Friday, January 7, 2011

Geoffrey Rush At Trilogy's End With Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End

The Good: Entertaining, Geoffrey Rush's acting, Effects
The Bad: Predictable plot, Theme which prevents characters from developing, Disney conceits
The Basics: When Jack Sparrow is rescued, pirates come together for a political meeting to decide their fate for comedy, then much battling.

The Pirates Of The Caribbean films have not fared well with me as a reviewer. Honestly, while I could see the appeal to children and enthusiasts of special effects movies, I remained underwhelmed as an adult viewer. Indeed, while I found Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl (reviewed here!) to be generally entertaining, I felt it was a pretty straightforward and unremarkable film. With the sequel, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, (reviewed here!), I found myself ultimately feeling like this was a movie I had already sat through. So, it was with low expectations that I sat down to watch Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End, a film that the producers thankfully punctuated correctly.

The film begins where Dead Man's Chest ended, with Captain Jack Sparrow lost to the kraken (Davy Jones's not quite domesticated pet) and the crew of the Black Pearl regrouping with the mysterious Tia Dalma and the apparently resurrected Barbossa (the villain of The Curse Of The Black Pearl for those keeping score). This is all pertinent information for those coming to At World's End as a Pirates Of The Caribbean virgin. Fortunately, the film is remarkably accessible for those who have not seen Dead Man's Chest or did not enjoy it.

Barbossa and Elizabeth Swann are dispatched to Singapore to find the pirate lord Sao Feng, one of the nine pirate lords and the one Barbossa would like to enlist to aid in finding Jack Sparrow and rescuing him from Davy Jones's locker. With the help of Tia Dalma, Swann, Barbossa and Will Turner journey to Davy Jones's locker to find the Black Pearl and Captain Sparrow. Meanwhile the East India Company is using Davy Jones to round up and slaughter the pirates on the high seas, which leads to the death of hundreds of pirates and those who are foolish enough to attempt to stop them, including Governor Weatherby Swann, Elizabeth's father.

Once Jack is rescued from his surreal prison, Barbossa and Jack convene the council of the nine pirate lords to attempt to resolve the situation with Davy Jones. Barbossa's plan is to set free Calypso, the sea goddess who is imprisoned in human form and let her destroy their enemies. Sparrow and Swann want to fight and slay Jones, for various reasons. Meanwhile, the East India Company advances upon the pirates, threatening their very existence.

At World's End is both a welcome change and a rather erratic and long film. The movie is long - over two hours, forty minutes - and more than that, it feels long. It feels long because the series has set up so many loose ends that need to be tied up and it adds new elements (like the Calypso storyline) that need to be developed as well. The tying up loose ends takes time and most of it is generally satisfying. In fact, I found I enjoyed the beginning of this movie quite a bit more than Dead Man's Chest.

The bloated middle of the film then relies a great deal more on comedy than the other two films. It's straight-out comedy for the middle section as the pirate lords convene and the antics of the Black Pearl having two captains. The last third, then, becomes a rip-roaring adventure that . . . well, feels like a theme park ride. As the crew of the Black Pearl is set against the crew of the Flying Dutchman (the vessel of Davy Jones), the movie takes on the feel of an amusement park ride, which harkens back to the origins of this film franchise.

Much of the movie is kept as needlessly complicated - not terribly sophisticated, but rather complicated. Turner is attempting to rescue his father from the Flying Dutchman, Barbossa is looking to pay off a debt to Tia Dalma, Jack believes by slaying Davy Jones he may achieve an immortality of sorts and Swann is motivated by guilt and revenge.

This is a good enough place as any to mention what I found most troubling about At World's End - other than that it felt long. None of the characters in this film are particularly compelling because not one of the major characters is dependent upon themselves, their abilities or their talents for their destiny. All of the characters are trapped by the machinations of others. To wit: Captain Sparrow needs the crew to rescue him, Barbossa is dependent upon Tia Dalma for his life, (Swann and Turner's lack of fate being in their hands is the result of decisions made very late in the film, so I will not ruin that), Calypso is dependent upon the pirate lords to set her free, and Davy Jones is completely extorted by anyone who menaces his heart. As a movie marketed especially toward young people (hence an initial opening with an 8 P.M. showing, as opposed to a midnight one), this is a fairly troubling theme. None of the characters control their own destiny; that's a terrible message to send to young people.

Aww, who cares? Despite the marketing toward young people, rewatching this film is likely only to disappoint the younger audiences. Why? It's not Jack Sparrow's movie. It's not Will Turner's film and it's not Elizabeth Swann's film. It's Barbossa's. Barbossa dominates the screen up until the moment Jack Sparrow first appears and he does not go quietly after that. Indeed, while I would bet that Barbossa has the greatest amount of screentime, I am virtually certain that Geoffrey Rush, who plays Barbossa, outnumbers every other actor for sheer number of lines. It is charged to Rush to explain much of the machinations and the movie and he is in almost every scene Sparrow is in, plus far more at the beginning.

Rush lives up to the challenge of acting here and on this outing he is unlike any other character he has ever played as Barbossa. Rush has an eccentric quality that he lets run wild in this film and his pirate accent is flawless and well-delivered. As well, Rush - whose character gives a great deal of exposition - is able to explain much of the plot-heavy movie with credibility and authority that does not drag down the pace of the film significantly.

Chow Yun-Fat appears as Sao Feng, but his role is more like a cameo and his character seems very much like Lando Calrissian from The Empire Strikes Back (reviewed here!). In fact, the troubling aspect about the attempted complexity of the plot is that as I watched At World's End, I began to feel that it felt familiar and it did not take long to place it. The level of politicization and the complexity of the machinations and explanations was almost beat by beat identical to Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones (reviewed here!). Indeed, after Sparrow is rescued, Turner and Swann occupy a plot much like that of Anakin and Padme, Sparrow and Barbossa begin machinations like the politics of the Jedi trying to unravel the Kamino mystery, with Davy Jones occupying a role frighteningly close to that of Count Dooku. Scary.

Sadly, director Gore Verbinski telegraphs the action in At World's End far more than George Lucas did in Attack Of The Clones. The fight sequences in the climax of the movie set up all of the elements in ways that only a child is likely to be surprised by the sequence that follows.

Part of the problem is the same Disney conceits that plagued the first two films, only in this outing, Verbinski and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio take it even further. I refer to the annoying Disney sidekick conceit. In The Curse Of The Black Pearl, Pintel and Ragetti were introduced as sidekicks for comic relief (holding the same essential role as, say, Timon and Pumbaa in The Lion King). We get that Disney likes to make ridiculous pairs whose purpose is to have asides to explain plot to children and provide comic relief and we understand that Pirates Of The Caribbean is a Disney film. In At World's End, though, the viewer is plagued by the pairs of Pintel and Ragetti, Cotton's parrot and Barbossa's monkey Jack, and two officers from the East India Company who are guarding Jones's heart. Indeed, the only point to the latter two I could find was as a "play ball or you'll be replaced in the next sequel" implied threat to actors Lee Arenberg (Pintel) and Mackenzie Cook (Ragetti).

Beyond all that, though, the film is entertaining. The special effects, while not terribly new or original, are decent. They happen at a speed that is easy to assimilate and they all make sense given the physics and "reality" of the world created in this film.

Johnny Depp, despite taking the back seat to Geoffrey Rush, is entertaining and in this outing he is more purely eccentric and comedic. Depp has more conservative body language this time out and he plays the character as more consistent, lessening the general crazy of Sparrow for a more specific crazy created by his isolation in Davy Jones's locker. Depp is cool and collected much of the movie and his performance is more consistent and his sense of comic timing is much sharper and less cliché.

Both Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley appear in At World's End and they do nothing with their performances that we've not seen before. Indeed, Bloom trips over one of his best, most poignant lines, early in the film about the nature of trust. In the end, their performances resonate equal or less than the cameo by Keith Richards.

Now on 2-Disc DVD, At World's End looks and sounds great and the set is loaded with featurettes about the making of the film and the impact of the franchise. For those who missed the post-credits scene, the DVD is a great place to catch it. Especially noteworthy in the bonus features is the featurette painstakingly detailing the making of the Maelstrom scene. There are also deleted scenes and bloopers to give fans even more to love. Fans will also enjoy the behind-the-scenes presentation of the shooting of Keith Richards' footage. In many ways, the DVD presentation enhances the film and outshines the primary content.

In the end, it is entertaining and it's just enough to recommend the film, regardless of how long the film feels.

For other Disney live-action films, please check out my reviews of:
Tron: Legacy
Alice In Wonderland
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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