The first Pirates movie - launched into choppy waters way back in 2003 - was an accidental success. Based on a Disney theme park ride and setting sail with very little fanfare, it nonetheless blew the summer blockbusters out of the water. Last year's sequel, Dead Man's Chest
, took the plunge with slightly more in the way of publicity and eventually coined an almost unbelievable booty of over a billion dollars worldwide. This third - and apparently anything but final - instalment therefore is a good contender for the biggest film ever made, in terms of both box office bank and size and scope. The question is, just how much are you willing to forgive Johnny Depp and that sea-dog swagger of his? If you grew tired of his 'Captain Keef' act last time round, you're in for a bumpy ride - Pirates 3 is swigging from the same bottle of rum as its predecessors, but whether that's a good thing depends on how tolerant you were to Jack Sparrow's last outing.
You may remember the ending of the last Pirates movie (you may not; many people were catching Z's after almost three hours of yo-ho-ho'ing) when Cap'n Jack launched himself into the belly of the Kraken and left Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) up Shit Creek without the proverbial paddle. Surprise surprise, he's not dead, merely marooned in Davy Jones' locker; a kind of pirate's limbo, in which he's haunted by various versions of himself. Meanwhile, in the land of the living, asswipe Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) is getting his evil on, manipulating old squid-face and generally becoming the scourge of the seven seas by trying to wipe out piratekind. Turner and Swann recruit the assistance of old foe Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush: not dead, don't ask) to sail to the edge of the world and bring back Jack. A whole paragraph, and we haven't even really touched on anything in Pirates 3 at all. Best take a cushion with you.
Like this summer's other threequel - Spider-Man 3
- At World's End suffers from a plot overload, due to too many characters vying for attention. Unlike Spider-Man 3, however, you could argue that in Pirates 3, there are some characters who would be better off landlocked. Dead Man's Chest suffered from the same problem - at one point, characters jokingly had to explain why everyone was fighting - but with the second sequel, the series has reached critical mass. Characters change allegiances, double and triple cross each other and generally carry on like they're in a multi-layered spy movie, when all that is needed is some straightforward swashbuckling. Bloom's character looks bemused throughout as he cycles through enemies like you or I cycle through our system tray. Knightley looks pretty (duh) but is bogged down in needless plot-strands involving pirate lore. Throw in Geoffrey Rush, Chow Yun Fat, Bill Nighy, Mackenzie Crook, Lee Arenberg, Tom Hollander, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce and Naomie Harris, and you've got a ship that's in real danger of sinking. It's all Depp can do to put on that now infamous swagger and mince around the Atlantic like a sea-faring Russell Brand. It's fun, but is it funny?
Although At World's End suffers from an abundance of character (not something you can usually level at summer blockbusting fare), it doesn't distract from some truly stunning special effects. If you thought the action would be restricted to the ocean waves then you'd be mistaken; Depp and his crew sail through sandy beaches, huge whirlpools, arctic wastelands and corpse-strewn waters, so while there might be a lack of elbow room for the cast, the imaginative CGI is given star billing. Davy Jones is once again a sight for sore eyes (as is his crustacean-based crew) and the battle scenes never once show the strain (a $200 million budget no doubt helps paper over the cracks).
It's a shame such lavish attention isn't laden on the script, which for the most part, is uninspiring and drab. Quite how the kids are supposed to keep up with the wordy double-dealing and knowingly smug exchanges is unclear: I, for one, developed quite the headache trying to unravel several knots of plot. Bloom still talks like an American doing an English accent and even the rum-soaked whimsy of Captain Jack seems a little laboured this time around. Perhaps its best to just sit back and let a tidal wave of visual splendour wash over you; as well as the top SFX, there are certainly some top sight gags on show, such as Jack and Barbossa's childlike telescope envy.
Picking holes in Pirates 3 is a little like trying to sink the Titanic with butter knife: you can scream and whine and bash away all you like, but objections won't even make a dent in the hull of this particular piratey behemoth. You'll be quite within your rights to feel confused, overwhelmed and yes - even a little disappointed - but the whole production is executed with such bombast that you'll stick around until the sun goes down on Captain Jack, at least for now. All the enthusiasm in the world, however, can't mask the fact that what potentially could have been a trilogy up there with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings has eventually become something more inline with the Matrix trilogy - 10/10 for style, but struggling to keep its head above water when it comes to substance.