Friday, May 25

In Support of Piracy

Does the Third Pirates movie sink or swim?

For the past several weeks, I've seen a couple of 'third' chapters of blockbuster franchises, only to find myself disappointed. Spider-Man 3 impressed with fight scenes but horrified with bad writing and a bad ending. Shrek the Third was just not funny or as entertaining as previous entries. And now... here's Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Does it blow the rest of the pack out of the water, or does it scream "STRIKE THREE" as the third third movie mess?

For starters, I have to remind everyone that At World's End is a continuation of the story started in the previous chapter, Dead Man's Chest. You NEED to have watched and understood Part Two to appreciate the goings-on in Part Three. That said, this kind of thing is common these days in our era of trilogies like The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings. If it's been a while, bring out those DVDs and refresh your pirate lore before heading off to theaters.

ARRR! Beware of SPOILERS, Matey!

With the terrifying Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and his ship, The Flying Dutchman, under his control, Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) of the East India Trading Company is waging a campaign of genocide versus all of the seas' pirates. The opening minutes of AWE is leagues darker than previous films, with scenes of merciless hangings aplenty showing just how high the stakes have risen since the devil-may-care second chapter.

With their way of life and very survival threatened, the resurrected Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) joins Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and the remnants of the Black Pearl's crew to find and rescue Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from his own personal hell in Davy Jones' Locker. This takes up the first part of the film, and is in itself an epic quest reminiscent of old fantasy films like the Sindbad movies or Terry Gilliams' Erik the Viking. It's ridiculous but enthralling, mystical and ludicrous and one heck of a ride. As for The Locker itself, it's a place of unique torment, and a peek into the demented mind of one Captain Jack Sparrow- let me tell you... the man is NUTZ. As in, he's got real peanuts growing out of his 'ead! I kid you not.

Anyways, after Jack is finally rescued and resurrected from the briny afterlife (OOH SHOCKER!), the heroes all promptly start scheming and plotting their way on their own agendas, be it to rescue a loved one (Will), to save the pirate race (Barbossa) or to just be able to sleep at night (Elizabeth). There are double-crosses and triple-crosses and here comes the part where people may get confused and lose sense of what's going on.

Here's a hint. ALL of the leads are good guys, more or less. The bad guys are either smarmy redcoats or half-fish monsters. Or bald scarred Chinese pirate lords. So no matter who betrays who, everyone remains, in their own way, true.

While two thirds of this journey is mainly character interaction, drama, deals and double-deals and injections of humor (that's a mite funnier than in DMC), the final hour is all action... a literal wild ride that does not let up until a rip-roaring slow-mo obliteration of one ship- I mean, Cutler Beckett may not be the most formidable or engaging villain in movies, but certainly his demise is truly exceptional. Bottom-line, If you liked or enjoyed the previous two Pirates films, you'll love this. It brings resolutions to all the characters (though a couple I feel were undeserved) and ends all the storylines so far revealed. At almost three hours, it will indeed satisfy you with good exposure from pretty much every character, from Jack Sparrow to the other Jack (the Undead Monkey).

What's Good and What's Bad? Let me start with the Bad.

The one big bad I have to say is this. The movie trailers and promotion all had me expecting this HUGE free-for-all battle between the world's freedom-loving pirates and the massive EITC Armada ranged to annihalate them. Well... it NEVER happens. The final battle is played out between two ships- the ubiquitous Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman. Granted, this ship-to-ship, crew-on-crew battle is simply awesome... but it would have been great to see the many other pirate lords introduced at least get their hands a bit dirty in the struggle, as it IS their survival at stake. Instead, everyone else just sit at the sidelines and cheer at the end once the fighting is all done... which kinda waters down the hurrah afterwards.

Another bad is a wee detail- mainly the fate of James Norrington (Jack Davenport). While the offscreen passing of Weatherby Swan (Jonathan Pryce) is a bit of a shocker given that he was a comic relief character, he at least gets to say a proper goodbye to Elizabeth- and it does serve the purpose of giving Liz reason to hate Beckett and the EITC more. Norrington's death (at the hands of the most unlikely character, to boot(!) just made me feel bad. The guy just never got a nice break, even though he was at heart an honorable and good man who deserved better. While his death had drama and meaning, it would have been nicer to have cut him some slack at the end. I mean, even those two chatty redcoats made it okay! Sigh.

Then there's the love story of Davy Jones and his former love, Calypso- something that seems so intense and deep, but is eventually lost and feeling unfinished. On the other hand, perhaps they were just there to reflect the present love and conflict between Will and Elizabeth.

Finally, the last significant 'bad' for me is Chow Yun Fat's Sao Feng. While Mr. Fat looks awesome bald and scarred, he just didn't have enough of a role to be really too significant. Even sadder, Keith Richards, who appears in shorter screentime, makes far more of an impression as the uber-cool Captain Teague, Jack Sparrow's daddy and Keeper of Pirate Law.

Well that's that. Other bads are just nitpicks.

For the good, then.

With three hours, you just cannot accuse this movie of cutting the fun short. Every character has stuff to do or say, and their little or big parts in the story. Thankfully, everyone is pretty easy to keep track of even with all the double-crosses and shifts from here to there and back again. The cast is in fine form, and it's great to Jack spar with Barbossa (particularly a scene with ever-growing spyglasses which is obviously loaded), and how Will and Elizabeth finally makes us care about their relationship again.

The World of Pirates has grown even more from Dead Man's Chest, and it's just cool. It's cool to find out that there are Pirate Lords, that a couple of our leads are part of this secretive (but not really that organized) cabal. It's cool to see just how much a fantasy world the Pirates Universe really is. And it all comes to life gloriously thanks to Industrial Light and Magic. Every new monster, fabulous setting, explosion and magical transformation is amazing and convincing- this film truly is a treasure trove of amazing sights, and incredibly enough they all seem seamless. You never for one second look at Davy Jones and say, he's CG. You just think he's a real damn Squid-faced Man of the Sea. When rocks become crabs and sail a ship through a desert, you believe it. If you can, watch this on Imax. DAMN that would be awesome. I am SOOOO getting this series on Blu-Ray.

And finally, the best 'Good' for me is that this movie satisfies. Remember the Matrix Revolutions? Remember how after it ended you came out going, 'that was it?' We all went home sad and disappointed at how Neo and Trin died but at least the human race survived and the Colonel will keep his word. Well, not here. The ending is true to the movies. It doesn't pull a Wachowski and go all existencial on us. Jack Sparrow's true heart shines in a great personal sacrifice. The most exciting wedding ever is held. Lives end and change but love conquers in the end. Some journeys definitely end here, but the world that is Pirates of the Caribbean is, like the sea, left open for future exploration. If Jack Sparrow has more tales to tell, I'll be right here waiting to listen.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is now showing in theaters. Get the small soft drink to keep from missing any of this. It's a long, exciting, absurd, goofy, thrilling and ultimately satisfying voyage.

Oh, and one last thing. There is a final epilogue scene AFTER the credits. When I watched, pretty much the ENTIRE audience had left and MISSED it! It's well worth seeing (unlike the 'dog' ending in DMC), so take my word for it. Wait.

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