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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Nicola Mostyn finds the third part of the Pirates franchise big in every way

Published on May 29th 2007.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Ah, the third instalment of the film franchise spawned by a theme park ride (What a shame they never made Corkscrew: The one with the twist at the end) and we’re in grimy, steam-filled Singapore as Captain Barbosa and Elizabeth Swan attempt to enlist the help of Sao Feng (Chow-Yun Fat) in rescuing Jack Sparrow from Davy Jones Locker so that they can reunite the nine pirate lords and save the pirate race from extinction at the hands of the East India Trading company. And that’s not the only mission. Oh no. Will Turner has a secret plan to save his Dad from servitude as a cockly-crew member on the Flying Dutchman, Jack has his eye on Davy Jones’ heart for his own long-term survival, Captain Barbosa wants to free Calypso from her mortal form for some flimsy reason or other, Sao Feng isn’t entirely on side and ….um, hang on….What was Lord Cutler Beckett up to again? Nope, forget it. I give up. I’ve absolutely no idea what anyone was doing in this film, or, indeed, why.

I could google the plot and inform you in minute detail, but I won’t bother because, a) you’ll still be trying to decipher it whilst the cleaners are hoovering around you, and b) this is precisely how the film comes across: a mess of plot strands, double-crossing, unlikely motives, bamboozling about-turns, random endeavours and gleeful mayhem, bonded together by amusing, slick and beautifully shot set-pieces which somehow lure you to the end of the inexcusably long running time (2 hours and 48 minutes) without allowing you to consciously process the fact that bugger-all is really happening.

And that isn’t because it is too fast paced. Far from it. Pirates 3, directed once again by Gore Verbinski, is so chuffed with itself that it stretches five minute scenes into fifteen, lingering smugly on the (admittedly fantastic) visuals and making plenty of time amidst the action for comic interludes. Rather than feeling like you should be working out what’s going on, the audience is practically informed that it doesn’t really matter. Well, hey, you can always buy the video game…

Once they’ve rescued him from his exile in a Beckett-meets-Being John Malkovich netherworld, it becomes clear, once again, that the jewel in Disney’s Pirate treasure chest is Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Without him, the films would seem as bloated as a beached whale, but with him they gain a brilliant edge, due not only to Depp’s charisma, but because Sparrow is the one character who seems slightly out of step with what’s happening around him: a bit baffled, a bit distracted, his expressions and quips suggesting he can’t really see the point in it all. If you think about it, this is a devilishly clever trick.

And, yes, the film works. It is an exhilarating romp which pushes all the right buttons, including the usual sword-fights, some magically inventive moments, excellent cinematography, a ‘serious’ moral message of business versus freedom which you can cheerfully ignore and plenty of daft humour throughout to remind you that no-one’s taking this too seriously. If they can resist picking at that loose plot thread left dangling at the end, At World’s End will mark a fitting end to the hugely successful trilogy.

So why do I feel so uneasy? Perhaps because, without wanting to sound like too much of a crazy conspiracy theorist, this film felt like it could have been made by a committee of people who have implanted chips in our heads to find out exactly what we want from a cinema experience and then give it to us: just enough humour, just enough action, just enough beauty, just enough heroism, just enough cynicism, just enough death. I wouldn’t be surprised if the confusing plot strands were introduced just to fuzz up the edges of a film which, otherwise, would be a bit too Stepford. It feels like a ‘film experience,’ rather than a film, which might be why, watching the previous two Pirates films at home, on DVD, without the cinema’s heady mix of popcorn and nachos and rampant consumerism, such high jinks don’t hold anywhere near the same appeal.

Apparently, you need to stay after the credits have rolled for a glimpse at an extra scene. Unfortunately, by that time I was in danger of getting scurvy, I’d been there that long. So I headed out, a bit beguiled, a little confused and with the distant sound of cash registers ringing in my ears.

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