There’s good and bad news about ‘‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.” The good is that great title aside, it’s easily a more entertaining, enjoyable escapade than last year’s convoluted and slapstick-esque ‘‘Dead Man’s Chest.” [2012 Flash Forward: Oh yo ho ho, how I hated that movie, but the film made $423 million nationally to place #8 on the all-time highest grossing list in the U.S. without the benefit of 3D seriously jacking up ticket prices, so somebody must have liked it. If nothing else it proved Depp was a serious box office draw after "Curse of the Black Pearl."]
The last 45-minutes with a truly imaginative climatic battle are worth the price of admission. The bad is that the film still has that feeling of the writers tossing in idea after idea with seemingly little concern if it really adds to the story.
With its nearly three-hour running time you won’t feel like you’ve been swindled out of your money, but cutting an hour or so out would have made for a tighter movie without so many dull, repetitive scenes.
‘‘Worlds” picks off right after the conclusion of ‘‘Chest.” Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is presumed dead, stranded in Davy Jones’ locker. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is trying to free his father from Jones’ service while Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley) seems torn between Will and Jack, who she left for dead.
With all paths leading to rescuing Jack, Will and Elizabeth turn to the only man who can aid them — Sparrow’s old enemy Capt. Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush.) [2012 Flash Forward: See also: The second best character in the Pirates universe.]
Director Gore Verbinski kicks the action off in a fun sequence where Barbosa, Elizabeth and Will travel to Singapore hoping to enlist the assistance of Capt. Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat, ‘‘Bulletproof Monk”) and run afoul of some British troops seeking to put an end to piracy once and for all. The swordplay and hi-jinks are so energetic and fun-spirited in just this opening segment that it seems to signal a return to form of the original.
Oddly enough, the film loses its sea legs when Sparrow finally appears on screen stuck in the middle of a desert with no sign of the sea monster that terrorized ‘‘Chest.” The spark that drove the original, Depp’s Sparrow seemed to be stuck in a creative treadmill, rehashing the zany behavior that worked so well in ‘‘Pearl.”
It’s more of an indictment on writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio than Depp, who is as game as ever, even when working with silly material (a ship with a crew of nothing more than a bunch of Jack Sparrows.)
Wacky scenarios aside, Depp is still the most engaging actor in the series, as his co-leads Bloom and Knightley frequently mistake staring intently while speaking through clenched teeth as conveying a wide range of emotions. Thankfully Rush, who seems to relish playing a pirate with an easily conveyed enthusiasm, has more than a cameo so Depp isn’t the only actor with some genuine charisma.
After rescuing Jack, the gang meets up with the rest of the pirate leaders to devise a plan to stop Jones (Bill Nighy), who has aligned himself with the Brits. [2012 Flash Forward: Jones' goofy costume was also pretty off-putting. How seriously can you take a squid?]
With loyalties and motives changing seemingly every 10 minutes, it’s hard to keep track of who wants what or why they want it even if you’re paying close attention. I got confused as to whether Will was on the ‘‘good guy side” or if he had aligned himself with the Brits for awhile.
However murkily the scene is set for the big climax, it’s definitely worth the long, often boring voyage to get there as it features the perfect blend of all-out action⁄comedy that is the franchise at its swashbuckling best ending with a battle amidst a rain-drenched whirlpool, the ideal setting for a pirate movie. The film ends in a nice open-ended manner in which it could serve as a nice conclusion to the series or kick off the next adventure.
[2012 Flash Forward: Saying this is better than "Dead Man's Chest" is a backhanded compliment like saying 'sure you've only got 10 months to live, but it's better than 1 month.' It's a far better film and while it fails in matching the unpredictable excitement of the original, this is more of what I'd want in Pirates sequels. Just a little less of it.]
2012 Flash Forward rating: 5 out of 10