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) deadÃ¢â‚¬â€but not really, because in the “Pirates” movies, death is about as final as high-school detentionÃ¢â‚¬â€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 aÃ‚Â phoneÃ‚Â 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 aÃ‚Â 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 evenÃ‚Â 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 hasÃ‚Â 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 Ã¢â‚¬â€the skull ring, the bandanaÃ¢â‚¬â€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 endÃ¢â‚¬â€this episode concludes with all deciding, again out of nowhere, to chase the Fountain of YouthÃ¢â‚¬â€but “The Matrix Revolutions” proved that no matter how much hype floats your boat,Ã‚Â a genuinely bad movie can sink the ship.