Pirates of the Caribbean 3 – At World’s End, a review

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Pirate skulls and treasure maps

The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, was a masterpiece in every way possible. There is little wonder as to why it became such a smash box-office hit, because it had everything going for it. Not only was it extremely watchable and entertaining, but it was very impressive on many other levels. No doubt, Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow brought in a whole new level of character dynamic into the dying pirate genre, but over all what set that movie apart was its extremely etched characters. Every one who ever said a line on screen had a very clear and well defined persona that came through strongly in the dialogue and the plot, and that endeared them to the viewing audience. Then of course there were all the regular technical accomplishments of lighting and cinematography, sound and special effects. Everything meshed into a very cohesive whole which dropped the viewer into a rich and well developed world that didn’t seem transitory.

I’m sure you’ve gathered by now that I loved the first Pirates movie. Unfortunately the sequel, Dead Man’s Chest, while impressive on a technical level, disappointed me in many ways. So, it was with more than a modest sense of trepidation that I stepped into a cinema to watch Pirates of the Caribbean 3 – At World’s End.

Pirates 3 started slow and eased itself back into the by now complex world created in the second film. We wait around for a bit watching the pieces falling into place and the players asserting their position in the scheme of things. Then Captain Jack Sparrow appears on a ship stranded in a desolate white landscape doing his Jack Sparrow thing and you’re hooked again. After that Pirates 3 is a fun ride all the way into the credits. Over all I did like this film, and for me it served as a worthy completion of the now sprawling trilogy.

What I truly liked about this movie over the second one is that the team seemed to have found their focus again on this one. The first film worked because of its strong characters, with the strongest character being Jack Sparrow. The second one failed partly because, suddenly, Jack was relegated to a supporting comedic role, and the two young protagonists in the form of Elizabeth Swan and William Turner became the central axis of the plot. I am guessing this was in large part a commercial decision involving the sudden superstar status thrust upon the actors, Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, after the success of the first movie. In Pirates 3 Jack Sparrow is once again at the helm, both literally and figuratively, and that breathes new life into this story. Once again it is likely that this slight change was as much a commercial decision as a creative one. By all indications, more films staring all three protagonists will be impossible considering the salaries demanded by their current star status, and of them Johnny Depp seems to have indicated the most interest in possibly continuing the franchise. But, whatever the reason, a right decision has been made and this plot is the better for it.

This film is not absolutely perfect, however, and still suffers from trilogy-tieup-itis. This dangerous disease often afflicts the last film in hugely successful trilogies. The main symptom is an incessant need to tie up every end, whether loose or otherwise, in a strange obsession with completing everything to the point of utter ridiculousness and stilted mathematical plot points. An excellent recent example of this was Star Wars – Episode III. So, in the same spirit, at some points At World’s End tries too hard to clean up plot threads and characters with all the finesse of an inebriated sea monster at a show jumping event. Important characters from the prequels quickly appear on screen and are summarily dismissed so that the writers need not worry about them in further plotting.

Then there are large conspiratorial back plots that are simply plonked into the viewer’s laps, without so much as a hint of foreshadowing in the second film, which was partly filmed in tandem with this one. That indicates another common symptom of third movies of trilogies, the need for huge and sometimes inappropriate spectacles, to go out with a bang. Some of that actually works in Pirates 3’s favour but some of it still jars a bit.

Keeping aside my reservations with the overdone finale type plotting Pirates 3 is still a very good movie. I still think the first film was the best because it had a certain spirit and soul which its sequels failed to capitalise on completely. However, this third film comes the closest. What it lacks in quiet moments and more mature character development like the first, it makes up for in a renewed vigour and getting back to the heart of the pirate genre.

We like pirates because they symbolize a certain yearning for freedom which is really the hallmark of the Jack Sparrow character in this story. He is a pirate because he likes the life more than anything else, and that element is brought back into the reckoning in this film. There is also a deep sense of foreboding in here which adds emotional charge to the plot line. The premise is that the entire pirate culture is in danger of becoming extinct and that really hits home the deepest, in the same way that the the Lord of the Rings books evoked the melancholy hopelessness of an age of magic whose end is near. There like here, this rich world was slowly but surely being swallowed by the world of man, our modern existence. A loss of innocence and freedom that we would not like to let go of.

But at the end of it’s run, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 – At World’s End ends on a positive note. The heart felt pirates of the tale are still out there because they want to be, and more adventures await. At World’s End has brought this trilogy to a very successful conclusion in my book, and best of all it leaves you with great hopes for the future. I for one am looking forward to seeing Captain Jack Sparrow sail into port in a tiny sinking boat all over again.

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