Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Review by Sombrero Grande

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is a film that delights in excess. I’m sure you, dear reader, have heard the phrase “less is more,” but I’m not sure the makers of this film have. There’s more of everything in this latest installment of Disney’s surprise hit franchise: more pirates, more crew members, more ships, more explosions, more plotlines--heck, there’s even more Jack Sparrows (you read that right--plural Jack Sparrows). But sadly, more of everything else doesn’t amount to more enjoyment for the viewer here.

Simply put, the main plotline in At World’s End sees Lord Cutler Beckett and the East India Trading Company setting out to exterminate all pirates worldwide. Since Beckett now possesses the heart of Davy Jones, the supernatural Flying Dutchman and its cursed crew are at his command. Only one ship can possibly stop the Flying Dutchman and that’s the Black Pearl, which was sent to Davy Jones’ Locker along with Captain Jack Sparrow at the end of the previous film. There are dozens of other plotlines that pepper the film (virtually every character gets one) and few of them end up A) amounting to anything or B) ultimately making any sense. The plotlines surrounding Calypso and her connections to Barbossa and Davy Jones seem particularly important early on and then disappear by the end with little explanation or resolution. When you’ve got a movie stuffed with so many characters, each trying to have their own story unfold, even with its long running time, At World’s End just doesn’t have the strength to pull it off. It will surely take multiple viewings for any observer to understand everything that’s going on in all these plotlines, and I don’t know how many audience members will have the strength to pull that off.

There are many stretches of At World’s End that drag on, though the film attempts to make up for it at the end with a spectacular battle that seems to be trying to compete with the epic battles of the Lord of the Rings trilogy for sheer “number of things happening at once” dizziness. Here is where the audience can tell this is a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, as by the end, explosions are everywhere. Pieces of wood explode as if they were dynamite themselves, hurtling chunks and bits through the air in slow motion. This propensity for objects to erupt unexpectedly reminded me of a Simpsons episode wherein Homer was trying to make breakfast. First he tried cooking eggs and bacon over the stove and they caught on fire. Then he tried cooking them in a microwave where, again, they caught on fire. Lastly he tried simply pouring himself a bowl of cereal; that, too, caught on fire.

If you thought the leap in fantasy from the first Pirates movie to the second was a stretch (skeletal cursed pirates to sea monsters and half-man, half-sea creatures), get ready for even more fantastical leaps. In fact, the film gets downright surreal and laughably unbelievable at points. It all begins with the trek to, as Tia Dalma puts it, “de end of de eart’” and an ice cave and waterfall that make anything from Middle Earth look mundane. In the purgatory of Davy Jones’ Locker things really take a turn for the seemingly drug-induced as the audience is reunited with not one but dozens of Jack Sparrows. Apparently Jack has gone mad and these multiple Jacks will continue to haunt him (and us) on and off throughout the film. When the movie gets to transforming crab-rocks and giant sea goddesses, there won’t be a single audience member left not scratching their heads.

Not only does the crew of the Black Pearl grow in At World’s End (Captain Barbossa is back with new recruits from Singapore) but Davy Jones’ crew seems to have mysteriously swelled as well. Seeing new half-man, half-“something from the sea” crew members showing up in the new movie reminds me of the Star Wars prequels and how, regardless of the fact that even though these films were supposed to come before the originals chronologically, each installment proceeded to introduce race upon race of new aliens never-before-seen just because they could. If we can assume that the encrusting of sea creature qualities happens gradually (as we can note in the changes we witness to Bootstrap Bill across the two movies), then how the heck can totally new, totally sea-creature-esque baddies suddenly pop into being? It’s not even easy to spot them (other than the eel-headed guy who seems to be the only one we get a decent look at on screen) due to the excess of the fight sequences, as they’re mainly relegated to background fights or pop on and off the screen too fast to see. So now I have to ask the question, if you’re not going to really use any of the new crew members, why go to all the trouble to design, create and animate them? If not for the concept art posted in this article at Ain’t It Cool News, I wouldn’t have likely noticed these new guys in the film at all.

As the story and situations veer farther and farther from the theme park attraction origins of the franchise, the references to the ride that inspired all of this get more blatant, forced and ludicrous. When the ship sent to retrieve Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl plummets over a waterfall, the screen goes dark and actual sound clips from the theme park ride are played, to the befuddlement and awkward chuckles of the audience.

Something that really bugs me about At World’s End is that it introduces an annoying new aspect to the Pirates of the Caribbean universe, and that is that no one can really ever die in it. Barbossa dies at the end of the first movie, yet is brought back in the second. Jack Sparrow dies at the end of the second, yet is brought back in the third. This is a dangerous precedent to set as now the fight scenes, adventure sequences and their consequences become relatively meaningless. Jack Sparrow longs for immortality in the film but, it seems to me, he already has a form of it. Perhaps that’s why he’s so driven to find the Fountain of Youth, as is hinted will be the subject of the fourth Pirates movie, so that as long as he can never really die, Sparrow (and all his doppelgangers) can remain looking young for many, many more sequels to come.

Ultimately, At World’s End is a movie brimming with excess and far too much in it that’s merely “cool for the sake of being cool.” From the Matrix-like, explosion-filled action sequences to the mysterious new members of Davy Jones’ crew to the multiple Jack Sparrows to the artsy-fartsy surreal sequences to the much ballyhooed cameo by Keith Richards (whose character is almost utterly pointless and obviously shoehorned in), all this “gee whiz” coolness and excess allows little room for substance in the film, leaving At World’s End an odd, at-times amusing, frenetic popcorn romp, and nothing else.


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