I know, I know. This ship has sailed, with its filthy hoard of ill-gotten box office lucre already stashed under decks, so get to Knocked Up and Ocean's Thirteen already. At this point you really don't need me to tell you that Gore Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean III: At World's End, despite having Johnny Depp and $100 million in special effects at its command, was a bloated, washed-up, and mostly boring two hours of needless exposition and empty spectacle. But, there it is. One might remember that I kinda loathed the second Pirates movie last summer, and that was with a stash of bootlegged spirits and a good woman at my side to help relieve the remorseless tedium. So, why did I even bother seeing At World's End? Well, Stephanie Zacharek of Salon summed it up perfectly: "[A]t this point, the 'Pirates' franchise is essentially collecting a tax from moviegoers: See it and like it, matey, or you'll be out of step with the whole universe! And who wants that?" Well, I paid my movie-tax tribute, you bottom-line buccaneers and covetous corsairs, now avast with ye.
So, as you may or may not remember if you labored your way through Dead Man's Chest, this installment of the Pirates franchise begins with Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) among the recently deceased, or at least trapped in the pirate Underworld that is Davy Jones' Locker, while the rest of the team (Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly et al) finds they must band together with first-film villain Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to break Sparrow out, Jabba's-palace style. But before that plot resumes, we witness a series of grisly civilian hangings undertaken by the East India Company's Big Bad (Tom Hollander), who now has the supernatural man-squid Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) in his thrall. (It's a long story.) These executions happen not only to weed out the pirate insurgency and win the war on (naval) terror but, more ominously, to provoke a particular seafaring ditty in the unwashed masses, one that, once uttered, must provoke a meeting of the Pirate Council, whose nine lords are known by their special Pieces of Eight. But, let's not forget, there's also the matter of an enchanted compass on Jack's person which points the way to one's heart's desire, and, for that matter, a magical heart thumping in a special chest that grants power over Davy Jones, and some very important charts on the person of Lando-ish pirate Chow Yun-Fat, and an undead monkey and a scorned sea-goddess and Gareth from The Office and...oh, I give up already. Just go see the movie. Or better yet, don't.
To be fair, At World's End isn't as depressing or disappointing an action-packed threequel as, say, The Matrix: Revolutions, if only because expectations were so much lower heading into these already-muddy waters. And, 'tis true, Pirates of the Caribbean III is a marginally better film than the last outing -- Instead of beating you into submission with blunt, numbing spectacle, this film mostly just tries to exposition you to death, which strangely enough I found preferable. Still, this is a bad film. Even Depp, who is an inordinately gifted actor who can make almost anything watchable, starts to grate here (as, alas, does Geoffrey Rush.) In fact, Depp's once-fresh and funny mannerisms as Jack Sparrow have badly calcified by this point -- at times, particularly when the movie steals a page or three from Being John Malkovich, he looks like he's just phoning in his Hunter schtick. (For their part, Bloom and Knightley, pretty as they are, have no other schtick. It's Legolas and Love, Actually, all over again.)[First appeared in Ghost in the Machine, 6/8/07.]