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Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

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Every summer it seems that there’s one mega-budget studio movie that just goes bust-o. This summer I’d wager that flop is going to be the new Fantastic Four movie, but in 2003 I was fairly certain that Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was going nowhere. After all, it was based on a freaking Disneyland ride, it had no really big stars (Johnny Depp was considered more a fine actor than a guy who could open a movie), its director was relatively unproven (The Ring was scary, The Mexican was too, but in a different way) and it was about pirates for crying out loud. Who cared about pirates? Apparently, only millions and millions and millions of people. Pirates was the breakout hit of the summer and we now live in a Pirates world.

Which brings us to the end or, more specifically, the World’s End. When last we left Miss Swann (Keira Knightley) and Mr. Turner (Orlando Bloom) in Dead Man’s Chest, they had just enlisted the aid of the cruel and camp Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) in an effort to save the even more camp Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) from the prison of Davy Jones locker. At World’s End opens in Singapore, where our heroes are trying to obtain a crew, a ship and, most importantly, a secret map from one of the Pirate Lords, Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat). Of course, things do not go as planned. They never do in the Pirates universe. One could almost use those words as a gloss for the entire plot of every Pirates movie (Okay, so they do this so they can get this so they can do this. Cool, then what happens? Well…things do not go as planned. Really?!).

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From there, things get increasingly and ludicrously complicated which is actually one of the real joys of the Pirates movies. These motherfuckers are plotty! Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio have cooked up a script that teeters between sublime ridiculousness and unintelligible nonsense. Alliances are broken, double-crosses are hatched and executed, a dizzying amount of supporting characters are given their due time on the stage and certain death is always only moments away. It all leads to a genuinely surprising conclusion where every plot thread is (mostly) neatly tied up. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but I will say that I was stunned that a 300 million dollar movie was willing to go with a rather bittersweet ending, instead of the obvious “and in the end, God looked down and granted all the pirates clemency and they lived long and full lives raping and pillaging on the open seas”. As I said earlier, things do not always go as planned.

The final verdict on any summer blockbuster is “should I go see it at the theater?” In the case of At World’s End, I would unequivocally say, “yes”. Sure, the movie’s a little long and maybe not every scene is completely necessary (the stone crabs), but the money is definitely on the screen (unlike in, say, Spiderman 3 which I thought looked like a videogame). The production design, costuming and make-up of At World’s End is really staggering in its depth and detail. The motion capture work on Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) actually exceeds what I thought was a perfect job in Dead Man’s Chest. Moreover, and befitting its station as the conclusion of a trilogy, the battle scenes surpass anything from the first two movies. The integration between CGI and practical effects is seamless (unlike in, say, Spiderman 3 which I thought looked like a videogame). The spatial orientation of the battles is such that you always know who is fighting whom and where they are in relation to each other. This is an increasingly rare feat in today’s action movies, which are usually just a quick-cut and confusing mess. And through it all, there is an undercurrent of daffy humor which constantly pops up to leaven the intensity of the fighting. It doesn’t always work (the monkey), but more often than not it does (Pintel and Ragetti).

Of course, in the end, you always have Captain Jack Sparrow. He doesn’t even show up in the movie until about 15 minutes in, but when he does expect the audience to start cheering and clapping (as they did, loudly, in our screening). Depp has created an iconic character that will bestride his career like a Colossus. At World’s End is worth the price of admission just to see him do his goofy thing.

P.S. Keith Richards is in the movie as Jack's dad. It is a worthless cameo. Sorry, Keith.
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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is playing at every theater in the known universe.

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Photos by Stijn via Flickr