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Third Pirates voyage a confusing, fun ride

by Glen Baity

It wasn’t many summers ago that audiences were thought downright hostile to pirate movies. Unless you were stuck in the brig these last few years, you know what happened to change all that: An animatronic boat ride dating back to the 1960s was, for some reason, given a modern makeover and a Kraken-sized budget and now, somehow, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day.

It’s a long trip from a Disney theme park to the end of the world. You’d do well to bring a map.

You’ll need one to follow the course of Captain Jack Sparrow’s third voyage, which rushes through double cross after double cross with only cursory nods at explanation. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End opens with a mass hanging of suspected pirate sympathizers by the draconian East India Company and ends with a massive, spectacular sea battle off the shores of the ominously-named Shipwreck Island.

What happens in the intervening 150 minutes is anybody’s guess (the film, for God knows what reason, runs nearly three hours). Alliances are made and broken in a blink, the characters’ ulterior motives have ulterior motives, and World’s End jumps from point to point like a dinghy in a typhoon.

It’s an incredibly convoluted movie, but just to give you an idea, here’s a sampling of its core conflicts: Captain Jack (Johnny Depp), stuck in Davy Jones’ Locker after Dead Man’s Chest, needs to get back among the living, reclaim the Black Pearl and get free of the sizeable army that wants him dead. His sometime cohort Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) needs the pearl to free his dead father from the shackles of Jones’ ghost ship, The Flying Dutchman, while somehow winning the heart of his beloved Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly). Unfortunately, she is at the moment preoccupied with seeking vengeance on the evil Lord Beckett for her father’s murder. The young lovers are also angry at each other for some reason, but that’s a holdover from the last film and I honestly don’t remember it, as Dead Man’s Chest was only slightly less complex.

Want more? Oh, there’s more.

Beckett, who holds possession of Davy Jones’ disembodied heart, and consequently the man himself, wants to use his slave’s power to rid the sea of pirates and claim it for the East India Company. One of his men, Norrigton (Jack Davenport), is Elizabeth’s former fiance, who still harbors affection for her, though circumstance finds them on opposing sides of history. Meanwhile, Jones (Bill Nighy) wants to reclaim his heart from its captor and return to his miserable existence ferrying damned souls off this mortal coil. And Jack, preoccupied with Jones’ immortality, wouldn’t mind taking his place. Then there’s Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who, incidentally, also believes the Black Pearl is rightfully his.

And that, more or less, is where the movie starts. I was lost soon after. Believe it or not, there’s even more raw conflict – an imprisoned goddess, a worldwide pirate congress, a few stray pieces of eight – but I think that’s enough for our purposes.

Once each of those narrative threads sets in motion, keeping track can be maddening. Take my word for it: The best thing you can do is not try, and it’s still quite possible to have a good time at World’s End. That’s because when the movie isn’t tied up in its ridiculous plot and pirate parliamentary procedure (seriously), it’s nothing but well-staged, edge-of-your-seat action and solid comedy. Though there’s often too long a stretch between the swash and the buckle, when the good times arrive, they do so in style, culminating in a grand, exciting finale that’s well worth the wait.

Maybe it’s just my imagination, but the digital effects I found lacking in the first two Pirates films look great this time around. The Flying Dutchman in particular is a marvel to behold, all barnacles and jagged edges, and the CGI work, for the most part, blends in with the material world seamlessly.

Call me old-fashioned, but that’s less impressive than the film’s more tangible elements. The costuming, makeup work and set design, as in the first two films, remain fantastic. All the Pirates films are unmatched in their ability to transport the viewer, and the atmosphere of the third film is among its strongest attributes.

That goes triple for Johnny Depp, whose affection for Jack Sparrow is widely publicized and readily apparent in the final product. Some of his best moments in the franchise come in World’s End, though his shared screen time with Keith Richards is something of a non-event.

After the first film’s major coup at the box office, the escapist whimsy of The Black Pearl was shelved for its two sequels, both of which are probably darker than they should’ve been (for a kids’ movie, this last entry in particular can be incredibly gloomy, the violence a little too real for comfort). But World’s End, in its best moments, manages to bottle some of that old magic, even if there are several large cracks in the hull. On the whole, Cap’n Jack, it’s been a good ride.

Shiver Glen Baity’s timbers when you send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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