PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLDS END
The two previous Pirates of the Caribbean films sat equally between the amusing and the overblown and are enjoyable enough on their own terms. However, by the time of At World's End, that mix has toppled over. The Pirates of the Caribbean saga feels like a successful film having been extruded into an epic-sized franchise not because there was a story that needed telling but because shrewd commercial dictates decided there was a good audience for more. It is important that we should not forget that what we have here is not a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings saga but something that started out as an attempt to spin a film out of a Disney theme park ride. Ever since the success of Lord of the Rings, filmmakers have been trying to create multi-story epics rather than sequels and it is hard not to see that Pirates of the Caribbean has befallen an exaggerated sense of its own self-importance in trying to spin an epic saga out of the series. As The Wachowski Brothers discovered with The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003), sometimes the self-importance that gets conferred on these multi-part sagas ends up collapsing under the weight of audience expectations.
At World's End is the weakest of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. For all the filmmakers attempts to create an epic, screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio give the impression that they have created a work that is so sprawling that even they have lost touch with the story they were trying to tell. (In fact, the two sequels had started shooting back to back with no completed script and Elliott and Rossio were often writing scenes while on set). You could see this was a problem that was starting to take over Dead Man's Chest but you sat with the hope that At World's End would pull it all together satisfyingly. Alas, At World's End only intensifies the problem. Most of the time, At World's End feels that it consists of only a series of character allegiances that are constantly being shuffled around in relation to one another in lieu of any plot. Trying to follow what is going on at any one time is a distinct scratch of the head. By about the 90-minute mark (usually the length of any normal feature film), you are still wondering when the plot will kick in and if the film is actually going anywhere. Whenever the audience might notice there is a distinct lack of drama, the film throws in a big special effects sequence or ship battle. And then there are plot aspects that are downright bizarre like the revelation of the identity of the goddess Calypso. This promptly proves to be a plot element that goes nowhere after much of the film spent debating about doing so, Calypso is unleashed ... and then never heard from again.
At least, Dead Man's Chest had a sense of humour and some amusing set-pieces in between its sprawling plot the scenes involving the attempt to scale the cliff-face in the cage of bones, the runaway mill wheel sequence, Johnny Depp as a native kebab, the Kraken climax that were enough to keep interest going. At World's End lacks any of these memorable set-pieces and little of the sense of humour. For a time, the film is kept going by a range of eccentric images Johnny Depp crewing a ship filled with doubles of himself or having an argument with miniature versions of himself that are hanging from his dreadlocks; the Black Pearl being carried through the desert by an army of crabs and sailing down a sand dune; a journey through a sea filled with the dead in tiny dinghies; the attempt to tip the Black Pearl upside down as it sails towards the sunset but most of these peter out into a puzzled scratch of the head.
At World's End at least gets itself together for a rousing climax with the various parties fighting around two ships locked together as they head down into the maelstrom. Here At World's End finally starts to feel that it has come into its own. Alas the build-up to that point feels like a good deal of over-inflated (not to mention over-budgeted) self-importance that has been dragged out to nearly three hours running time. The numerous plot strands are eventually resolved, although hardly with any dramatic satisfaction. Naturally, the end of the film is left open on a cliffhanger that sets things up for a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film about the search for Ponce de Leons Fountain of Youth. After much wrangling, this came about with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011). There is also the further announced Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017).
(Nominee for Best Production Design at this sites Best of 2007 Awards).