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If you’re looking for any movie that is critic-proof, Pirates of the Caribbean At World’s End is surely the one you’re looking for. The movie’s predecessor was the highest-earning in 2006, and that movie left everything to be settled in this final instalment. Even if it consisted of nothing but Johnny Depp picking his nose with a cutlass for two-and-a-half hours, everyone would still have to go and see it for themselves.
Fortunately, Pirates of the Caribbean At World’s End is more entertaining than watching Depp picking his nose, but this is one hulking, cumbersome beast of a movie. It’s a very different picture from the first fleet-footed, light-hearted movie. The masters of the franchise felt that the only way they could top the previous two movies was to give us more of everything: more colorful characters, more nautical mythology and even bigger special effects. All of that builds up to a colossal, decisive “everyone vs everyone else” battle. That feels just like The Lord of the Rings or Return of the Jedi. As a result, a large portion of this movie is spent pedantically aligning every character arc and plot detail so as to maneuver everyone into position for the big climax.
There isn’t much time for joking since everybody is too busy cutting deals in this movie. There are more pacts, agreements, changes of allegiance and negotiations over terms and conditions, and that is way more for most viewers to be able to keep track. That isn’t to mention a growing list of piratical gadgets and trinkets: the “nine pieces of eight”, the map that’s like a jigsaw puzzle, Davy Jones’s heart, the goddess Calypso, the compass and the list goes on. Of course, movies like this aren’t about the fiddly detail, they’re about broad strokes. On that level, Pirates of the Caribbean At World’s End still delivers better than most. The best way to enjoy it is to ignore all the fancy-dress board meetings, turn off your confused brain and simply give your eyes a treat.
Things begin with a trip to Singapore to bring Chow Yun-Fat and his Chinese pirate crew on board – ostensibly to borrow his ship. By now, Elizabeth has made the transition to fully fledged pirate status. She’s armed to the teeth and as handy with a cutlass as her perennially wet paramour, Orlando Bloom. This diversion is followed by a mission to sail off the edge of the world and rescue Jack Sparrow. Skipping to the big showdown, it takes place on two ships swirling around a vortex in the middle of the ocean, with storms raging and duels on the rigging and cannons booming. In the middle of the battle, you may say to yourself “Hang on. So he’s fighting this guy to get that key, which opens this chest, so then he can get that thing, and help the other guy help his father, and, oh forget it”.
Thinking about it all too hard and the Pirates franchise starts to look like what it is: a brazen attempt to build a Star Wars-like mythology out of a theme-park ride. With such hollow intentions it should have sunk long ago, but buoyed by luck, comedy and state-of-the-art special effects, it has not only survived the journey intact, it’s also washed down its decks, ready for a whole new cycle of movies to begin. Personally, I’d be happy to weigh the anchor here.