Archive Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

I just re-watched “At World’s End” and man, I recall liking it much more the first time, so my rating here reflects a balance of my two viewings. Here’s a review of my “revised” opinion.

“At World’s End” or “At Wit’s End,” whatever you want to call it, the third installment in Disney’s theme-park-ride-turned-mega-movie-franchise has lost steam thanks to the poor choice to make two sequels narratively dependent on one another. “At World’s End” benefits from being the destination and not the bridge that was “Dead Man’s Chest,” but both films have too many sub-plots and arcs connecting them. The flavor and fun of the characters and acting simply cannot keep up with how quickly the story expands the “Pirates” world.

It takes a good half an hour to understand at all what’s going on if you’re not familiar with the events of “Dead Man’s Chest.” Jack Sparrow (Depp) is “dead,” stuck in Davy Jones’ Locker lest he and his beloved Black Pearl be retrieved by friends Will Turner (Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) and Captain Barbossa (Rush), who makes a triumphant return back from the dead himself. The film’s first main sequence takes place in Singapore with Swann and Barbossa trying to enlist the help of Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) to man a crew to find Jack.

But that’s not even the half of it. Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) has made a pact with Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and crew of The Flying Dutchman to track down Sparrow and eradicate all pirates period. Will also has his own plans, to get the Pearl for himself so he can free his father, Bootstraps Bill Turner (Stellan Skarsgaard) from the Dutchman.

I’m skipping a few sub-plots, but you should get the gist of it by now: too much going on, too many scenes of dialogue involving one character making a deal with another only to break it later in the film. It’s almost impossible to catch up, but you can just as easily focus on the caricatures and determine for yourself who’s mean and who’s likable. All the cast members add something unique, although the relationship between Will and Elizabeth grows weaker seeing as their characters have become so run-of-the-mill. Will’s darker side intrigues a bit throughout, but bottom line is that Jack Sparrow doesn’t get enough of a spotlight. He’s merely one on a list of a dozen characters who get special attention. Whereas the original film had two clear sides, this film has four or five.

Sure, the teasing of the greater pirate world out there excites one’s imagination a bit. When the pirate brethren come together for their meeting in Shipwreck Cove, we see pirates from all over the world and all the fun the costume and make up departments got to have. The extensive lore that writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio developed begins to take more shape and you start to think that a prequel showing the early pirate years would be a cool thing to see. Then you realize they’re talking too much again and they should just fight if that’s what they say they’re going to do.

Upping the stakes in a sequel to bring the world that has been created and embraced by a global audience to such a large scale does seem exciting, but boiled down, “At World’s End” could be called a gigantic mess as much as it could be labeled an expansive epic. There’s plenty of adventure to be had and some fun, memorable scenes, but these sequels don’t take you on a journey in the emotional sense like the first one did.

In terms of characters, that’s what keeps the quality of these films higher than average. Captain Jack Sparrow is one of those once-in-blue-moon heroes that simply never gets old. Depp continues to be terrific, even though he’s subservient to the plot here. Barbossa was a welcome return because Rush handles him so perfectly. Even Nighy, behind all the make up and CGI tentacles, turns Davy Jones into a character we’d like to really know more about.

It all really comes down to the mistake of creating back-to-back films with a common thread and feeling this need to flesh out all elements of the film and all characters with sub-plots and back stories and such. It’s blender filmmaking. Gore Verbinski probably had a lot of fun with “At World’s End,” but it turns out to be a super-sized macro version of the original concept rather than another skillfully crafted story set in the same universe.

3/5 Stars

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush


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