by HELEN GEIB
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is a rousing Hollywood entertainment. It’s by no means the equal of the first Pirates. It suffers from blockbusteritis: it’s overstuffed and overlong and built too much on spectacle for its own sake. But what spectacle it is! At World’s End is a triumph of visual imagination and technical achievement, and an enjoyable reunion with Captain Jack Sparrow and all the crew we fell in love with in the first film.
At World’s End picks up immediately from the end of the second film. I strongly recommend spending a few minutes reminding yourself what happened in the last installment before you see this one. If you go in as I did having not given it a thought for the last year, then like me, you’ll have more than a few “oh, yeah, that’s where we left him/her/it/them” moments as characters come onstage.
To anyone reading this who did not see the second Pirates at all and is thinking of seeing this one, I say: don’t. The last film was nothing but set-up for the events in At World’s End, and believe me, there was a lot set up. At World’s End is packed to the brim with story and makes no concessions to audiences who missed the first act.
At World’s End assembles practically every character of any significance from the first two films and throws in some new characters for good measure. I was dubious about this strategy at first, but it proved a sound one.* The character overload kept me so busy saying hello to old friends and reminiscing about old times that it proved a successful distraction from the nearly total absence of meaningful character development this time out.
This movie has no time for character development. Hard to believe for a film that verges on three hours long, but true. It occasionally dances around the edges of character development, but always pulls back to concentrate on plot and spectacle and more plot and spectacle and yet more plot and spectacle. My very real enjoyment of At World’s End is in great measure a tribute to the first Pirates. I have so much affection for these characters that I’m happy to see them even when they don’t have very much to do.
Where At World’s End succeeds without qualification is in its breathtaking art direction, costuming, set design and visual effects. Much more so than the first film, this installment resembles an amusement park ride as it moves through a sequence of fantastical set-pieces, each more stunning than the last. The film includes an almost dizzying array of creatures, ships, pirates’ lairs and otherworldly seas. At World’s End could have been made nowhere but Hollywood, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. Visual design and realization are in every aspect of extraordinarily high caliber and a very great pleasure in themselves.
I found it all quite exhilarating for most of the running time, but by the end I was starting to suffer from stimulation overload. More isn’t always better and in the case of summer blockbusters, more is almost always too much. I won’t see At World’s End a second time, but I liked it. I’m still enamored of these characters and their world and if there’s another entry in the franchise about any of the principals, you can bet I’ll buy a ticket.
*(spoiler alert) The appalling mistreatment of the character of Commodore Norrington is a glaring exception. The abandonment of the original characterization for plot expediency is the film’s one real failure of imagination.