Captain Jack Sparrow, as played by Johnny Depp, gets a queasy look on his face. Another Jack Sparrow stumbles up to his backside. As three more loopy Jack Sparrows look on, the first one clucks and lays an egg into the hands of the second. Apparently anything can happen in the land of the dead. Surreal, lighthearted, fun—it is the antithesis of everything else in the two hour and forty-five minute snorefest “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”
The third installment of the box office record-breaking “Pirates” series is an extension of the overstuffed second film, “Dead Man’s Chest,” in every way. “At World’s End” is driven forward not of its own will, but by the impossibly tangled mess of storylines set up in last year’s movie. If number two was a scorned middle child fighting for attention, then “Pirates” 3 is a perpetual motion machine—not just because it seems to be on autopilot, but also because it seems like it will never end.
Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley) is out to rescue an undead(?) Sparrow with Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who’s also not dead anymore and not terribly angry with Jack for killing him. Accompanying them is Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), the heavily accented voodoo woman whose main function is to explain a bunch of ancient myths and rules to the audience. Maybe they should have picked someone that wasn’t impossible to understand. To make an incomprehensible story more incomprehensible, Chow Yun-Fat must speak through a thick mustache as Chinese pirate Sao Feng. He makes a lot of threats and misleading statements in a movie filled with them.
Orlando Bloom, whose Will Turner was actually charming so long ago in the first “Pirates,” is now a non-entity in an even lesser role here. Relegated to the background for most of the film during a nonsensical lover’s quarrel held over from part two, he is still looking to free his father from the clutches of fishy pirate Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). He and Elizabeth refuse to talk—for no other reason than that’s what the script requires—stilting their romance even further. When they do finally get back on track, the result is a laugh-out-loud cheesy moment that neither actor can pull off convincingly.
“Dead Man’s Chest” was a convoluted bore too, but at least it had two boffo action sequences— a duel that revolved around huge spinning wheels and an attack from the ocean’s legendary Kraken. In “At World’s End,” the mighty sea monster is beached and the same can be said about all the action in this film. When characters aren’t standing around trying to explain a bloated storyline has more tentacles than Jones’ beard ,they are either shooting cannonballs or having the same swordfight over and over. The set design and computer graphics are convincingly detailed, but amount to nothing. During one scene, the dialogue works itself into a dead end and there is nothing left for the characters to do. There is an uncomfortable pause. Then, all of a sudden, another arbitrary fight scene begins.
Speaking of unmotivated action, there are so many double-crosses that it becomes exhausting trying to keep track of them all. It is impossible to get a grasp on anyone for very long, further alienating us from characters we already stopped caring about. Since pirates are infamous for their loyalty to no one, then some skullduggery is built into the nature of the movie. So then how exactly does the International Pirate Council function? If there is a worse idea for a pirate movie than an organized pirate union, I can’t think of one—except for maybe a much-hyped and completely thankless cameo from the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards. Depp has admitted that Richards is the inspiration for Sparrow’s look, so why did they give the guitarist a ridiculous fake nose? His recent off-the-cuff remarks about snorting his father’s ashes are funnier than anything he’s given to do here.
Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio may have been responding to criticisms of the last movie by multiplying the number of Depp’s appearances. Unfortunately, rather than spread him generously throughout the film, they stuff multiple Jack Sparrows into a couple of otherworldly sequences. Funny? Yes. Enough? No. More Jack is definitely better, but all at once not only shoots your wad, it leaves the less-inspired characters to fend for themselves for 165 endless minutes, while the script ties to tie up every loose end from part two.
“At World’s End” has the inevitable duty of cleaning up after a sloppy sibling, but it didn’t have to emulate its older brother’s bad habits.