Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)

This review contains SPOILERS that will ruin certain plot details — though reading it and learning these details might actually be preferrable to seeing the movie and SPOILING your day.

A couple weeks ago, my good friend Mike Anderson and I got into an argument about the merits of reviewing mainstream cinematic abominations, with the recent Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer as our example. Turns out, that movie, though thoroughly mediocre in its own right, isn't quite as bad as expected (and, in fact, is slightly better than the original). The movie we should have been railing against, instead, is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. I see that Mr. Anderson did see this film and was remarkably and uncharacteristically kind to it. Pity. The only positive part of my viewing experience was the theater's air conditioning. The movie is offensive to blacks, Asians, and people who defended the first film, The Curse of the Black Pearl.

At World's End is utterly incomprehensibile. For the most part, I could tell you what happened in it, but I couldn't really explain why. Then again, there are some scenes and some elements that remain a mystery to me. Why, for instance, are there multiple Jack Sparrows in a few scenes? And how, exactly, did Captain Barbossa come back from the dead? Why do we see Davy Jones hanging out on land if, as the movie tells us, he can never do that? How, I might add, is the British Empire operating in tandem with this giant, heartless octopus guy? After two movies staring at this hideous character, I still have no idea of the extent of Davy Jones' powers, his curse, his duties, his crew. Reading his Wikipedia page, I see all this information that was totally unclear, vague, or non-existant within the movie itself. If I'd been handed a printout of this before I slogged through three never-ending hours of this stuff, maybe I could have made heads or tails of it.

Despite the fact that nearly all the main characters from the first Pirates reappear here, At World's End seems totally unconnected from its predecessor. The Curse of the Black Pearl was funny and exciting. It was light on its feet and it was genuinely entertaining. At World's End is a bloated collection of at times startlingly beautiful effects shots, edited seemingly at random without a care for narrative cohesion or clarity. There isn't a single sword fight in At World's End until almost two and a half hours into the picture. Wasn't this series about sword fights at one point? Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) gives a rousing speech near the end of the picture, that signifies everything that's wrong with this movie. It's loud and aggressive and inspiring, like something out of Braveheart. But this is Pirates, and they seem to have forgotten that. The franchise's most beloved character, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), doesn't even appear onscreen for the first fourth of the running time, but then, since he's actually dead when the film begins, that's actually kind of impressive.

Yes, for those who skipped the previous Dead Man's Chest, dear old Captain Jack died in a battle with a ferocious sea creature called the Kraken, a supposedly unkillable creature that is found totally dead in the third picture — whoopsie!! Did I say unkillable? I meant, like, totally killable! Jack's crew and his hated enemy (who was dead but isn't anymore for reasons left to our imaginations) Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) set out to rescue him from Davy Jones' Locker by sailing their ship off a waterfall and waking up on an island. Then they capsize their ship and are retransported back to our world. Uh huh.

The crew, no doubt, has a very good reason to go through all of this to rescue Jack. Pity director Gore Verbinski and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio never bother to remind us what that reason is. I guess when your movie runs 175 minutes without that information, there's just no time for stuff like that. I think it has to do with his "magic" compass which he almost gives to one character and then doesn't, then gives to another character who, in turn, gives it to the first character, who then gives it back to Jack.

I don't have a problem with the heavy supernatural bent to At World's End (and, to a lesser degree, to Dead Man's Chest). Those who cite only that in their criticism of the film are forgetting just how supernatural the original Pirates was (they were all ghost, uh, skeleton dudes, or whatever). Rather, what I object to is the fact that all these supernatural elements are given rules that change constantly whenever the screenplay demands. Sometimes things do some things, other times they do others. A good supernatural movie (like, say, the first Pirates) establishes the rules of its universe and plays fair, because to break those rules is to cheat the audience. POTC: AWE thinks that revising something they'd previously established is giving the audience the added value of a twist. But it eliminates the validity of everything that's come before it, and gives the impression that whatever'd come before was just a massive waste of time.

I got that feeling a lot during this movie. Let me ask you this: if two — maybe even three, depending upon your definition — of your characters can come back from then dead, what's stopping the rest of them from doing so as well? And if death means nothing, why should I care about whether the characters live or die? I shouldn't, and in this case, I didn't and if you saw it, you wouldn't either.


Blogger Ed said...

Who was the first journalist to use the word "spoiler"?!

8:45 AM  
Blogger Patrick Roberts said...

The first Pirates of the Caribbean was great, not too sure about the other two, tho the special effects were top notch... if they come out with a fourth will it maintain the quality of the first?

2:34 PM  

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