Whoever came up with the idea of mixing Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Walt Disney Pictures must be very rich. By mixing the kid-friendly colorful imagery and juvenile humor of a Disney film with the noise and violence of a Bruckheimer film has earned the franchise more than 1.7 billion dollars. The mix worked in spite of itself the first time, and it still managed to be passable escapism the second time despite some major flaws. However this new installment is proof that the series has indeed lost any steam it once had.
The movie picks up from where the second installment of the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, left off. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has been transported to a strange surreal purgatory land and the rest of the Pirates gang is trying to save him . The first stop in their quest is Shanghi to meet with the pirate lord Captain Sao Feng to get charts they need to navigate the purgatory land Jack is trapped in. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) needs Jack’s boat to save his father, Elizabeth Swann needs Jack’s presence at a secret meeting of pirate lords to plan a defense against the oncoming East India Companies campaign against piracy, and Barbossa needs Jack’s boat in order to… uhh… wasn’t he a bad guy?
Many have complained that the plot is to complicated, this isn’t entirely true, the plot isn’t complicated it’s convoluted. Deep down the plot is actually quite simple; the confusion is simply the result of messy screenwriting. The screenwriting was just as messy as in the previous installments, but they had the advantage of not having heaps of junk storylines to build off of, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was an original movie that started from nothing. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was not the first installment but it was able to start a separate original story. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End however has the unfavorable position of being a continuation of a movie that, despite its entertainment value, went nowhere fast. This third installment also has the problem of being released less than a full year after the second movie, that’s less than a third of the amout of breathing room that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest had between itself and the original Pirates.
Is the movie a mess? Yes. But it also fails in a number of ways that the previous installments had moderate success at. The real fun of the first two movies was in exploring this fantasy world and seeing new and interesting elements within it. These new things were generally accompanied by very good production design. The world of the first two installments was filled with elements of pirate-lore that had been Disney-fied by a very good design team. However, it seems like they’ve run out of pirate-lore to adapt. For example, its unclear what the name of the surreal purgatory Jack Sparrow? At times its called simply: The Land of the Dead. At other times its called Davy Jones’ Locker, which makes no sense as that name was already used as the name of the chest that contained Davy Jones’ (Bill Nighy) heart in the second movie. The fact that they recycled this plot is emblematic of the problem here, this surreal purgatory was never part of pirate-lore and they didn’t have anything to name it. Later in the movie the Calypso, originally a figure in Greek mythology, is introduced. What did this mythological figure ever have to do with pirate lore? Nothing, but they needed someone to create a whirlpool for the final battle.
Besides a lapse of creativity, this film just doesn’t work as well. Most of the jokes fall flat here. There is way too much lame slapstick humor here. The viewers also begin to predict visual jokes before they happen. Many of the jokes here are performed by an almost supernaturally intelligent monkey and parrot; both of these annoying animals are the result of blatant pandering to young audience members. Another group of characters that have been tacked on to pander to the least common denominator are the bumbling crew of the Black Pearl. This Troupe of idiots is responsible for most of the aforementioned predictable slapstick. The final battle is also a disappointment as what is built up to be a major battle between two large armadas descends into yet another battle between two ships, this time the two ships are descending into a whirlpool, but that does very little to change the dynamics of the battle.
This is not to say the movie is devoid of positive qualities. There is a conference between the pirate lords about two thirds in that is pretty fun, and not just because of the much anticipated Keith Richards cameo. Chow Yun-Fat also adds a nice new element despite limited screen time. The somber opening also adds a nice sense of menace behind the East India Company. The film also doesn’t drag nearly as much as a 167 minute movie with very little substance should.
These Pirates of the Caribbean movies are the film equivalent of cotton candy. Like cotton candy, they completely lack substance, but you don’t mind because they are a very sweet treat. But try eating three balls of cotton candy in a row, the second or third helping will stop being sweet and start making you sick.
*1/2 out of four