Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) (Redux)
My attention span ain’t what it used to be. Since I’ve owned a smartphone, I’ve caught myself on numerous occasions not paying attention to the film I’ve just put on in lieu of checking Twitter, my texts or even IMDB trivia about the film I’m meant to be watching. Thankfully, I’ve mostly put a stop to this, but I’m not sure I would have survived another viewing of At World’s End without my precious phone. Although it’s hard to get official figures on it, thanks to Hollywood accounting and the like, At World’s End is considered the most expensive film ever made (unadjusted for inflation) at a whopping $300 million. My question is this: why the leaping Christ did they not drive any of that cheddar into improving the writing? Dear Lord, the term “clusterfuck” hardly seems to do it justice. Anyway- getting ahead of myself here.
“I have no sympathy for any of you feculent maggots and no more patience to pretend otherwise. Gentlemen, I wash my hands of this weirdness.”
Leading on from Dead Man’s Chest, Will (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), the newly resurrected Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) et al. have to travel to Davy Jones’ Locker to rescue Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) because of reasons. Along the way, they encounter Pirate lord Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) and have to avoid Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) who is now under the command of Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). There’s some other stuff too, but in all honesty, you’ve probably seen the sodding thing multiple times over like I have. I really don’t know where to begin with this. For starters, it’s way too fucking long, clocking in at close to three hours. Secondly, both Bloom and Knightley reach new levels of ligneous guffery. Not sure about Bloom, but Knightley has done actual acting elsewhere, so I don’t know why she’s taking leave of all believable emotions here. Hell, even Depp’s charm is wearing thin by this point. He seems to have been encouraged to amp the wackiness up to Looney Tune levels. There are several Multiplicity-like scenes where multiple Sparrows all try to out-gurn each other and I found it painful to sit through. There’s even a little angel/devil on the shoulders scene. I mean, come on! There are a few saving graces, however. Rush’s Barbossa is still a delight to watch, Bill Nighy continues being fantastic as Davy Jones and Hollander’s quintessentially English tea-drinking baddie is fun and a better villain than the film deserves. Jack Davenport also merits a mention, but he isn’t really given enough to do to leave any significant mark on the film.
Motivation is one of the essential things when talking about characters. Whether their purposes are for good/evil/whatever, it’s important to make them clear (unless obscuring them is the whole point) in order for an audience to connect with them. I’ve seen At World’s End a bunch of times and I still couldn’t tell you what the shit is going on. Everyone seems to be selling everyone out but not really, except when they are anddearLordmakeitstop. Add in a bunch of mysticism and talk of destiny and you’ve got a fine mess on your hands. It’s hard to get a handle on who’s doing what and why and, more importantly, why you should give a damn. Why they wanted to make everything so damn convoluted in a film that’s meant to appeal to families I don’t know. In any case, it gave me a headache.
Actually, the the family target audience brings me to another point. The tone is all over the place. We open on a mass hanging and it gets worse from there. The opening is especially brutal as a young boy gets the ol’ short drop and a sudden stop. Y’see kids have a habit of instantly relating to other kids on screen. It’s why so many kiddie films are packed with the little buggers. I imagine there were a few worried glances between parents when that scene played out. The whole film has forgotten its fun, swashbuckling origins and replaced it with CGI-tastic epic battles and mugging at the camera. Making weak gags amidst huge battle sequences is not the same as having a consistent light-hearted tone. Then again, consistency in regards to anything is one of this film’s massive failings.
Elizabeth really bugged me in this one. Answer me this: when did she become a warrior woman? There were hints of it in Dead Man’s Chest, but now she’s perfectly capable of standing her ground with experienced swordsmen. I’m a big fan of women kicking arse, but it just doesn’t make any sense, even with the loopy logic of the films. Plus, the whole “pirate king” thing is ludicrous. I almost cringed myself inside out when it came time for Swann to deliver a “rousing” speech to the assembled crews. She sounded more like a bitchy head girl bollocking her dowdy doormat friend for daring to show up to the school dance in the same colour outfit as her.
I will say this though- the effects are genuinely amazing. Whilst they skimped on coherent writers and actors who could act, they certainly didn’t pinch pennies when it came to the visuals. I love Shipwreck Cove- a pirate meeting place made up of dozens of broken and dilapidated ships. The “up is down” twisty-turny bit is jaw-dropping. The climactic Maelstrom sequence is also very well done and the sheer fun spectacle of watching two ships frag the living fuck out of each other in a gigantic swirling whirlpool wins the film some big points. Having said that, it’s really difficult to give a crap about what’s going on. Still a top-notch tech demo though.
Before I end this review I will mention a few little odds and ends I liked, lest you mistake me for the usual kind of internet critic that either loves something unconditionally or hates it with the very core of their being. I’ve got a new favourite fish-person, for one. The moray eel fella who can retract his head inside his body and bites people in the face is bloody awesome. Shame he only gets a few seconds of screen time. I quite like the Keith Richards cameo as Jack’s dad, but I think I like the idea more than the reality. It’s like when they officially made May 4th “Star Wars Day”- it sort of ruins the joke. Barbossa’s constantly interrupted marrying of Will and Elizabeth is also amusing and one of the few genuine laughs I got from the film. I also dig Cutler Beckett’s slow motion walk-whilst-everything-fucking-explodes death, although it’s not quite as good as I remember it. It’s a decent send off to a great baddie though and the final shot of his lifeless body landing and being enveloped by a floating East India Trading Co. flag is pretty damn memorable.
“Nobody move! I’ve dropped me brain.”
So, At World’s End. It’s goddamn boring is what it is. It’s a hypermegaclusterfuck of half-baked ideas, clunky writing and awkward tonal shifts in a shiny wrapper. It’s a shame the sequel apple fell so far from the Curse of the Black Pearl tree. It’s a testament to excess and highlights the very worst of blockbuster filmmaking. I think Sparrow himself said it best: “It is neither proper nor suitable, sir. It is not acceptable, nor adequate. It is, in obvious fact, an abomination.”