Monday, June 4, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

As quoted in my 2006 review of Pirates 2: “Part of what made the original Pirates film so fun was the lack of real danger. It possessed a sense of adventure, but never became truly intense. The stakes are somewhat higher this time.” Yes, and they’re even higher this time. I still stand by my claim that the first movie in this trilogy provides the most fun, largely due to its old-fashioned approach. The first film just makes you feel good, and if it has to be occasionally cheesy to do so, then so be it. It holds a tremendous sense of adventure, but not suspense. The lovable characters become caught up in increasingly enjoyable scenarios, until finally the film ends and the audience is left cheering with sheer delight. At World’s End will leave audiences thoroughly entertained, but not completely fulfilled. While the final chapter of this trilogy works, it could have recaptured the contagious, feel-good energy of its predecessor.

The story picks up right where Dead Man’s Chest left off. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is dead. Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) isn’t. Everyone wants Jack Sparrow alive again, but for different reasons. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly), and Barbossa lead the way into the land of the dead in hopes of bringing Sparrow back to life. Meanwhile, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) is under the command of the East India Trading Company, a greedy organization that hopes to bring an end to piracy as we know it. The pirate lords from all corners of the earth must now stand together and fight for their survival.

It’s almost impossible not to love these characters. Johnny Depp has certainly carved out a corner of cinema history as Captain Jack Sparrow, but the supporting cast members all lend their own charm. Looking back at the trilogy as a whole, I can now clearly see what the second film was missing: Captain Barbossa. Geoffrey Rush’s eccentric caricature of a pirate just about steals the show, and the love/hate relationship between Barbossa and Sparrow makes both characters better. Most of my favorite moments from the series are conversations between these two.

There are also character disappointments, though. This film introduces Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat), a fearsome pirate lord from Singapore. He should have been a wonderful new character, but his overall contribution to the film comes up short. In such an action-heavy film, I have no idea why Fat’s martial arts abilities weren’t put to use. Another disappointment comes with Norrington’s (Jack Davenport) limited role. He surprised viewers in Pirates 2 by completely reinventing his character and becoming a pirate himself, but the screenplay robs his character of any entertainment value this time around. Other character mishaps include Governor Swann, Elizabeth's father (Jonathan Pryce), and Calypso, the goddess of the sea. They all work, but should have been given much more to do.

As expected, the visual effects do not disappoint. Every fantasy element looks incredible, and the action sequences burst with unending energy. Many effects films quickly become tiresome, but the Pirates blend of CG wizardry and live-action stunts continues to get it right. The only viewers who are likely to complain about the visuals are parents, seeing as how the three films have become increasingly less kid-friendly. The opening scene shows multiple hangings, and the rest of the film proves more violent than what the first two films have shown us. In many cases, the violence works against the film, taking away from the overall enjoyment.

The swashbuckling adventure scenes soar, though the stunningly complicated plot does all it can to drag the film down to the depths of Davy Jones’ locker. If you haven’t seen the first two films in a while, prepare to be completely lost. Even the most hardcore fans will likely scratch their heads at one point or another, wondering why the writers included more plot twists and double-crosses than the first two films combined. Ultimately, viewers will just have to let go and be entertained. The plot has never been this franchise’s driving force, but it’s so muddled here that it almost detracts from the fun.

Probably the biggest surprise of Pirates 3 is its lack of closure. If you’re preparing to see all of the series’ loose ends neatly tied-up, think again. This film ends adequately enough, but leaves the story wide open should a fourth installment ever set sail. While surprising, this ending just feels right. I love how the film ends with a sense that the characters aren’t done; there will always be more adventures. Fans may not appreciate the fate of one favorite character, but it could be easily altered if another film demands it. After all, the Pirates series is one in which no character really dies. If there is a fourth film, I’m sure that everyone would be back. That being said, I almost hope that we don’t see another Pirates flick. These delightful characters have given us enough. The final verdict: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End succeeds. It left me smiling, but I wish it had left me cheering.