dollar Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise—a seemingly impossible trilogy derived from a fairly mundane Disney ride—and I can’t help but wonder how we’ve made it this far. By now, the surprise success of the first movie has long faded. If what we witnessed in the second film Dead Man’s Chest was an indication of the concept running out of gas, At World’s End finds the narrative barely running on the fumes of the initial film’s heedless joy. In a movie that demands its story to sail briskly across raging, adventurous waters, At World’s End finds itself hopelessly moored on terra firma.
It’s not that the film doesn’t contain any moments of sheer wonder (the special effects alone are worth the admission) or exhilarating action (the final battle sequence pulls off some stellar moments), but the film spends far too much time unraveling its weighty narrative and not enough time simply having fun. Believe me when I tell you that at 170 minutes, the film still finds itself scrambling to tie up all the lose ends of this clumsy tale. Part of the problem is that in the second film Verbinski introduced too many new characters into the mix, each with their own intricate history. By the time things get underway in the latest film, the plot is already overloaded with characters, all in desperate need of resolution to their respective tales. Consequentially, the film devotes a large portion of time to either further establishing the motivations of series’ mainstays or dispensing with lesser characters in an attempt to tidy up the already convoluted plot as much as possible.
Where’s the fun, the excitement, the sense of adventure? A film like this one benefits from a simple, deftly told narrative that centers on its awe-inspiring locations and heart-pounding action. Unfortunately, At World’s End can’t even establish a consistent logic to its universe. What the film needs so desperately is a clear-cut balance between good and evil and a straightforward narrative to propel that conflict steadily along. After all, isn’t that the protocol for such films, if not the fundamental means for their success?
Movies like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark assumed their own disposability as popcorn filmmaking and in turn achieved legendary status. By contrast, At World’s End sets its sights on some sort of near epic status, inflating what should be a story filled with wonder and awe into a weighed-down three-hour debacle mired in politics and betrayal. So dense is this film’s plot that most of the time is spent simply moving it sluggishly forward with exposition. Should I be embarrassed that I actually had a difficult time keeping up with the narrative? I don’t think my disposition will be entirely unique as the film makes every effort to beguile its audience at every turn. I’m not even sure the characters themselves know who they’re battling or why.
For nearly the entire film we suffer one betrayal after another as characters’ loyalties shift depending on the outcome of the previous situation. At one point Will Turner sides with Davy Jones and the British Navy. At another, Captain Jack Sparrow—recently returned from the dead in this film—deigns to sell out his crew. What angle are they playing here? At no point do we get the impression that any of the would-be turncoats are aware of the defection of any other member of the party, but it seems as if their separate betrayals work in some sort of unison, progressing toward a grand scheme to save them all. Without the necessary unity of our heroes, the adventurous nature of the film begins to deflate as the story turns from exciting to grating in the bat of an eye.
What makes all these shortcomings even more frustrating is the ever-mounting suspicion that hidden beneath all the painfully unnecessary comic bits and contrived plot twists lie the makings for a solid adventure film. There’s probably a good 45 minutes of decent filmmaking buried within this cumbersome exterior. Who knows, with a little more excitement thrown into the mix and far more stringent editing, At World’s End may have had the potential to rival films like Star Wars.
It may prove futile to dwell on such hypothetical scenarios since the film essentially is what it is—a mediocre adventure that overstays its welcome and leaves the viewer with mere tidbits of excitement. Johnny Depp puts in another oddly intriguing performance, and a brief cameo by his muse Keith Richards as Jack Sparrow’s father adds some self-referential humor to it, but neither of these elements are enough to carry the film entirely. What remains is a sinking ship of a film, or, in this case, a ship that’s already sunk with the crew aboard. While it may be true that some sunken vessels are worth a little exploration in order to extract the treasure hidden within, this is one wreck that may be best left to the clutches of the deep blue abyss.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is currently playing in wide release.
By: Dave Micevic
Published on: 2007-05-30