This last week my wife and I went to see the ostensible final chapter in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series. Officially called “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” the movie is essentially the second half of POTC 2.
*** WARNING – POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD ***
Not that anyone is really reading this, but if you are and don’t want to learn certain details about this movie, please save this for later. Also, please be aware that my thoughts are a bit unorganized and this review is likely to skip around.
Perhaps the most important thing this movie did for me was improve POTC 2, which was the least resolved movie I had ever seen. I am certainly not an expert on screenwriting, but I wasn’t aware of a single significant storyline that had concluded by the end of the second movie. I was happy when POTC 3 did bring all of those things to a final point. They left the general story open for a possible fourth movie, but I wouldn’t expect to see one.
I had been warned about the length of the movie, but I had enough fun that I scarcely noticed how long we were in our seats. I thought Keira Knightley and Johnny Depp continued to do well in their respective roles as Elizabeth Swann and Captain Jack Sparrow. I was happy to see Geoffrey Rush return as Captain Barbossa, as I thought he was one of the very best parts of POTC 1. I really enjoyed Chow Yun-Fat as Captain Sao Feng.
I didn’t particularly care for the “multiple Jack Sparrows” that materialized at various times in the movie; first seen when he was in Davy Jones’ Locker. I understand that it was meant to represent Jack going crazy (and possibly explain his odd behavior through the three movies), but I thought it diminished the character. Jack was much more interesting in the first movie, where he was still so self-possessed that it left the viewer to wonder whether his eccentric behavior was just an act. I didn’t dislike his character in POTC 3, but the revealed craziness weakened him somehow. Maybe it was just me.
I thought the storyline was good and well told. I found it interesting that POTC 1 was set in the “real world” of the Caribbean, and had a “fantasy” storyline with cursed pirate skeletons. But, by the time we got to POTC 3, the “fantasy” part of the story had become the foundation, and the “real world” parts seemed out of place. The first one reminded me of the Indiana Jones movies, where there was an element of the supernatural to the stories, but Indy was always grounded and maintained his skepticism. The last two movies were simply fantasy stories, which was fine, but a different type of story from the first one.
Another aspect of the “fantasy” becoming the foundation of the story was presenting the pirates as the “good guys.” In the first movie, the pirates were thieves and criminals, and the main protagonist banded with them because he thought it was the only way he could save the girl he loved. The second movie let the pirates be more sympathetic characters, but still tried to maintain that they were fundamentally bad. However, by the third movie the pirates became a sub-culture fighting against an oppressor for their very existence. The oppressor was represented by a reprehensible character (Lord Cutler Beckett), which happened to be the de facto leader of the soldiers and citizens. The good guys of POTC 1, in other words. I do think they did a good job with the switch, with one side going from bad to good and the other from good to bad. It made sense in the story, and I can’t think of another trilogy or series of movies where the entire story makes that sort of a slow transformation. Characters do it (Han Solo from the Star Wars series, for example), but to have the entire story do it struck me as unusual. [Note: The entire transformation seems to be symbolized by the two, goofy arguing soldiers who try to stop Jack Sparrow from stealing a ship in the first movie. By the end of the final chapter they are wearing pirate clothes and have become “good guys” again.]
The character of Governor Swann was completely underused in POTC 3, and that may have been because a foray back into the “real world” political struggle of Port Royal would have seemed out of place. As it was, the only real thing his character accomplished was dying, because it allowed Elizabeth the freedom to pick piracy as her profession and Will Turner as her first mate. Her father was no longer there to object to her life choices. But she didn’t seem too concerned about his disapproval while he was still alive, so he was basically unimportant to the story. I suppose it also gave Elizabeth incentive to hate Beckett and his cabal, but that too was probably unnecessary.
I did not care for the scene where Lord Cutler Beckett became incapacitated when the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman conspired against his flagship. It seemed very out of character that someone as cool and calm as Beckett would turn into a catatonic mess just because something didn’t go his way. He still commanded a superior ship in terms of firepower, as well as the larger fleet. I had no problem with his character finally getting the long-deserved comeuppance, but I thought the resolution to the big battle at the end was pretty weak.
I did like the twist at the end, though, where Bootstrap Bill had to make Will the captain of the Flying Dutchman in order to save him. It was bittersweet (heavy on the bitter) considering he had only been married to Elizabeth for a few short minutes. But at least he was still around. Speaking of that, I cringed a bit as soon as they started the wedding ceremony during the fight scene, but the scene ended up better than I feared. It was still pretty cheesy, but tolerably so. I also happen to like cheese.
Finally, those who stayed to see the final clip at the end of the credits were treated to a nice scene set ten years after the conclusion of the movie. It started with Elizabeth leading a nine-year-and-three-month old boy down to a lookout point so he could see his undead father sailing in for the One Day in Ten Years. We saw eager Will hanging onto the rigging as the Flying Dutchman approached some foreboding cliffs; which I hope he didn’t have to scale in order to reach his beloved family (not that he couldn’t, but it would burn precious time). Will is noticeably free of the squid face thing that plagued Davy Jones, which caused most of the women in the audience to audibly sigh with relief.
However, as pleasant as this scene was, it raised more than a few questions. First, the storyline allows for Will to look just as chiseled as the day he took over the Dutchman, but does the same apply for Elizabeth? A single mom on a wild coastline in the late 1600s would be lucky just to make it to her 30s. Being a bit of a sap, I prefer to think that because they were actually married, she became the Calypso to his Davy Jones. The supernatural powers at work allowed her to be in a state of perpetual youth and beauty as well. Even so, that is just a guess on my part, so it’s more like the director is asking us to exercise our credulity, just a bit.
Second, is the kid supposed to be nine years and three months old, or nine years, two months, and three weeks old? Because frankly, he looks a lot more like Commodore/Pirate/Admiral Norrington than Captain Turner. Was that just a poor choice made in casting, or is there more to the story? What really happened during Elizabeth’s time in the brig of the Flying Dutchman? Does that explain why Norrington was so eager to leave his commission, jump ship, and follow Elizabeth back to Sao Feng’s pirate ship? Did Bootstrap Bill see something going on between the Admiral and his son’s sweetheart, and that’s why he decided to take big, virile Norry out? (Sure, he was doing the “crazy ranting and raving thing,” but that is pretty good as cover stories go.) The second movie established that Elizabeth is as amoral as any of the pirates (more so than some), so did she swing some sort of deal in order to assure her crew’s safe release?
The more I think about this, the more evidence I can find (or manufacture, as the case may be). If Norrington was primarily concerned for Elizabeth’s safety, he would have transferred her to Beckett’s ship at the first opportunity. Beckett was not the nicest person around, but he wasn’t the sort to mistreat a lady, and she would have been held in more genteel surroundings. Instead he turned the pirates loose and let them crawl back across the hawsers, which only makes sense if he was staying onboard his own ship to keep his crew from pursuing them. This is especially true because it was already established that the Dutchman could run down any ship in the Caribbean (except for the Black Pearl, which was elsewhere at the time).
I wonder if Elizabeth agreed to be taken to Norrington’s quarters (which he offered), struck a shady deal and paid her price, then pretended to be surprised when Norry showed up to let her crew go. That sort of thing wasn’t even unfamiliar to her: she had already agreed to be Sao Feng’s “prize” for letting Will and Jack go. In terms of the storyline, it may have even been the same day. Norrington also said something like “I’m choosing a side” when he let them out. Why would he choose the company of thieves, murderers and criminals, particularly when he was about to win? The only reason for him to switch sides was for Elizabeth, and she had just given him a reason.
Elizabeth would have been figuring out how she was going to explain the situation to Will, but Bootstrap Bill stepped in and defended his son’s honor; a favor that quietly relieved Elizabeth. It is notable that all three men she kissed in the movies died at one point or another: Jack at the end of the second, Norrington, and Will at the end of the third. The total is four, actually, if you count her father. Sao Feng died for just thinking about kissing her. Elizabeth Swann-Turner was not a woman to be trifled with.
Unfortunately, the final scene of the movie ended too early. It would have been interesting to see the moment when Will meets his almost-ten-year-old “son” for the first time, and struggles to find any resemblance to himself. That’s just one theory, though. Maybe it was just a poor casting decision.
The final thing is one of Amy’s movie pet peeves. She describes it as “convenient ovulation,” and it occurs frequently. It’s pretty self-explanatory: the two star-crossed lovers only have one, single romantic interlude before a long separation, but that is sufficient for a child to be waiting to greet the father upon his return. It was also used effectively in “The Count of Monte Cristo,” as another example. This applies to POTC 3 unless you accept my Norrington theory listed above, which would be more akin to something like “ironic ovulation.” Elizabeth either has tremendous luck or terrible luck, depending on whether you like to invent unintended storylines, like I do.
***THAT’S ABOUT IT FOR SPOILERS***
I would give “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” a score of 8 out of 10. I enjoyed the story, and my score is probably a bit inflated because I am such a Disneyphile.