Monday, March 25, 2013

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Witty lines, great performances and special effects
Cons: Confusing story and mythology; ending
The Bottom Line:
Effects are king here
Story, people sacrificed
Wish it were better

"Getting to the Land of the Dead is Easy.  It's Getting Back That is Hard."

Sequels walk a fine line. They get made because lots of people love the characters. We want to see them again. Yet we don't want to see their lives change too much. And we don't want to see them doing the same old thing over again. At World's End, the third movie in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, tries to keep the characters out of familiar territory. But I think that was what it sorely needed.

When last we saw our characters (in the cliffhanger from the last film), Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) had been swallowed by a giant sea creature and presumed dead. Fortunately, all is not lost. He's only in Davy Jones' Locker. So Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly) reluctantly team up with a shockingly alive Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to free him.

Meanwhile, Lord Becket (Tom Hollander) has captured Davy Jones' (Bill Nighy) heart. He is using his control over Jones and his ship, the Flying Dutchman, to hunt down pirates. To stop him, a meeting of the Pirate Lords is called. And since Jack is one of them, he must be rescued. Will his rescuers find him and a way to get all of them back to the land of the living?

Let's be perfectly honest. The main draw of this series is Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow. He takes a selfish drunk and makes him funny and interesting. He's in top form here. I had heard reports about how long it was into the movie before we saw him, but I think those reports were wrong. Either way, the movie picks up once he appears.

Not that the other characters don't get their fair share of witty lines. My friends and I laughed our way through the first two hours of the two and a half hour film. I was trying to keep track of all the witty lines, but I just couldn't do it.

The other actors do a great job of bringing their characters to life. Geoffrey Rush made Barbossa into an interesting character. I actually found myself liking him, something I didn't think I could do after the first film. Knightly and Bloom were great again, and the supporting cast did a great job supporting. Much was made of Keith Richard's appearance, but it was really just an extended cameo. Those scenes are great, however. They were rather proud of getting Chow Yun-Fat as one of the pirate lords for the film, but his part was smaller then I expected as well.

The series is also known for the special effects, and this installment is no exception. The man/creatures are just as great as the last film, and the scenes that involved ships facing dangerous water were believable as well.

But this is where the movie starts to fall apart. I had no problem with the long running time, but I expected to be rewarded with a coherent plot for that. Instead, I felt like I needed a score card to keep track of who was doing what to whom. Of course, since it changed every five minutes, it really didn't matter.

The problems with the plot are enhanced by the increasing complex mythology surrounding the films. The supernatural element got out of hand here. I didn't mind the simple ghost story of the first one, but on top of the already complex plot, adding layers of myth to the movie made things worse.

I think this is where the people behind the movie missed the point. Despite the long running time, the first movie is really very simple. There are one or two motives for all the characters, and the supernatural element is pretty simple. If they'd stuck with that, even while introducing new characters and new situations, it could have worked. Instead, they let their imagination run wild without thinking about if they could really tell that story well.

This movie assumes you have seen the first two in the series. If you haven't you'll be lost. Granted, you'll be lost at least once even if you have seen them. But think how much worse it will be if you don't know who the characters are.

Because of the complexity of the plot, Will and Elizabeth's romance, a pretty important plotline in the first two, is short shafted here. It is here, but it seems like an add on to the story instead of an important part of it.

Another thing missing from this movie are references to the famous rides. The first two had blink and you miss then scenes that mirrored stuff you see while riding at Disneyland. Maybe I blinked at the wrong time, but I didn't see any here.

Unlike the first two, there was really only one memorable fight sequence here. It was clever, well down, and very entertaining. The others were enjoyable, but not up to the level of this one.

Then there's the climax. I won't spoil it. I'll just say it was not what I expected. And that wasn't a good thing.

One report on TV said this was the scariest of the three and think before taking your kids. While I do agree parents may want to consider the PG-13 rating, I didn't think there was anything worse then what we saw in the last film.

The quality of the movies in the series continues to decline. Don't watch Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End expecting the entertainment of the first movie. That ship has sailed.

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