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Friday, May 25, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (***)


May 25, 2007


Last year, I wrote of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: "Over the top, mateys. Over the top. I don't like seeing quite so many loud clanging things in my movies, not even my summer blockbusters. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was a model of restraint compared to this sequel."

But here now is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which makes in turn makes Dead Man's Chest seem like a model of restraint.   Every complaint about Dead Man's Chest applies even moreso here.  The words "too much" are not enough to describe the excess.  As for being over the top, At World's End is so far from the top that they've completely lost sight of the top. At best, the top is a speck of dirt somewhere far below. 

At World's End is three hours of non-stop action and total fucking absurdity where the characters spend the precious few moments in between swordfighting, leaping, swinging, falling and more swordfighting making bargains with each other and then betraying each other ten minutes later. The configurations of the allegiances in the movie shift and move constantly until your head spins from the whirlwind. And then there is an actual whirlwind, and then a whirlpool. And whatever else the movie decides to throw at you, which is everything they can think of and that's before the giant woman turns into a million crabs.

Sounds like I'm complaining, but this time, I'm actually not.  After Dead Man's Chest I abandoned all hope for this franchise to return to the relatively lean and mean storytelling of Curse of the Black Pearl.  In approaching At World's End, I decided to take the advice Eric Cartman gave to Butters about what to do when two girls start lezzing out: "Just go with it." It was the best advice I could have followed because, surprisingly, I had a really good time, which is I suppose my own kind of reversal and double cross.

It's next to impossible to summarize the plot of the movie without a treasure map but I will say that as it happened I followed all of it without much trouble. Promptly forgot it by the time I hit the rest room afterwards because my brain needed the space back to remember things like my full name, my shoe size, and the names of my friends and family. But I did understand the plot of the movie. I might even be able to pass a test on it as long as it's multiple choice and there are no essay questions.

Actually, a lot of it is coming back to me now:

I liked how the opening in Singapore where Elizabeth Swann and Captain Barbosa visiting Sao Feng echoed the Jabba the Hutt scenes in Return of the Jedi . I liked how Elizabeth was forcibly disarmed, the comedy of their pirate friends below looking up Elizabeth 's skirt and their launching swords through the floor into her and Barbosa's hands.

Naturally, every man in the movie desired Elizabeth. That comes from Princess Leia syndrome, being the only girl in the franchise.  Of course in Star Wars, the only guys who wanted Leia were Han Solo, her brother, and a disgusting giant slug on Tattooine. Between Will, Jack, Norrington, Beckett, and Sao Feng, Elizabeth Swann turned out to have far better choices.

Now that I'm deep in making Star Wars comparisons, one of the pleasures of the Pirates franchise is that they've taken the place of Star Wars as the new big fun adventure movies of the 21st century.  And Pirates lovingly apes the Star Wars archetypes.  We have Will (Luke) and Elizabeth (Leia), lovers instead of brother and sister, Jack (Han Solo) and Gibbs (Chewbacca), the fat pirate and the one eyed pirate are C-3PO and R2-D2, Davey Jones serves as a stand in as both Jabba the Hutt for Jack and Darth Vader for Will, Will is chasing after saving his father from damnation like Luke, Lord Beckett is the Emperor, the Pirates are the Rebel Alliance, the East India Trading Company the Empire, and Barbosa is a form of Lando for Jack with the Black Pearl as the Millennium Falcon, the vessel our heroes use to take us to far-flung, exotic places where they get into endless fine messes that's just one damn thing after another.

I liked how the East India Trading Company gained control over Davey Jones thanks to Lord Beckett coming into possession of Jones's heart at the end of the last movie.  I liked how Beckett used the Flying Dutchman as a weapon to exterminate the pirates.

I liked the waterfall in the middle of nowhere that lead Barbosa, Elizabeth, Will, and company to Davey Jones' Locker. I liked Jack's line to Tia Dalma: "You add an agreeable bit of macabre to any delirium."

I liked the back story between Davey Jones and Tia Dalma.  I figured out right away that she was really Calypso by the Law of Economy of Characters (only two women in the movie and Calypso wasn't Elizabeth.)  I liked how Davey Jones's betrayal of Calypso echoed Elizabeth's betrayal of Jack in Dead Man's Chest.

I liked the Mexican stand off between Jack, Will, Barbosa, and Elizabeth, and how alliances were hastily forged purely out of immediate convenience. And I liked the double crosses and betrayals.  Which ones?  Take your pick.  There's like a dozen.

I liked the sea of dead souls abandoned by Davey Jones and Elizabeth meeting her father there.

I liked rocking the Black Pearl upside down so that sunset became sunrise.

I was sad to see the Kraken was dead on a beach, but then the Kraken already had its movie.

I liked Sao Feng making Elizabeth Swann captain and how she chose to remain with her Singapore pirates instead of leaving with Admiral Norrington.  That's every Asian man's fantasy right there.

I liked the visual of Shipwreck Cove (and the dialogue about how uncreative pirates are at naming things.)   I also dug the reveal of the Pirate Lords' Nine Pieces of Eight, the joke about how it sounds cooler than "the nine pieces of whatever they happened to have lying around," and how Barbosa's Piece of Eight was the one-eyed pirate's wooden eye. Little details like how the one-eyed pirate spent three movies trying to keep that eye safe paid off with a cool reveal.

It was cool that Calypso showed us Davey Jones' human form and I'm glad that Bill Nighy got to have his real face on screen if even for a few moments so the audience got to see the man beneath all of the CGI tentacles.

I liked the vote for the Pirate King and Jack's surprise vote:  "Elizabeth Swann. Curious, isn't it?"   Also Jack's line when his father Keith Richards showed him his mom:  "She looks great." I think for all of the hype and anticipation of his appearance, Keith Richards was just kind of there. He blended in with the scenery but didn't really have as much impact as expected.

I liked the parley and negotiation (and side switching and betrayal) on the wisp of sand island in between the pirate fleet and the East Indian Trading Company fleet.  The Pirates franchise has always been fantastic at finding white sand island locations surrounded by crystal blue waters that are dazzling to the eye.

I liked the ridiculous proposal and marriage of Will and Elizabeth in the middle of the ridiculous battle with fish monsters and British Navy troops in the middle of a maelstrom. I like that Will became the one who stabbed Davey Jones' heart and replaced him as Captain of the Flying Dutchman (I had figured Barbosa would get that job).

I liked the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman teaming up to destroy the East India Trading Company flagship. I also liked how the other 8 ships in the pirate fleet stayed out of the fight altogether and just cheered when it was over.

I liked that Will and Elizabeth finally got their wedding night (because if she had to wait ten years for Will to return, she'd have been forced to end up as a 30 year old virgin). The bonus scene after the credits was a nice capper, showing Will returning "ten years later" to an Elizabeth who hadn't aged a day and their ten year old son. Good to see those two crazy kids got their happily ever after.

And I liked the set up for the fourth Pirates movie and the Fountain of Youth. Wait, did I like that? I thought this was the last one. Aw, who cares. I'll show up if they make one.  By if I mean when.