pirates of the caribbean: At world's end (2007)

This is the third time this month I've emerged from that big darkened room only to see a fertile franchise flushed down the drain, more or less digging its own grave. Well, in the case of this weekend's franchise capper, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, it's not exactly so hard to pin down the faults. This flick lays it all bear, and comes out with a surprisingly straightforward film that's trying to come off as deeply complicated. Director Gore Verbinski throws in everything but the kitchen sink in a desperate attempt to find his usual balance of humor and action, but comes up with a numbing experience that runs about 45 minutes too long. However, even with all of its faults, this is the only third chapter this month that I'd actually like to see more from. I cringe at the thought of a Shrek 4, and I'm not really interested in a Spider-Man 4 (even though Spider-Man 3 is the better film of the batch.), but I'll be damned if I wouldn't pay to see Captain Jack Sparrow: The Movie. I guess that's the trouble with this franchise, neither the filmmakers, nor the audience (myself included), can be sure when enough is enough, and so it all just keeps right on going.The Pirates franchise wants to have it's cake and eat it too, all 500 slices.

Now, before we begin, there's just something I have to ask. A lot of people like the first film, it was a real big hit, but even fans of that flick have to admit it just seems to drag on for way too long. I mean, that's been the #1 complaint about the films in this franchise from the get-go: they're just too overstuffed with story twists and turns, when they really should be light 90-minute action romps. So, why in the hell would you not only make a slightly longer second film, but then also make a WAY longer third film?? Did this thing need to be almost three hours? Well, I can actually answer that, no, it didn't at all. Why a goofy pirate movie has to keep us in a theater for as long as it would take to watch epics like Ran or masterpieces like Nashville is ridiculous. On the film's behalf, I will say that the three hours doesn't necessarily crawl by, it's actually quite an enjoyable time for most of it, but that's the only reason this thing is going to be getting any points at all, and after a while the enjoyment decreases steadily. It happened around the 2-hour mark that I just got so used to watching them sword fight and/or sail on ships that I sort of became numb toward the whole thing. When the final action set-piece arrived, the big one that would climactically end this increasingly-grand franchise, I just couldn't get excited. Compare that to the rush of visceral fun and inventive calamity that took place in the finale of Dead Man's Chest, and you'll see why this thing is such a let-down. And it's the second time this month I've watched a trilogy go like this: with a mediocre first film, an improved sequel, and then a disappointing end-chapter, this trilogy flows a lot like Spider-Man's, although on a decidedly lower plane. This series never had the capacity to be as beloved as the Spider-Man series (at least for me anyway) because it never fleshed out a story or characters that could be cared about in the same way. These films are enjoyable for their novelty in meshing fantasy with pirate humor, and that off-beat Jack Sparrow performance from Depp, there's never been anything about these films that made them epic in the slightest, except for how much money they've made. And so, when we finally get to part 3, the filmmakers over-estimate how attached we are to what's going on and presume we'd love to see more, bigger, faster, better!!! Sorry, no, I just came to see Johnny Depp drink rum and sword fight. Clip a few plot strings off this story, give everyone else some solid motivations, and get this flick to its essence in an uproarious two-hours and you've got my approval. The way things have turned out now, I simply don't approve. However, if there's one of the many unnecessary detours that this story takes that I'd have liked to see more from, it was the zany scene with Jack at world's end. I mean, this thing might de-throne the dance sequence in Spider-Man 3 for the most surreal segment in a Hollywood blockbuster there ever was. It's nice to see a little nonsense being embraced, rather than shied away from, makes things much more interesting. The multiple Jack Sparrows bit was a riot, and don't even get me started on those awesome crabs. To be honest, I wanted more insanity, but this is about as far as one could expect a mainstream flick to go, I suppose. 

And we've come this far and I have yet to set up the plot. So, here goes: As you recall from last time Jack is trapped in the land of the dead (or Davey Jones' Locker, I don't really know), and Barbossa has been brought back to life to help go and find him. All the while that little guy from the East India Trading Company has gotten control of Davey Jones and is using him to hunt down our heroes and end piracy once and for all in the name of legitimate business.(hey, movie industry, sound familiar? ... but, wait, why are you making a film that's on the pirates' side?) There's a lot of stuff they toy around with ranging from the cold, heartless philosophy of "it's only business" versus the sense of honor that the pirates have in their "code", and there's a whole bunch of stuff about sticking with friends ... or something. But the pirates aren't really honorable and the english soldiers aren't really all that bad, and somehow Davey Jones is thrown into this mix The only thing we're really left to side with is seeing our heroes Jack Will and Elizabeth come out on top, too bad they're all against each other in one way or another too, it becomes increasingly hard to know who to root for. Everyone seems to be playing for all sides, it's a little tedious. Now, the screenwriters aren't stupid, they've covered all their bases and given us a tidy explanation for every little thing that takes place, no matter how insignificant. However, all the convoluted explanations for why one person is betraying another or why so-and-so can come back from the dead but so-and-so can't  all boil down to that it was convenient for the plot/something they think the audience wants to see and nothing more. And that's the trouble, the film is driven, not by  what needs to occur in the story for the story's sake, but by what the filmmakers believe the people want to see. There's something to be said for giving the people what they want, but it doesn't end up in a good film. Oh, and they commit the same tired plot development I knocked Spider-Man 3 for in coming up with an ending that tries to be bittersweet just so the heroes won't emerge unscathed. However, for this franchise, the only thing that came off as more forced and convenient than a happy ending, was the attempt at a slightly sad ending that we got. I have to hand it to them, though, Shrek the Third this is not. Verbinski took a gamble on this one and put himself out on a limb with this ending, too bad he lost on the gamble. As for the other aspects of the film, the actors do the same stuff they've been doing for three films. Depp is Sparrow ... again, and it's just as enjoyable to watch him do his thing this time as it has been for years now, so no complaints there. Also it's nice to Geoffrey Rush back as Barbossa and Bill Nighy makes Davey Jones one of the best characters yet again. Also, ILM makes him one of the most interesting to look at again with their spectacular effects. They've once again outdone themselves, and it's really a bit sad to note that the Star Wars prequels were only a few years off from having some truly knockout effects (not that they didn't, but digital Yoda would look ridiculous standing next to Jones). The rest of the effects are great as well, especially in the finale. However, uninspired the actual fight is, it's never boring to look at, and it looks pretty darn real. Verbinski keeps it all in check as best he can, his direction is there to elevate much of the scenes, as it has been in most of his films. The rest of the crew makes some good looking explosions and whatnot, but all talented people in the world can't save this thing from sputtering along like a car running on fumes. This portion of the franchise shouldn't continue, although, like I said a Jack Sparrow spin-off movie would still get me into a theater wether I'm proud of it or not. 

And that's about all I can say. It's not a bad time, it's not a good time, although I will say it wasn't the time I was hoping for. There's some fun to be had, but not quite enough when all things are considered and it's nice to see that the Jack Sparrow performance still has that familiar luster to it. I'd say to avoid this one, or at least sit back and wait for DVD. Disappointing part is that there's not much else I'd recommend that you do see in its place if you really have to get out to a theater. There's a couple of flicks in the not-so-distant-future that look like they might be worth a look, but none that I'm really all that pumped to see. (unless of course, Wong Kar-Wai's My Blueberry Nights gets released before the summer is out, oh, and The Bourne Ultimatum looks pretty cool too). However, things could be worse, after summer gets out that fall line-up is looking juicer all the time, and only 2 1/2 months till that INLAND EMPIRE DVD. I'm getting ahead of myself here. Back to the Pirates, skip it.

5