Saturday, May 26, 2007

At the Movies: At World's End a fitting end

[NOTE: Will would like it made known that his reason for non-participation isn't because he doesn't love you. He wants to make babies with you. The real culprit is some strenuous schoolwork that will keep Will out of commission for the next several weeks, which saddens him to no end. Hopefully he will be back writing with me soon! Until then...enjoy The AJ Show!]

Back in summer 2003, I fell in love with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, certainly Disney's edgiest live action fare up to that time, and with plenty of heart, humor, laughs, action, and thrills. I like heart, humor, laughs, action, and thrills. Unfortunately, The Curse of the Black Pearl hasn't held up as well on repeat viewings; I saw it a couple times in '03, once in '04, and again just this week, and I've liked it less each time, though I still like it and find it very solid and enjoyable. Now, I know that a lot of folks had problems with the sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. My question to those people is: Did you watch the same fucking movie? Everything that rocked about the first was amplified and expanded, while proving insanely rewatchable (at least it did this week).

I'm not going to go on record saying that either one was a masterpiece (though with a little fine-tuning the second could've been), and thus I was able to approach Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, purportedly the franchise's final installment (though for the past few months there have already been rumblings of a continuation), without the insane sugar high expectations that allowed Spider-Man 3 to crush me as much as it did and with the knowledge that as long as it was fun, I'd have a good time. And I did.

Picking up directly from where the last left off, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is back after Jack killed him at the end of the first (death is meaningless in this series; more on that later), and under his captainship, the gang goes looking for the infamous Cap'n Jack (Johnny Depp) who was eaten at the end of the second by the ferocious Kraken when Elizabeth (Kiera Knightley) cuffed him to the Black Pearl as everyone else jumped ship. Later there's the exploration of the love "triangle" between Elizabeth, Jack, and Will (Orlando Bloom)--it's really a two-pronged love affair, but Dizzy Miss Lizzy has given Will reason to be suspicious of she and Jack--and a meeting of the pirate lords, including Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat).

The film opens beautifully with a disturbing sequence of pirates being hanged, and then our gang has some adventure down in Singapore when they go to confront Sao Feng, but after that, it flounders until Captain Jack Sparrow shows up about 30 minutes in. Unlike the first two, the movie gets to a point where it seems to become aimless, and wanders around for a while before busting out its internal compass to find its way back to the hearts of moviegoers. This isn't to say that it meanders its entire length, but that around the halfway mark it becomes so tangled and mired in the seaweed of its own complex storylines and mythologies that it stops having a point. There are a lot of exposition scenes that come across as very exposition-y; they're transparent talking points with no flash or zing to distract us from the fact that we're learning things it's essential we know. This is particularly apparent during scenes revolving around whether or not oracle Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) is Calypso, some sort of goddess. The audience is almost painfully aware it's being force-fed information to keep the plot going.

Fortunately, Jack's introduction scene in this film, an outrageously bizarre piece of surrealism that made me think I was watching something made by the opposite of Disney (actually, much of this film made me think the same thing), makes the movie fun and relevant again, but the lapses into aimlessness are periodic.

As I said before, I was a very big fan of the second film, which realized it was nothing but an absurdly over-the-top Hollywood action movie and it raised said blockbuster absurdity to something close to an artform, elaborate setpiece topped by elaborate setpiece in a stylishly deft juggling act by director Gore Verbinski. This isn't to say that all I want from this third entry is Action, Action, Action!--that couldn't be further from the truth--but some momentum is badly needed in places, and I kept wanting to feel that the movie was going somewhere I felt inclined to follow.

Also, through the film's many complicated plotlines--none of which I actually found confusing except for initially the concept of Davy Jones' Locker, which later grew on me--we discover that death is basically meaningless in this franchise, which is unfortunate considering Verbinski and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio want you to be afraid and excited for these characters. Every time someone dies, there seems to be an easily explainable reason for their subsequent resurrection, sometimes so easy it's hard for the viewer not to feel a little cheated. This is a huge detractor from its suspense and danger, though I must say there's a nifty little twist near the end.

Luckily, At World's End retains its urgent pace in the last half-hour, in a deliriously complicated action tour de force that contains everything much of the duller spots were missing: Those ol' heart, humor, laughs, action, and thrills I love so much.

If you're a Pirates fan like me, you're gonna dig this, though let it be known it is the series' weakest point. If you're not a fan, well, it's almost three hours long, the acting's not gotten any better (as always, with the exceptions of Depp and Bill Nighy as the marvelous Davy Jones), and it's occasionally a mite dull.

And, by the way? Stay after the credits. You'll be glad you did. B

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