It’s been just a year since Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest swashbuckled its way onto cinema screens across the globe, offering epic battles in an epic timescale and throwing in special effects where some plot should have been. Now comes the third, and possibly not the last, episode in the life and times of Cap’n Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his merry band of piratical hearties. And shiver me timbers if it’s not even longer.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End picks up the story directly after Sparrow’s untimely demise and incarceration in squid-faced Davy Jones’ (Bill Nighy) “locker”, an ill-defined half-death of a place in which Sparrow has only his multiple egos for company. But this is getting ahead of ourselves – first, we must pick up not only the myriad other characters already familiar to series aficionados, but get to know a whole lot more.
There’s our notional heroes Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who set out to free Sparrow from his mind-bending predicament in the hope of preventing Jones’ ghost ship The Flying Dutchman, under the control of the East India Company, from wiping out the pirates and their nefarious way of life on the seas.
To do this they must first head to Singapore and confront the cunning Chinese Pirate Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) for reasons too specious to go into. Various people swap ships time and again, it seeming not to matter who sails with whom, and off they go over a waterfall at the edge of the world to rescue their (dead) sometime skipper.
Everyone has to pick sides in the uncertain world, runs the theme. Some pick more than one side, and some switch, and you’ll probably forget who’s with whom not far in. Save to say Tom Hollander’s smug Lord Beckett is the one to hiss at, Depp’s charismatic loner Sparrow is the one to cheer at, and the rest are either entertaining character clichs or, in the case of Bloom and Knightley, filler.
Chow Yun-Fat brings scar-faced gravitas to his role, while Geoffrey Rush this time hams it up utterly as a Long John Silver caricature. Bloom remains carved from teak, while Knightley gets a cringeworthy speech in the manner of Braveheart to feist up her character with. Depp’s flouncey, dredlocked, acid-fried Sparrow, replete with mascara and gypsy-hippy beads and crosses, is surely the most memorable creation of his career. He’s still hugely enjoyable to watch, even if the Keith Richards get-up is beginning to wear thin. Just as well then that Richards himself shows up for a few scenes – and a few guitar chords – later on.
But it’s not the cast that let this film down. Director Gore Verbinski, who has helmed all three seafaring adventures, doesn’t know when to stop. Despite some amusing set-pieces, and the better ones all involve Depp and/or Nighy, does a ship-to-ship battle above a swirling maelstrom really need to last for nearly 20 minutes? Do we really need to know nine pirate lords? And there are scenes which are laugh-out-loud awful as well as improbable (I won’t spoil your fun by naming them, save to say that Hollander is on his own in one of them).
This film, like its predecessors, is of course critic-proof – it will reap the treasures of the seven seas at the box office and only Shrek 3 stands in the way of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End being 2007′s most profitable film. And the effects, make-up, costumes and seascapes are all world-class. The strong cast of course does its best with what is the film’s most glaring weakness – the interminable, contradictory and often sloppily executed script, full of doublecrosses and random allegiance switches seemingly designed purely to produce something to point a camera at.
But if all you want is slapstick humour and a fairground ride on the silver screen, it’s difficult to imagine that your wants will be better quenched by another film this summer, and only the stoniest of faces will fail to crack at least a couple of smiles in the company of this motley crew.