For lack of a better way of putting it, Pirates tells a story no one wants to see. It certainly hits all the right beats, and the plot arc, character development, and twists are all there. And perhaps that's the problem. It feels slightly formulaic and studied, as if writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio set their writing to a timer, moving the action along at just the right moment. But beyond the sense of the stale is the feeling that even though the story works, it doesn't quite mesh with hopes and expectations. If the Curse of the Black Pearl worked as a high-seas adventure story, At World's End doesn't work precisely because it fails to capture the breezy, good-natured sense of fun of the first. Instead, it darkens the sea of plot and sub-plot so much that it becomes difficult to really take it all in and simply enjoy it. Mental exercises are more fit for less piratey fare.
At the end of Dead Man's Chest, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) was consumed by the Kraken. He finds himself in Davey Jones' Locker, a dreamscape filled with multiples of himself aboard the Black Pearl, which is itself marooned in a white desert of Godot-esque abstractions. Meanwhile, Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) presents the new rule of British law, a kind of proto-Patriot Act in which the equivalent of the Bill of Rights is suspended and insurgents--sorry, pirate suspects--are hanged en masse.
Meanwhile, in Singapore, our favourite pirate mates Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), and Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley), along with the rest of the crew of the Black Pearl, try to secure a map from the legendary Chinese pirate Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat). Failing this, they assemble the nine pirate lords with their nine Pieces of Eight (an impossibly lazy joke in retrospect) at the secret Shipwreck Cove, where they will attempt to loose Tia Dalma, who turns out is really the goddess of the sea Calypso (Naomie Harris), on the East India Company and Beckett, who possesses the heart of Davey Jones and therefore controls the high seas.
As convoluted as this is, it gets hairier. Pirates, not exactly known for their trustworthiness, cross and double-cross each other. Will Turner and Jack Sparrow frequently find themselves in conversation with Lord Beckett, bargaining for their own gains, seemingly selling out the other pirates for a chance at redemption or immortality. Meanwhile, Davey Jones (Bill Nighy) and the Flying Dutchman maraud through pirate hordes, wiping out the vestiges of the old ways whilst making Beckett wealthy and powerful. Everyone's motivations are ulterior but ultimately pointless, as it all amounts to a ride whose conclusion is just past the next action sequence.
Amid it all is a lover's quarrel between Turner and Swann, neither of whom seem to realize they are about as engaging as pile of folded sheets. Depp is noticeably restrained and tired looking, and Rush manages to make every sentence sound like a pronouncement of utmost pirate importance. Yun-Fat and the other Chinese pirates have very little to do, and Beckett, though villainous in powdered wig and barely-there contemptous smile, hardly seems likely to overcome the combined efforts of our somewhat multitudinous heroes. Keith Richards makes an appearance as Sparrow's father, but it's not worth the wait.
Underneath all the excess of character nuance and ten minute expository dialogues is the sense of spiraling interest, in which nothing is left to chance or the imagination. The ending leaves no wonder or excitement of the original, and the effect is that of a nearly three hour lecture on piracy in the eighteenth century. Interesting at times, but rarely coherent, and hardly the swashbuckling heartiness I want on the big screen.
Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 2.35:1
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; director's commentary; bloopers, featurettes, and documentaries.
* Bloopers and Deleted Scenes
o I Like Riddles (0:49)
o Two Captains, One Ship (1:30)
o Bloopers of the Caribbean - Just over five minutes of flubs and outtakes.
* Documentaries - 5 docs under the umbrella title Master of Design
o Jim Byrkit: Sao Feng's Map (6:18)
o Crash McCreary: The Cursed Crew (5:23)
o Rick Heinrichs: Singapore (5:13)
o Penny Rose: Captain Teague's Costume (3:37)
o Kris Peck: The Pirate Code Book (5:20)
o Keith & the Captain: On Set With Johnny And The Rock Legend (4:41)
o Anatomy of a Scene: The Maelstrom (19:31)
o The Tale Of The Many Jacks - (4:48)
o The World of Chow Yun Fat (4:14)
o The Pirate Maestro: The Music of Hans Zimmer (10:31)
o Hoist the Colors (4:41)
o Inside the Brethren Court
* Previews - Trailers and previews for other Disney DVDs.
Number of discs: - 2- Keepcase Packaging with DVD map insert. Metallic slipscase.
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