More noise than signal

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

Never before in the history of film criticism has any review of a film been so redundant. Given the colossal success of Dead Man’s Chest, the numbers for this instalment for which the term ‘sequel’ doesn’t fit nearly as well as ‘second half’ were never in any real doubt. The only reason I’m bothering to put digipen to futurepaper is that, in keeping with long standing traditions, every review of this film I’ve came across in Blighty is, as the French would say, cobblers. Prepare for a truthbomb.

Housekeeping first. Blah blah bring back Capt’n Jack from the dead, blah blah alliance of pirates, blah blah fight Davy Jones and the East India trading company. There’s already talk of more films made from the franchise, so I’ll assume even if you’re part of the 1% of the movie going public that hasn’t already seen it you’ll have a good idea about the ending already. As with the rest of them the plot is merely a way to get from one expensive swashbuckling setpiece to the next, and as such warrants little mention. Instead, let us examine the charges levelled against this by the hivemind.

“It’s all too complicated!”, they burble. Codswallop. It’s always glaringly obvious what each individual character’s motivations are and how they’re going to attempt to get there. The only kernel of truth in this I’ll grant you is that if you didn’t watch Dead Man’s Chest you’re screwed, utterly. Hence the ‘second part’ comment. There s no attempt whatsoever to pretend that this is a discreet film, enjoyable in isolation. If you’ve forgotten or simply couldn’t be bothered to remember what was admittedly a forgettable film, I wholeheartedly recommend either avoiding this completely or finding some suitable crib notes.

It’s too long! Well, I’ll concede that one. Weighing in a three hours, it’s something of a mystery how it managed to spread to such an extent. However! It’s not like it’s immediate predecessor was a waif of a film either, and here’s a crucial difference. While Dead Man’s Chest not only felt like every second of it’s 150 minute runtime and about another five hours on top of it, At World’s End nips along so pacily you hardly notice it. The sense of mischievous adventure that made the first film good (and the lack of it that made the second film a chore) returns, and with it we can buy into Depp’s increasingly, er, idiosyncratic portrayal of Jack with at least an echo of the gleeful smiles that accompanied his earliest adventure.

It’s also a hell of a lot better written. There’s more of the witty banter that The Secret Of Monkey Island teaches us is essential to piracy, another lesson the second film forgets. This curve of the story arc is more satisfying, if only because it doesn’t grind to a halt half finished. There’s a terrifically surreal sequence involving crabs that’s worth the price of entry alone. It’s often genuinely funny, whereas the noise most likely to emanate from an audience sat in front of Dead Man’s Chest would be a yawn.

Even the most curmudgeonly would have to concede that the action sequences are at the very least on a par with Episode II – Attack Of The Calamari. In fact, the only issue I have with this film is that taking the Kraken’s place as final reel boogeyman is Beckett’s newly commissioned ship of the line, a colossal vessel bristling with gun ports looking for all the world like a spirit of destruction given form, and it’s given next to no time on screen. A total underutilisation of a CG model that looks more fearsome than any number of monsters from the briny depths.

One of the few things that we’d still been at least slightly anticipating after the fun vampire sucked the life out of Zwei was the appearance of the living legend Chow Yun Fat as a pirate lord, but his role is so curtailed as to lead us to wonder what the point of paying the big bucks for him in the first place was. The rest of the supporting cast do exactly as well as they have previously, which is not necessarily praise, but as before they’re almost irrelevant. It’s the Johnny Depp show again, but after looking bored throughout instalment 2 he suddenly appears a lot more motivated here. This makes no empirical sense given that they were filmed back to back, but I calls it like I sees it.

I may be alone in doing so, mind. While US based hacks seem to have been welcoming enough, the British contingent appear to have broken out the template sequel review pro forma of ‘like the last one, but not as good’. You know, like the one given to kung-fu action / comedy Rush Hour 2, despite the obvious fact that it was funnier and had better (and more numerous) action sequences, ergo making it a better kung-fu action / comedy. See also Kill Bills 1 & 2. You know, the one that makes you wonder if they bothered watching it at all. Not that we’d wish to make such a terrible slur on anyone. Just saying that if you want Truth In Cinema™, this is the only place you’ll get it.

Enough of this. At World’s End, is far from perfect, but all of its imperfections are exactly the same ones that have been in force since the first one. It’s a far better piece of throwaway fun than the last one. Feel free to smack upside the head anyone who holds a contrary position on this matter. Honestly, it’s the only language these people understand.