'Pirates' is decent fun, but we're at wit's end

The best you can say about this movie is that it's somewhat more enjoyable than its predecessor.

The first two "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies are among the biggest commercial phenomenons in the history of movies. Together they've grossed more than a billion dollars. That's a lot of doubloons.

But does anybody really think these films, especially the last one, "Dead Man's Chest," are all that wonderful? The third installment, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," was filmed back to back with its predecessor, and the best you can say is that it's somewhat more enjoyable.

It seems that the East India Company, which controls Davy Jones's Flying Dutchman, rules the waves, and only the Nine Lords of the Brethren Court can defeat the armada.

It didn't look to me as if this one is set up for a sequel, but who knows? Another billion could change anyone's mind.

One thing is for sure: The "Pirates" movies have been getting longer, going from 133 minutes in 2003 to 150 with the 2006 sequel to 168 for the third installment. That's a lot of yo-ho-ho-ing.

I enjoyed the first film because of Johnny Depp's fey flamboyance as Capt. Jack Sparrow – he carried the whole special-effects heavy enterprise on his thin shoulders. He had less to do in the second film and was less comically inventive. To compensate, director Gore Verbinski piled on the gross-outs – there was way too much of octopus-faced Davy Jones.

Fortunately, Verbinski doesn't make the same mistake here. I didn't feel, as I did last time, that I was trapped inside a thrill-less thrill ride. But he's made a new mistake: In order to tie up all the loose plot lines from the first two films, Verbinski and screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio throw so much story at us that the nonstop action becomes deadening.

If you go to these movies purely for the lalapalooza effects, none of this may matter. But the filmmakers are making the rather large assumption that, just because the movies are megahits, we want to know everything about everybody in them. They don't realize that a commercial smash is not the same thing as a classic.

I cared about what happened to Jack Sparrow, but does anybody really care about the fates of Will Turner (pallid-as-usual Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), or Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, good as he is)?

And yes, Keith Richards has a blah cameo as Sparrow's father. Blink and you'll miss it.

Verbinski tries to give the shenanigans a semblance of seriousness by framing the story as an 'end of the age of piracy’ saga, but he needn't have bothered. The elegiac tone doesn't exactly suit his temperament – or, to be more precise, producer Jerry Bruckheimer's.

"At World’s End" is not without its occasional visual flourishes, such as the virtuoso nighttime image of upturned pirate bodies floating en masse like specters on a calm sea. It’s a wisp of poetry in a storm of pulp. And Depp and Rush are still in there plugging away. They’re troupers, but the series is all used up. If there is to be another sequel it will have to be called "Pirates of the Caribbean – At Wit’s End." Grade: B-

Rated PG-13 for action violence.

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