Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Gore Verbinski, 2007)
Jerry Bruckheimer's biggest moneymaking franchise has spawned its third offspring entitled At World's End. It is certainly the largest, the loudest, the longest, the most long-winded, and most confusing, and the most star-studded of the three. It can be said that everything Bruckheimer learned in decades producing such brainless summer blockbusters was put into use in making At World's End. It has to have lots of explosions, a plot that isn't required to be understood, a harem of Hollywood's biggest stars, and a director who has exactly the same sensibilities when it comes to filmmaking --- that films are consumer products, that success isn't achieved through undeniable artistry but through box office supremacy.
The first film in the franchise, The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), was essentially Jack Sparrow's (Johnny Depp) film with everyone else (probably with the exception of Geoffrey Rush who plays Captain Barbossa) serving as mere wallpaper to Depp's amusing mannerisms. Dead Man's Chest (2006) made the mistake of fleshing out the characters to the disadvantage of Jack Sparrow (and the audience), who turns into a mere plot device for the yawn-inducing romance and moral awakening of the film's lovebirds, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley).
At World's End starts in Singapore with Barbossa and Elizabeth bargaining with the pirate lord of Singapore Sao Feng (Chow Yun-fat) to lend them a crew and a ship to rescue Jack from Davy Jones' (Bill Nighy) locker, a sort of desolate limbo between this life and the after-life. The characters, already used to the norms of buccaneering, deal, double-deal, and triple-deal to achieve their penultimate goals. Characters appear and re-appear, objects are suddenly infused with narrative importance, and everything by film's end, start to make a semblance of sense; notwithstanding the fact that to get to that conclusive logic, the film made long-winded short-cuts and long-cuts that would either make you fuming with rage or bored to death, depending on your tolerance for narrative non-existence in blockbuster films.
Jack does return, now with a sense of purpose and a definite moral fiber which makes the character a tad less interesting. Whenever Depp stops the impersonation and starts unraveling those newly-found inner purpose, he becomes tedious and repetitive. It's good to know that there's a suppression of that here, and Jack Sparrow still delivers (although now somewhat a tired presence) a bevy of well-earned chuckles (largely due to Depp who looks like he's having fun with the pirate). Sadly, the business of preaching and moralizing would now belong to the film's bore-some two-some, Elizabeth and Will, and to a certain degree Captain Barbossa (who made a complete u-turn from vicious villain to upright and unkempt pirate).
Clocking at around fifteen minutes less than three hours, At World's End is unjustifiably long. There's a sense that the writers and director Gore Verbinski are trying to achieve epic status --- a lofty goal especially coming from a film that got lucky primarily because of its casting decisions. The epic sense does bog down the film and complicates it thus lessening possible entertainment value. Part and parcel of the film's de facto epic status are the rousing speeches mostly delivered with polyester gusto. Do we really need all this? I don't think so. But the creators of Pirates of the Caribbean now have loftier ambitions than cashing in on the proved franchise --- a place in the annals of history. Why else would Verbinski lovingly shoot that kissing scene amidst all the ruckus of sea battle, complete with emotional scoring by Hanz Zimmer and in slow motion; to make something more out of that lifeless romance, I guess.
At World's End may not have been successful in lifting the franchise from moneymaking cow for Disney to instant classic. It is however an adequate finish for a trilogy that made money beyond expectations. It's bloated and self-indulgent, but more than that, it is sufficiently entertaining. I think I'm satisfied and can't take no more of pirates. Next dish, please.