At World’s End suggests the sort of place where you’ll be staring into an abyss, the thing stretching on and on before you, with no sign of ending. Much like the middle third of this film then... After a cracking start and before the best finale to any of the Pirates movies, At World’s End grinds to a painful halt for lengthy plot exposition, politics and the introduction of a huge collection of characters who seem to be there just to make up the numbers. On the plus side, it does enable the paraphrasing of a great joke: Why are all these extra pirates there? Because they arrrrrrrrgh. On the downside, it makes the plot nigh on impossible to follow unless you’ve memorised Part II or can understand the accents out of central casting, foreign section.
Ridiculously, by the time the finale rolls around, it doesn’t really matter who owes what to whom, who’s in league with whoever else and who has to stab this or that to break whatever contract. The climactic battle is big, silly, funny, exciting and romantic: all the things, in fact, that made the first Pirates movie such a joy. At the start, the East India Trading Company — the Bush metaphor who are now the main bad guy — have clamped down on piracy and are hanging everyone who even vaguely looks like a pirate. Against this tyranny, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley, looking like she’s got a luxury spa in her cabin) and Will (Orlando Bloom) must form allegiances that they don’t want to — and that we, the viewer, won’t necessarily understand — in order to get Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, like you didn’t know that) out of Davy Jones’ Locker, back into the land of the living and onto their side in what’s shaping up to be the final confrontation. Looking at that, it’s relatively simple. So why does it take a bladder-busting 168 minutes to get to the point? That is just self-indulgence on director Gore Verbinski’s part, frankly — although the fact that the series has generated roughly the income of a mid-size European country in the last two or three years does at least explain why he’s been allowed to release the director’s cut now instead of waiting for the DVD. Unless — dear God, no — he’s got a longer version planned for that one? If he does, it’ll have to be sold with a presentation souvenir commode.
Depp is, of course, hilarious and Verbinski does put it all together with some style. The first Sparrow appearance — in nose only — is a delight (and then kicks into what appears to be a bleached out mickey take of The Seventh Seal) and there are many similar sequences throughout, most of which can’t be mentioned for fear of giving something away. Suffice to say that, after that soggy middle — although even that’s not all bad because it features Keith Richards’ much publicised and very funny cameo as Jack’s dad — the ends are tied up pretty neatly, the right people die, the right people survive and there’s even a satisfying twist or two. All that and they introduce the distinct possibility of a decent-sounding sequel. That in itself wouldn’t be a bad idea — just make it shorter next time, alright?
SECOND OPINION | Stuart O'Connor: OK, let me get this straight. In the first movie (Curse of the Black Pearl), Captain Barbossa (Rush) was the bad guy. Captain Jack Sparrow's mortal enemy. Who also wanted to sacrifice Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) to turn himself and his ghostly crew human again. So now, two films later, he's teamed up with Elizabeth and Will (Bloom) to help rescue Jack. Why? Where's the logic? Where's his motivation for suddenly becoming all buddy-buddy with his enemies?
That's just one of many gripes about POTC: At World's End. For a start, as Neil pointed out, it's waaaaay too long. I mean, before you head to the cinema pack a cut lunch, fill a waterbag and fit a catheter. Yes, it's that long. In fact, Verbinski seems to get longer with each film — Black Pearl was 143 minutes, Dead Man's Chest was 155 minutes and now this one clocks in at just a little under 3 hours. In his review of Black Pearl, US critic Roger Ebert said that inside it was a nice little 90-minute B-movie struggling to get out. Ditto this time — 2 hours, tops, and this would be a real winner. Gore, take a hint, mate — sometimes, less really is more.
And what is it with Elizabeth looking so gorgeous the whole time? I mean, she's supposed to be a pirate. Yet how many pirates take an entourage of hairdressers and makeup artists to sea with them? I mean, just look at her — there she is, standing among all those dirty, snaggle-toothed, bedraggled pirates, nary a hair or eyebrow out of place, makeup done to perfection, a picture of quiet, seductive beauty. Still, I guess anyone would look good standing next to a guy with a squid for a face. And another gripe — much of the plot (which is way too busy and overloaded with characters) is obscure and convoluted, a bit like Mission: Impossible on the high seas. And for nigh on two-thirds of the film, the dialogue is incomprehensible — either through mumbled or heavily-accented voices, or music and special effectes overpowering the speech. I'm looking forward to the DVD, because I guarantee I'll be watching with the subtitles on.
All right, enough of the cons — what about the pros? Well, there are a few, but as you'd expect, there is one really big positive in the film ... and his name is Johnny Depp. What can I say about his performance as Cap'n Jack that hasn't already been said a hundred times? As with the first two films, he steals every scene he's in. And in scenes there are more than one of him, he steals the scenes from himself (it's complicated, don't ask). Rush comes close — you can clearly see he's enjoying himself, and it's marvellous fun watching him and Depp togther, chewing up the scenery — telescope envy and all. And the final showdown, when it eventually arrives, is well worth the wait — it's an epic, swashbuckling sea battle to end all sea battles. Until the next film. And I'm certain that At World's End — which, despite all my complaints, is still rollicking good fun for the most part — will make bucketloads of money, so you bet your booty there will be a fourth. But here's some advice for Verbinski, Bruckheimer et al — dump Knightley and Bloom; their characters are dull and have run their course. Just give us Depp, please. Lots of Depp. You know we want it.