Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Like a lot of Jerry Bruckheimer films, all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies feel bloated and overlong. In their enthusiasm to create huge, unprecedented action spectacles, the "movie events of the year," The Bruck and director Gore Verbinski concoct these bladder-pounding sensual assaults. I was tired of swashbuckling by about the halfway point of the first Pirates movie, and though I feel that it's the best of the series, the second film essentially is two hours of set-up with no payoff.

But with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the series completely forgets itself. It's difficult, after watching this 2 hour and 45 minute Nonsense Juggernaut, to remember anything that made the first two films enjoyable. Let me put it to you this way...This is a film designed primarily for children, but you'd need a quantum physicist, a Literature professor and a tax attorney to completely follow all of the story's twists and revelations.

So, okay, it's an effects-heavy summer adventure-comedy. Just enjoy it and stop trying to follow the dense, involved machinations of the plot. But this is exactly the problem...that's all this entry has to offer.

The entire film builds up to one immense action sequence, a naval battle between an international Pirate Army and the entire fleet of the East India Trading Company. (All three films have established the tension between the fanciful, mythological world of the pirates and the encroaching corporatism of the Real World, but this one doesn't really develop this theme significantly). This scene is pretty great, definitely on a par with the best action sequences in the whole franchise, though I'd still say the Kraken attack from Dead Man's Chest is the overall best.

Everything that comes before this battle is, essentially, pointless and unnecessary. The first half hour or so of At World's End is excruciatingly dull and nigh on incomprehensible, starting off a movie that's supposed to be a fun, goofy romp on exactly the wrong foot.

As the film opens, the motley crew from the last movie have traveled to the Exotic East looking for a map to Davey Jones' Locker, the Purgatory-ish empty world to which Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has been banished. There's a long long long long scene in "The Locker", which looks a lot like the plain-white inside of The Matrix, in which Jack Sparrow goes insane and plays around with some CG crabs. This scene is actually painful. Nothing happens, it's not funny, it's not imaginative. I kind of wanted to leave; this just feels like they aren't trying. All of this new film's comedy just falls totally flat. The Sparrow character, which once felt like such a daring and unexpected take on the material, now comes off like a rough assemblage of quirks and affectations. And once Jack starts having visions in which tiny Jack Sparrows hang in his dreadlocks and whisper in his ear, it becomes entirely clear that Depp and Verbinski don't know where to take the character.

Once Jack n' Company return to the Real World, things pick up slightly, but not so much. It's just so plot-heavy and dense, with about 7 different quests going on at once and every character possessing conflicting motives and constantly jumping sides. There are some situations in the film that I think could be fairly described as quadruple crosses. Of course, establishing these complicated relationships requires a lot of new characters and a lot of dialogue, which is just overkill for a movie that's about ghost pirates. Chow Yun-Fat is introduced as pirate Sao Feng, and he looks great in the part, but doesn't get to do anything even remotely pirate-y. He just talks a lot (a lot!) about Calypso and the importance of the caucus of the Pirate Lords and his distaste for Jack Sparrow.

So Sao Feng, Jack, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly, the Millionaire and his Wife and the rest try to assemble the the team of Pirate Lords (I think they have another name but don't remember or care to look it up) in the adorably-named Shipwreck Cove in order to release the goddess Calypso, who had been imprisoned in human form. This, we're told, is the only way to defeat the East India Trading Company, which wants to wipe out pirate-dom and control the seas.

And all of this sets up the climactic battle, which as I've said, works swimmingly. But it takes so long to get there, I was almost too worn out to fully enjoy the film's one compelling sequence. (As I said about the second film, I really do think the mutant crew of the Flying Dutchman ranks among the greatest CG creations of all time. A new character with the head of an eel was one of the few bright spots of this third edition.) A lot of time during the film's midsection is just wasted. We spend so much time setting up Calypso, the details of her imprisonment and her connection with Davey Jones, and then she completely disappears from the story. After the massive ordeal to assemble all these Pirate Lords, they wind up entirely sidelined from the final conflict. Even the much-discussed cameo from Keith Richards is a disappointment, a great idea upon which the movie fails to capitalize.

The Pirates series started with a great conceit. All the fun of a pirate movie but without the unpleasant raping/pillaging dynamic that might offset the Disney family-fun quotient. Just replace all the actual piracy with supernatural quests for immortality! Brilliant! But the idea's worn thin. A baroque and quite frankly uninteresting mythology and backstory overwhelms the wacky seafaring shenanigans and swordplay, and the whole movie feels like a complete slog.

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