Spoiler Warning: With the immense popularity of this film, I have decided to discuss some specific plot points in this review instead of avoiding the revealing of information that most people would prefer to discover within the film itself. It is highly recommended that anyone who wants to see the film hold off on reading this review until afterwards.
Pretty much like the other two films in the series, I thought “At Worlds End” was kind of overblown and out-of-control, but also very entertaining. I suppose I probably could best be classified as a “casual” fan of this series (I’ve only seen each of the films once), but I can certainly understand their immense popularity and I certainly can honestly say that I found all three to be wildly enjoyable escapism.
One of the first things that struck me about “At Worlds End” was that I basically agreed with the early reports that I saw that the film was too long, but not for reasons that I would generally expect to object to the length of a film. I definitely was never bored by the film and didn’t find very much of the film to be slow or drawn out. The film maintains a fast enough pace and such a high level of excitement that it really doesn’t feel like a nearly 3-hour film.
The reason why I still say that the film is overlong, is that I felt that the storytelling could have definitely used some tightening. The movie does have a bit of a tendency to repeat itself at times (key example: Jack talking with his dopplegangers was amusing once, but shouldn’t have been repeated later in the film) while, at other times, going off on occasional non-productive tangents that had a tendency to obscure the storyline. I even thought that there was one entire subplot (Calypso) that should have been excised from the film entirely as it never really resulted in much of a pay off.
I’ve also seen a lot of commentary about the complexity of the film, but this was something I actually kind of appreciated. All too often, mainstream blockbusters tend to have overly simplistic stories and I admit I find it kind of refreshing that this series really does ask you to pay attention. Much of the complexity comes from a rather large cast of characters, all of whom tend to be pursuing their own agendas and interests at any given time. That strikes me as highly appropriate for a film that is centered around the idea that all the major characters are pirates of one form or another. One of my favorite scenes in the film was the Pirates Council sequence, where we learn that they had never been able to elect a pirate king simply because it always ended up being a 9-way tie with everyone voting for himself or herself. This struck me as being exactly how pirates (at least as they appear in our mythology) really should be.
Related to this, I also liked it that several of the key characters, including Will and Jack, were willing to ally themselves with the film’s primary villain when it seemed to best serve his purpose. Over the course of the film, just about every character betrays just about every other character at some point and, again, that felt absolutely right for a film about pirates. Even the romantic leads betray one another when it best served his/her own agenda and, within the world of piracy, that really wasn’t even that much of an impediment to their relationship.
One of the biggest strengths of these films continues to be an unusually strong cast. Of course, Johnny Depp gets the bulk of the attention for what is, unquestionably, one of the most truly original film characters to appear in a while. With this film, though, I have to say that I think his quirks are starting to wear a bit thin. He does still have some very funny moments in this film and Depp tends to be especially winning when showing the character’s heroic side, but I thought it was overall a good thing that the character has a bit less screen time than in the previous films and I’m not convinced that his part shouldn’t have been trimmed even a bit more.
Seeing this film did help me realize that the one element that was most missed in the first sequel was Geoffrey Rush’s consistently entertaining portrayal of Captain Barbosa. While Depp pretty much throws away all conventions to create a unique character, Rush largely takes the opposite approach and absolutely relishes in playing to all the stereotypes of what a pirate captain should be. Even more so than in the first film, Rush has pretty much become the captain from the sea battle sequence on the attraction, all the way down to rather frequent use of direct dialog from the ride.
I thought that the characters of Will and Elizabeth were put to much better use in this film than in the first sequel. Both have significant character growth this time as well as their share of really good scenes. Keira Knightley especially comes into her own in this film, giving her best performance yet in the series (although her striking resemblance to Natalie Portman is still a bit of a distraction, especially in one scene where she is dressed up in an Asian royal gown that really brought to mind the outfits she wore as Portman’s double in “The Phantom Menace”.) Orlando Bloom is still fine as Turner, although he continues to be a rather bland actor overall. I still am not sure that he has enough charisma to have much of a career as a romantic lead.
I was really very surprised by the resolution of Will and Elizabeth’s relationship at the end of the film, but I also found it to be rather bold and ultimately quite satisfying. Will really did seem to be the best choice to take over as captain of the Flying Dutchman and I thought it was very refreshing that they didn’t try to cop out with finding some easy resolution to the conflicts between his duty to save his father and the desire to stay with Elizabeth. As a committed credits watcher, I always tend to enjoy the inclusion of extras at the end of them, but I do feel it was something of a mistake to make the “10 years later” flash-forward a post-credits sequence in this one. I think that the information that Elizabeth not only remained true to Will but also bore his child is really pretty essential and should have ended the main part of the film. It is a shame that an awfully large percentage of the audience is going to end up not seeing such a key scene.
From a technical standpoint, this film continues the series overall excellence. The special effects and stunt-work are complex and pretty consistently convincing. Musically, I think this film has the strongest score of the series, although there are still a few points where the music sounds much too contemporary for the setting. I definitely think that composer Hans Zimmer should have avoided, or at least much more greatly minimized, the use of electronic instrumentation. Zimmer also composed a song that is used very effectively both as a plot point and as a key theme within the score itself.
It is definitely worth noting once again that this is a pretty violent and at times dark film that does earn the PG-13 rating. The opening sequence of the film where numerous pirates, including a child, are hanged without trial, sets a somewhat dark tone and probably almost earned the PG-13 by itself. I do think it has been a rather bold re-positioning of the brand to release this series under the Walt Disney Pictures label, but I’m still not sure it is all that inappropriate. The violence is generally not graphic and, in many ways, is reminiscent of the Indiana Jones films, which were very popular with late preteens and early-teens of my own generation. As I said at the beginning of this review, I probably classify as a “casual” fan of these films, but I suspect they would have been among my absolute favorites had they come out when I was in that age group.
While “At World’s End” is certainly a somewhat flawed film (as were its predecessors), I do think it was finally a very entertaining and satisfying conclusion to a fun trilogy of films.