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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is critic-at-large for National Review, theater critic for The New Criterion and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

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    Review: “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” w/Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom

    By Kyle | May 26, 2007



    Yo ho ho and a bottle of regulations! “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” may have the look of a blockbuster, but it has the soul of a three-hour U.N. committee meeting. Gods’ bodkins, me hearties, this movie blows like a whale from the vasty deep.
    We begin with Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) dead—but not really, because in the “Pirates” movies, death is about as final as high-school detention—while the freshly, um, rebooted Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) sneak into Singapore to coax a new character, Capt. Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) into lending them a ship and crew so they can track down Sparrow. (How did they get to Singapore without a ship in the first place? Amtrak?)

    The Singapore sequence concludes with a three-way battle in which British troops back Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who has a cut a side deal with them because he wants not Sparrow but the Flying Dutchman captained by the Brit ally Davy Jones (squid-faced Bill Nighy), who holds in his tentacles the life of Will’s cursed barnacle-man father (Stellan Skarsgard). Still, Barbossa gets his map to “the end of the world,” which is where you go to find Jack Sparrow’s new residence: Davy Jones’ Locker.

    Watery grave? No, more like the Virgin Islands. Sparrow and the Black Pearl are grounded on a stark white beach where he suffers from the delusion that he has split into many separate selves. The screen fills with dozens of Depps bickering over a peanut. Apart from blowing special effects bucks, what is the point? Why would a dead man need to eat a peanut or anything else? Why are there three more scenes in which the same multiple-Depps gag is used, even after he is rescued from Davy Jones’ Locker? (At one point two mini-Sparrows dangle from big Jack’s dreadlocks.) Why does the grounded Black Pearl get lifted and rolled out to sea by a magical infestation of crabs? Why does another character first grow into a giant and then disintegrate into another heap of crabs? Why does Sparrow turn into a fish-man version of himself, then remove his own brain and lick it? Never mind. When in doubt, cut to the monkey.

    A movie amounts to who wants what and what they will do to get it. The who and what of “PIII” would fill a phone book. Nice idea in theory; when you’re talking pirates, there should be a merry mess of double crosses and secret alliances. “PIII,” though, forgot to make any of it fun. The constant churn of machinations leads Sparrow to proclaim, “Utterly deceptive twaddle-speak, says I.” Make that we.

    There are a few ho-hum sword fights and a couple of rousing action scenes. The best is the slo-mo destruction of a ship near the end, and there’s a shivery image of a ship going over the waterfall at the edge of the world (which, by the way, is presented not as a supernatural element but as an actual place a real ship might sail into; I guess Disney agrees with Thomas Friedman that the world is flat).

    But in between are doldrums: scene after scene built on weak stabs at humor (Capt Jack asks Barbossa if there are any “distressing damsels or damsels in distress” around), bickering (“What arrr you doin’?” Barbossa asks Sparrow as each claims the helm of the Black Pearl) and arcane citations of Pirate law. Pirates are supposed to be swashbuckling scallywags beholden to no man or government, but these guys are so fascinated with the legal code that they might as well be the Pirates of Brussels.

    Instead of setting up a step-by-step mystery as in, say, “The Da Vinci Code,” the movie deals shaggy-dog tales (everyone keeps talking about the mysterious “nine pieces of eight” held by the pirate lords, but this leads only to a thin joke) and lots of let’s-make-a-rule situations. “An act of war can only be declared by the Pirate King,” says Barbossa. “You made that up,” replies Sparrow, speaking for all of us.

    When the script hits a sandbar someone looks at a map a new way and announces the next move, or the West Indies voodoo child Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris, in a beefed-up part) rattles off the necessary exposition (what powers go with Davy Jones’ heart, who can and can’t be brought back from the dead, etc.). For a sorceress, she sounds an awful lot like the guy who reads the list of side effects at the end of the drug commercial. The drug the movie needs is a cure for epic-itis, because this movie is longer than an actual sea battle. It’s longer than the Napoleonic Wars. It’s even longer than “Superman Returns.”

    What’s the big event we’re leading up to? A committee meeting, of something called the Nine Pirate Lords of the Brethren Court. The movie is already so overpopulated (Brit baddie Beckett and good egg Norrington also check in) that there isn’t time to individualize the Nine Lords, but if they’re just going to be squabbling bureaucrats whose big powwow yields nothing, who needs them?

    Their scene includes Keith Richards’ much-ballyhooed five-minute appearance as Sparrow’s dad. So what does he do? He opens a big rule book for everyone to argue about. Then he sits in the background and noodles on a guitar. It’s conceivable that no five-minute stretch of Keith Richards’ real life has been as uneventful as his cameo in this movie, which might be the least cool thing he’s done since the Stones tried a disco album. Given Richards’ daily dress habits —the skull ring, the bandana—I can only guess that he was thrown in because he promised to provide his own wardrobe.

    “At World’s End” vows not be franchise’s end—this episode concludes with all deciding, again out of nowhere, to chase the Fountain of Youth—but “The Matrix Revolutions” proved that no matter how much hype floats your boat, a genuinely bad movie can sink the ship.

    Topics: Movies | 5 Comments »

    5 Responses to “Review: “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” w/Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom”

    1. I’m sorry I had to kill that guy. » Rules Says:
      August 21st, 2007 at 8:03 am

      […] And when it comes to piracy, cutting some of Pirates of the Caribbean sounds like just what the critics ordered. […]

    2. Anwyn Says:
      July 15th, 2008 at 8:58 am

      Gaaaaah. Horrible movie. Who told them it was okay to set up your would-be endless sequels by leaving the characters in intolerable positions at the end of each? Your review right on.

    3. some guy Says:
      March 13th, 2009 at 7:43 pm

      It seems as though the unending torrents of Oscar wannabes and
      contrived dramas have effectively deadened movie critic’s sense of appreciation for art. What a tragedy.
      Pirates of the Caribbean is not meant to be a deep, thought-provoking piece of work, as you seem to be convinced all movies should, but instead merely an art form. The movie is about creativity and visual stimulation. But according to you, the incredible production design is merely a heap of overblown special effects and the witty and fun script becomes ‘weak stabs at humor’. On a related note, you claim the plot is too complex and convoluted. Is this due to incapable screenwriters, or simply a movie critic who is incapable of understanding a film and vents his frustration on the film itself?
      Finally, you apparently have this obsession with tearing apart every detail that doesn’t seem realistic. Yeah, um, last time I checked, such movies called ‘fiction’ for a reason. Instead of criticizing decent films to justify your own malnourished sense of creativity, try accepting the fact that not all movies conform to reality. So yes, Davey Jones Locker is portrayed as a beach. Instead of complaining about how it doesn’t literally fit your idea of a ‘grave’, try appreciating the idea of having a lifeless desert as a prison and the idea of being trapped in the unending sands. Oh no, the writers were creative this time. Can’t handle that, can you Mr. Smith? Sorry, but your review is as dry and shallow as the very beaches you criticize.

    4. oh boy Says:
      April 13th, 2009 at 7:49 pm

      Hey, Some Guy, the film fails to overcome the fundamental problem of having to go to the watering hole of contrivance and implausible fabrication too often to be good cinema.

      When one has to engage the “Improbability Drive” to this extent, it risks stripping the gears. That’s what happened here. This piece tells me that no one in production, or approval thereof, was hungry enough or felt the need to make it a quality product.

      You make is sound like a print of this thing should be hanging at the Guggenheim with a loupe on a string attached. Sheesh.

    5. Pirates of the Caribbean RULES!!! Says:
      October 17th, 2010 at 10:09 am

      I love POTC, especially “at Worlds end”. I think that the plotline weaves together brilliantly, and it’s less boring than the least boring thing ever. Ok, I couldn’t think of any examples, but this movie is my 2nd favourite of all time (after POTC 2)and, just because it isn’t all cannonfire or romance, but actually has some plotline to it, you immediately deem it as rubbish. I know that you will think about the saying at the bottom of the page, but your review is utterly deceptive twaddle-speak. It’s all mixed up and gives a totally biased view on the movie. Have you seen about how much effort the producers put inot this film, actually BUILDING the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman. As I said before, and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN RULES!!!!!!!!!!!!!