Lovable and loathable, Jack is back

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2007

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”

Disney Pictures

2 hours, 45 minutes

Of all the reviews I’ve written, few are as pointless as one for a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. I say that simply with the knowledge that by the time this column is published, everyone and their dog will have braved the lines and the nearly three-hour length to partake of the next installment of the adventures of saucy Jack Sparrow and his brave compatriots.

Part two made a billion dollars worldwide, despite the fact it was a loud, braying convoluted mess. Part three looks likely to continue that phenomenal success unless people start to listen to the warnings.

It’s really too bad these two last installments of the “Pirates” series should be such train wrecks, because the first film was pretty good. It was entertaining and exciting, and rarely foolish.

But with big success inevitably comes hubris and the second film decided to up the ante with at least a dozen action sequences and a twisty and confusing plot line. Alliances were forged and broken, love was won and lost, and fish-people ruled the sea on a crusty galleon led by a man with an octopus for a head.

Through it all, Johnny Depp’s affable Sparrow winked and mugged into the hearts of America, proving once and for all that sometimes a clever character trumps the need for a story that makes any sense. And when it was all done, angry audiences stood up and booed, for “Pirates 2” was really just a set-up for one more sequel.

Talk about cashing in. “Pirates of the Caribbean,” at least these last two installments, are prime examples of the cynical nature of Hollywood’s bottom line. Who cares what it is, as long as it makes money. And who cares how much it costs, so long as it makes a profit.

And cost it did. The production design for “At World’s End” is amazing — really the only part of the movie, aside from a few clever chuckles and some stellar special effects, worth crowing about.

Every attention is paid to detail, and as a result, this film and its predecessors have a spectacular look. Crusty, worn and craggy, the world of the pirates is realized with amazing vibrancy — too bad the story couldn’t match it.

It’s really pointless to try to sum it all up, especially as I’m not 100 percent sure I understand it all anyway. Sparrow has been eaten by the Kraken and taken to Davey Jones’ Locker, which is a euphemism for hell, if I’m not mistaken. The rest of the crew has to rescue him in order to convene the council of the nine Pirate Lords who can gather and invoke the goddess Calypso to save them from a marauding British Armada, who fight with Davey Jones as their point-man.

Wait. I thought he was bad. Or good. Hmmm. And young Will Turner and his amour Elizabeth Swann — whose side are they on? And why, again, is Geoffrey Rush’s evil Captain Barbossa alive again? There’s no telling, and no time to figure it all out, because the plot’s on the run!

We’ve now got Chinese pirates and Spanish pirates and freaky outherworldly desert landscapes and crabs — my god, the crabs! By the end of it all you’ll be hard-pressed to explain where each plot point ended up; suffice it to say that all the loose ends got wrapped up and leave it at that.

One of my main problems is the attitude in general. The first film winks at the inherent bad nature of pirates and then moves on to an engaging story.

These next two films seem to want us to believe, despite all the raping and murder, pirates are a true confederacy of free spirits, honorable and respectful of their true love, the sea. Somehow, the films wrap around so that, by the end, it’s these cutthroat villains who are fighting for justice and liberty, all the while proudly wearing their cutthroat villainy on their collective sleeve.

It just doesn’t fit, and it irks me that we are asked to identify with them. Again only Depp’s character is able to ride the fence between lovable and loathable and is the real reason this series has been anywhere near as successful as it has been.

With less action but even more plot twists than the second film, “At World’s End” is a long, convoluted, beautiful mess — one that everyone will see, forking over their cash and then complaining that it wasn’t better. It’s tempting to describe producers Disney and Bruckheimer as pirates, but is that really fair? After all, they’re only taking what we are so eager to hand over. Grade: C-

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is rated PG-13 for nonstop cartoon violence, mature themes and mild language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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