There’s a beautiful scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End when Captain Jack Sparrow’s (Johnny Depp) ship turns upside down in the water. For one glorious moment, we see the upside down vessel suspended in the water right side up, as if the heavens were made of water and the ground were made of air. When it emerges from the sea, the ship’s contents and crew have been knocked about topsy-turvy. The narratively coherent version of the film must have been onboard, too, ending up as the beautiful and broken mess that is The Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the third installment in the wildly popular film franchise.
Clocking in at a ludicrous three hours, the movie's saddled with a confusing and over-stuffed plotline, causing the viewer to feel as lost as the pirates on their searches. If you can handle it, though, it may be worth feeling seasick with confusion in order to be dazzled by the film’s cinematography and fantastic performances, so
The film opens with pirates being herded into the town square and hanged, upon orders of Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander). Thus, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) calls an unprecedented meeting of pirate lords to deal with the crisis, lest pirates get wiped off the face of the earth. They start off in Singapore, asking Chinese pirate Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) for munitions and a ship. (The stereotyping of Asians as cunning and inscrutable is utterly shameless in this film, unfortunately.)
As for Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), they set off to save Captain Jack Sparrow from Davy Jones’ Locker, where he is stuck and hallucinating. Unbeknownst to his maties, Will Turner has a secret agenda: to rescue his father “Bootstrap” Bill Turner (Stellan Skarsgård).
If you choose to see Pirates, read the above synopsis and remember it well. It will help you find your place in the stormy seas of the diabolically hard-to-follow plot that nearly ruins the film. Having seen the first two films, you’ll have a head start, but unless you have amazing powers of concentration, a few fight scenes into it you’ll be poking your pal in the ribs and whispering “Huh? Where are they? What’s happening?!”
As flawed as it is, there are bewitchingly surreal scenes and dazzling performances that keep this film afloat. One of the most amazing performances in At World’s End is Stellan Skarsgård's as "Bootstrap" Bill, who emerges from a wall covered in kelp and other marine life. Underneath all this makeup, Skarsgård manages to convey a lost soul, trapped and doomed. Johnny Depp upstages everyone as usual, including the hilarious Rush as Barbossa. Even Keith Richards’ cameo as Jack’s father doesn’t steal Depp’s thunder. Every time I see Jack Sparrow, I pick up another character influence: In addition to Keith Richards, there's a fan-waving Karl Lagerfeld, some Adam Ant, and a smidgen of silent film legend Buster Keaton. He holds it all together and you cannot take your eyes off of him. Like Captain Jack Sparrow, though, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is one hot mess.
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