Pirates of the Caribbean Pentalogy Reviewed At World's End

elTee drank eight kegs of rum. The following review was found tattooed on his back the next morning.

At World's End has a lot to answer for. Its predecessor, Dead Man's Chest, left viewers with a myriad of loose plot-lines to tie up - like, how did Tia Dalma resurrect Barbossa? What was Davy Jones going to do when he found out that Norrington had traded his heart to Cutler-Becket for a position in the Admiralty? And, didn't Jack get eaten by a Kraken?

It would have been sensible to assume that this third Pirates film would answer all of these questions and leave us at a satisfactory conclusion. To be fair, it does - but not without adding dozens more questions first. The sum of this is an extremely bloated movie (almost three hours long) that's full of plot holes, and they've tried to cover these holes up by just throwing more and more plots on top of them. The end result is something that you can stand on - but you wouldn't want to jump up and down on it, because it's going to collapse.

To wit: Barbossa, Will and Elizabeth sail off the map to rescue Jack from Davy Jones' Locker. They then have to contend with the combined forces of the British Navy/East India Company (it's hard to tell the difference) and Davy Jones - so in order to do that, they set off on a quest to unite the Nine Pirate Lords. There might also be subplots involving Sea Gods, shennanigans in Singapore, more double (and triple, and quadruple) crossings than you can count, and some gibberish about a Pirate King.

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That Ending

If you watch to the very end of the credits, you get to see an epilogue, ten years later, which is similar to how there was a prologue, ten years earlier, in the first film. Apparently the last part also shows that the curse gets broken, but some explanatory scenes were cut from the script so it’s not really clear in the film.

It’s still a lovely ending, though.

It's just too complex. And it makes for a very frustrating movie - because when it's good, it's excellent - but when it's bad, it's awful.

But I'm not going to dwell on the bad parts for one simple reason: overall, it's a very entertaining film. Everything you loved about <i>The Curse of the Black Pearl</i> is back here, and ramped up to an insane degree. It doesn't try to back-reference that first movie like <i>Dead Man's Chest</i> did, either, with its "Why is the rum always gone? hearty wink at camera" moments. The main draw to any Pirates movie is always going to be Jack Sparrow of course - and here he's possibly at his funniest, because he's finally gone completely mad. In his first scene, trapped in Jones' Locker, we find him hallucinating with hilarious consequences. This gets funnier when real-life events become more surreal than the hallucinated ones, culminating in his re-union with Barbossa. "Hello Hector!" he gleefully announces.

There's a new character in this film by the name of Captain Teague. You may otherwise know him as Keith Richards, legendary guitarist for the Rolling Stones, and Depp's original inspiration for Jack Sparrow. What with his uncharacteristic sobriety these days, he pulls the cameo off with aplomb - even picking up a guitar just in case anyone out there isn't quite sure where they remember his gnarled old face from.

The cameo comes during one of the most enjoyable parts of the film: the meeting of the Nine Pirate Lords. This takes place at a sort of Tortuga on steroids; a pirate fortress that might be described as a cross between Woodtick and Mos Eisley.

And really, it's this aspect of At World's End that pulls it through: it's Piratey. Barbossa is back, and he brings a manic devil-may-care attitude to things, and Jack's insanity creates a real atmosphere - literally anything can happen next, and it generally does.

So niggles aside, it's an entertaining movie. I just can't shake the feeling that between Dead Man's Chest and At World's End is one really brilliant film.

Ah well, I shouldn't complain... the more pirates the better.

3 skulls out of five

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Second Opinion

To celebrate the release of the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Gabez drank eight cups of tea.

In some ways, Dead Man’s Chest isn’t wildly different from Curse of the Black Pearl; Will "raspy voice" Turner is still rasping on in the background; Elizabeth "high-pitched vocal cords" Swan is again screaming away; there’s still lots of pirates doing piratey things – but familiar characters aside, the film couldn’t be more different. Parts of it felt like an expansion pack for the original – "now with snow and Asian themed maps!" – while the rest seemed like we were looking into a parallel universe, where Will is a turner and Elizabeth is a pirate king.

In other words, the film is as preposterous and over-plotted as ever: and I love that. ElTee, my fellow reviewer, got it right when he said that what pulls World’s End through is it being piratey – it’s pirates we want to see, and it’s pirates we get – though I disagree with his assertion that the bulbous plot weighs the film down.

It might just have been me, but I didn’t really notice a plot as such. For me, World’s End felt like it was just one huge ending for Dead Man’s Chest, and what it boiled down to was pirates fighting non-pirates for supremacy of the seas. There was other stuff going on in the background, but I didn’t notice it, and so it didn’t bother me.

So the plot wasn’t as much of an annoyance for me as it was for some people – though of course the movie could have benefited from a reformed structure. Two changes would have helped: a narrower perspective and a clearer set-up. In Black Pearl, characters were thrown into events that were beyond their control, acting on the rules set by off-screen gods. In World’s End, the gods are very much on-screen – literally, in the case of Calypso – and the perspective is broadened to cover the whole of the Caribbean. It’s too much for us to take in. Perhaps if the big three (Will, Elizabeth and Jack) had less of a big part in the grander scheme, or if we had another protagonist who was seeing things from a narrower viewpoint, then the film might not have felt so broad. The same story should have been told from a different, more focused perspective – like looking through a port-hole and seeing a part of the ocean, instead of being in the water and being surrounded by ocean, but so overwhelmed that one cannot enjoy the view.

I’m not saying, then, that the plot is too complicated; rather it is too wide – and a clearer set-up would have helped with this. Really, as I said before, the plot is all about the pirates fighting the non-pirates, and the film should have concentrated more on this last stand idea, leaving all the other sub-plots to spin around harmlessly in the ether. If we’d had a set-up that made this last fight seem more important – for instance, if we’d been more aware of who the two sides were, and what the stakes were – then I think the plot would have felt like it was holding onto something a little more substantial.

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Similarities abound

  • Will Turner can probably hold his breath for ten minutes (Scummbuddy)
  • Code wheel is like Mix’n’Mojo wheel!
  • Shipwreck Cove is like Woodtick (Udvarnoky Jason)
  • Person magically controlling fearsome pirate for commercial profit (Jake)
  • Commercialism threatening pirates
  • Shooting Jack the monkey with the cannon (The Tingler)

But enough about plot! The film felt like a long ending, and if we look at it like a long ending, and nothing more, then we can put plot irritations to one side and focus instead on the spectacle. The central idea – all those pirate captains coming together – was marvellous. We could have done without that nine pieces of eight sub-plot, sure, but never mind – they all came together in the end, and that’s all that matters. I loved the captains. I loved the change of scene in Singapore and the underworld. I loved the end-fight on the side of the Maelstrom.

I didn’t notice that Jack’s father was also a singer, and I still don’t know who the man is, but I did think that his character was a nice surprise. I actually thought that he was Blackbeard at first (now there’s an idea for a prequel!) All in all, the film had a bit of theme going with fathers – but a far more interesting theme was in what the pirates were fighting for: freedom. Real freedom. Freedom even to be criminal, if you really want to be. It’s a cause I sympathise with. If I went off to the Caribbean and commandeered a ship, I wouldn’t get very far before some country arrived with helicopters and got me to surrender. Like with so many things these days, we can’t commit the crimes even if we wanted to – and I don’t want to – but it would be nice to be able to, if I did.

I suppose another theme would be diversity versus globalisation. The East India Trading Company wants to take control of the market, making everything effectively the same, whilst the pirate lords, each wildly different from each other, want to keep things varied and colourful. As one character remarked in the film: "the world isn’t getting smaller; it just has less in it" – or in other words: the world has less variety now.

There was also the opening scene when a commander read out rights being absolved – looking eerily familiar to something I saw on the news the other night – and then there was also the pirate’s codex of rights that must be adhered to. Pirates may have been treacherous, but at least they had freedom, and rights, and knew who they were. World’s End is not just a swashbuckling adventure – it’s a nostalgic swashbuckling adventure, harking back to the days before money ruled the world. As Lord Beckett said in the last film: "Loyalty is no longer the currency of the realm... I’m afraid currency is the currency of the realm.

I came out of the theatre wanting more. I was glad that I found out about Davy Jones’ romantic past. I was satisfied with the role the East India Trading Company played as the films villains – but I wanted more. There are other stories to be told. The films have only begun to scratch the surface on the history of the colonial powers, not to mention other pirates – and I want to see it. Will there be more Pirates of the Caribbean films? I hope so. We’ve had a very good ending, and I think that a lot of these characters’ stories are over – but there are new characters out there, new lands, and new adventures.

Whatever the future may hold, I hope it’s varied, and I hope it’s piratey. At World’s End certainly was.

4 skulls out of 5

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Pros: Pirates! Monkeys! Voodoo! Sword-fights! Sea-chases! Ship battles!
Cons: Bloated plots; sometimes doesn't know what it wants to do

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