Oh, what a strange journey it has been for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. From industry punch line to amusing summer diversion to being euphemistically labelled the Star Wars of this generation, the road from there to here has rarely, if ever, been dull. And what happens from here on out is anybody’s guess: could there be more Pirates and if so, will Johnny Depp be involved in some way, is it even conceivable to do a Pirates movie without Captain Jack Sparrow? I honestly don’t know, but while walking out of At World’s End two things were certain: if this was the end then what an end it was and the door is more then a little a jar for the further adventures of the Black Pearl.
When we last left the intrepid crew of the Pearl, they were without a ship and without a Captain. Their beloved Captain Jack (Depp) was dragged down to the depths of Davy Jones’ locker by Jones’ (Bill Nighy) monstrous Kraken. To get Jack back, daring-do hero Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), his lady love Elizabeth (Keira Knightly) and the rest of the gang must sail under the command of the newly back from the dead Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and get through the back door to Jones’ locker at the literal ends of the Earth. Sparrow, meanwhile, has gone, if possible, even madder in his isolation. Once in the afterworld with the recovered Captain Jack, the crew must find their way back again in order to team with the other Pirate lords against the machinations of Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) who’s ravaging the seas with Jones’ under his control.
This movie may just as well have been titled “How the Pirates got their Groove Back” because a lot of the clunkiness and repetition of Dead Man’s Chest has been eliminated. Whether it was the return of Rush’s Barbossa or the elimination of scene upon scene of plot set-up, the movie is possessed with a new energy that easily carries the viewer through the nearly three-hour running time. Of course, a lot of that running time could have been shaved down without all the various schemes and counter-schemes the characters commit to sabotage each other. Some plot points are glossed over; like Beckett’s insistence that Jones’ eliminate the Kraken and the implied though never explained background between Beckett and Jack. In fact, At World’s End is one of those movies best left enjoyed without picking at all the lose threads lest you be left with an unravelled sweater.
Depp manages to find new inspiration for Captain Jack and is a pure delight in a performance that reaffirms the audience’s love for the character. Depp and Rush share a great Odd Couple like vibe as they snipe orders back and forth as they match wits for control of the Pearl and the crew. There aren’t many new characters but if we are to parlay (wink) the notion that Pirates is the new Star Wars, then the meeting of the pirate lords will be the Mos Esley of this trilogy. It’s during this scene that Keith Richards makes his much ballyhooed cameo appearance as Jack’s father Captain Teague, the Keeper of the Code; it’s a small part but uniquely pivotal in the film’s lore. (Richards also has to be the only person alive that had to be cleaned up in order to be passed off as a pirate.)
Book ended by the film’s only two grand action sequences, much of the plot is carried on the charisma and familiarity of the characters. Although I think that the Pirate movies would have worked better as individual adventures a la Indiana Jones, I can’t help but admire the skill and dedication of all the people behind the scenes in creating a sweeping and original epic. And to top it all off, the filmmakers deliver the most un-Disney kind of bittersweet ending they could possibly deliver.