Movie review by Greg Carlson
Following the messy, incoherent, and bloated second installment of the wildly popular Disney franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” manages to be just as messy, incoherent, and bloated as “Dead Man’s Chest.” Obviously, this will not stop audiences of all ages from attending the movie or attempting to convince themselves that they liked it more than they really did. Required, at least on one level, to wrap up some plot lines, “At World’s End” might be a hint more satisfying than its predecessor, but like so many “more is better” sequels, this one defines the law of diminishing returns.
Echoing one of the lines in the movie, director Gore Verbinski appears to be making it all up as he goes along, which produces something akin to fatigue as opposed to a feeling of fresh improvisation. According to a variety of sources, “At World’s End” began shooting without a completed script, and the movie’s pile-up of twists, reversals, double-crosses and triple-crosses supports this notion. Despite the studio’s plea to critics to keep the movie’s secrets, there is nothing that would qualify as shocking or unexpected in the clattering roundabout that comprises the film’s narrative.
To be candid, “At World’s End” leans more toward product than it does art, and the computer generated special effects have come to replace what now looks like the quaint charm of the first “Pirates” movie. As expected, the picture’s saving grace is Johnny Depp, who always manages to perform Jack Sparrow without appearing to care or worry about the financial return on investment his employers expect. Depp blithely swishes and sashays from one crisis to another, and his performance is the only effortlessly enjoyable aspect of the movie.
Oddly, the romantic relationship between Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) often recedes into the background. Knightley benefits most from the change of direction, as Elizabeth is regularly placed in the center of action while Will continues to be stuck dealing with his cursed father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard). More time is spent introducing new characters like Chow Yun-Fat’s Captain Sao Feng, a Singapore-based plunderer who exists as an excuse to show off some dazzling set design. Production designer Rick Heinrichs and supervising art director John Dexter deliver a variety of eye-popping images that should please the fans who insist that the movies honor the original theme park dark ride in some capacity.
Less honorable is the treatment of Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), the exotic soothsaying priestess. The writers take her in a direction that makes about as much sense as her indecipherable accent. Geoffrey Rush and Bill Nighy, who also reprise their roles, fare better. The much touted cameo appearance of Keith Richards amounts to little, and should have been funnier and more sprightly. If the pirates decide to set sail again, and that outcome seems likely, the filmmakers ought to go back to the drawing board. The current course is well charted, and all the treasure appears to have been dug up.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 5/28/07.