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The inside of Captain Jack Sparrow's skull is a marvellous thing: a richly detailed, over the top, and full to the brim with nonsense mind. Disney's new Pirates of the Caribbean installment, At World's End, occasionally opens a tiny window into the character whose massive popularity was brought about - and let's give credit where it's due here - by Johnny Depp, my praise of whom has been relegated to a footnote* so as not to bore those of you who are not interested. Luckily for Disney, Captain Sparrow's dramatic death at the end of the second film is reversible, and his lovable gang of dentally-challenged pirates joins up with their erstwhile foes from the first film (you know, the ones that turned into comical skeletons in the moonlight?) to challenge the British Armada, under the employ of which struggles Davy Jones and the slimy crew of the Flying Dutchman, which also contains Will Turner's doomed father. You think that sentence was confusing? Print it out, cut out all of the nouns, scatter them to the winds, lead a lovable gang of dentally-challenged pirates on a mission to retrieve them, tape them together, douse it with rum, light it on fire, and shoot the ashes out of a cannon. Tah-dow! You've just achieved the same effect as a screening of At World's End!
If you bothered to scroll down to the footnote, you might presume that if there is any possible way to glorify a Depp movie, I am loath to pan it. And that's usually because his talents honestly tend to bolster a film's attributes. POTC:AWE is no exception, of course. The tried and true Captain Sparrow continues to delight, especially as Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbosa is back for him to play off of, but the rest of the film crowds in so closely on either side of Depp that it is difficult for him to get enough screentime to steal the show.
And, frankly, the rest of the film is not that great. It's so plot-driven that it doesn't take enough time out to explain what's going on (like in Black Pearl) or entertain us with some amazingly choreographed fight sequences (like in Dead Man's Chest). Instead it's almost all action, ship versus ship, pirate councils, arguments, giant women, explosions, tense meetings, and whirlpools. The film only slows down long enough for various loyalties to flip flop and for motives to be reconsidered, tangling the plotlines so much that I think I blacked out during parts of it, my brain having gone into defense mode and cut out anything too confusing to string together. As a result, I just found myself rooting for Jack, dimly aware that Keira Knightley was stomping around gnashing her teeth at everybody, but completely surprised every time Orlando Bloom popped up on a boat, having completely forgotten for whose pirate-team he was now pirate-playing.
A friend suggested that perhaps I found At World's End so confusing because it is for minds less "simple" than my own. After having removed said friend's name from my "people who might want the gift of a home-baked pie now and again" list, I considered his remarks seriously. Am I just stupid? Surely not! Besides, if I'm stupid, a whole lot of other people are too, and if you think Disney's going to intentionally make a film that's going to confuse most of the populace, you're mistaken. Nope, I believe it was the curse of the trilogy. Trying to wrap up too many things at once with the third film, whereas the first is perfectly digestible, being more of a complete story within itself, and the second is free to focus a little more on artistic expression - taking the first film's story and pushing it into new directions. Of course, I may have found it a mite easier if I'd watched both of the other films several times beforehand, with a pen and a notebook and a compass and my thumb on pause. But maybe your mind is a little more complex than mine, a little more like the mind of Jack Sparrow himself, in which case you might be able to make sense of it all. But enter ye with caution, or whatever, because all of a sudden you will wake up and Keira Knightley will be a Chinese pirate king, and I will give you five gold pieces if you can "savvy" an explanation for how you got there.
*Johnny Depp has limitless talent and painful good looks, in addition to his obvious genius and potential to leave a gaping hole in the school of cinema upon his departure from this world, at which point I will lead a crew of ruffians on a ship to the ends of the Earth to bring him back and restore him to his throne as king of the thespians. Also, I bet he is a killer dad.
- Susan Howson
Midway through the chaotic and often overwhelming Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, an anonymous lieutenant in the villainous East India Trading Company asks, "Do you think he plans it out or just makes it up as he goes along?" The man of course refers to the charming pirate with an affinity for rum who has once again escaped capture - Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) - but he could easily be commenting on the film as a whole. It's an exasperating - and often breathtaking - theme park ride of a movie where any dip in the action only amplifies the next thrilling peak.
Director Gore Verbinski fills every frame of this 3-hour film with stunning visuals and speedy dialogue, but the threads which tie scene to scene are thinner than Johnny Depp's nylons. The strangest thing is that it doesn't matter. From the moment he strolled in on a sinking sailboat in the first Pirates film, this franchise has belonged entirely to witty Jack, and everything else has just been gravy. So it's no big surprise then that the plate runs dry by the end of this latest chapter in the saga of Sparrow, Turner (Orlando Bloom), and Bennett (Kiera Knightley).
The charm of a lowly blacksmith wooing a wealthy governess has now all but disappeared, as both Will Turner and Elizabeth Bennett are unrecognizable versions of their original characters. The previously hilarious asides of the colorful pirate crew (which includes an overused monkey and parrot) begin to recycle themselves, and the evil colonialists become a cumbersome plot device in a sea of more worthy antagonists. Yet rather than scale things back to a manageable level, the filmmakers push everything past the brink of overkill.
The lack of tension between the leads was countered in the last sequel through the introduction of two new storylines aimed at our hearts. First we meet the doomed father (Stellan Skarsgård) of young Turner, who sympathetically risks his own freedom for the good of his son. Then there is the brilliantly conceived Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), a man who has literally lost his heart in pursuit of Calypso, the goddess of the sea (played with zest by Naomie Harris). Here we see both men develop wonderfully, emerging as the secondary highlights of the film and completely dwarfing the romance between Will and Elizabeth in terms of emotional impact.
But any attempt at conveying serious sentiment is immediately nixed by the introduction of the next major character in the film. Whether it's a completely unnecessary Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) and his gang of Singapore pirates or Captain Barbosa (the always superb Geoffrey Rush) performing a marriage ceremony in the heat of battle - there's no time for contemplation here. Yet unlike fellow blockbuster Spider-Man 3, which relentlessly hammers home an obvious point, Pirates is all about the distraction. Like the parlor tricks and funny faces of its lead, the film is constantly moving so as to conceal its hollowness.
We could lament the lack of meaning in popular culture, but don't we secretly admire Jack Sparrow precisely because of his wickedness? When Sparrow has an existential dilemma, it turns into a narcissistic dream (with multiple Jack's competing for our attention) that delivers the biggest laughs of the entire film. Sometimes a good dose of selfish immorality is exactly what we're jonesing for. Despite its excess, there is no better fix for our collective fantasies of sinful escape this summer season (so far) than Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
- Imran Siddiquee SEE ALSO: www.disney-sucks.com
Susan Howson and Imran Siddiquee
Two writers who cover films for LAS. You can view the staff profiles of and see other articles by Susan Howson and Imran Siddiquee individually, or you can...
See other articles by Susan Howson and Imran Siddiquee.
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