The enormous undertaking to imagine this Disney theme park ride is entertaining, if in an overwrought, thrilling way.
More than a motion picture, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End takes over where last year's sequel juggernaut Dead Man's Chest left off.
The very dense plot figures that the Age of Piracy is coming to a close as Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) looks to command the high seas with James Norrington (Jack Davenport) and the heart of Davy Jones (a tentacled Bill Nighy).
Mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer knows where his bread and butter for the business of big money lies in this unbelievably successful enterprise, Capt. Jack Sparrow, as played by the unflappable Johnny Depp, left for dead at the end of Dead Man's Chest
As At World's End really begins, our heroes, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), and the resuscitated Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) reach Singapore. It's a mission imperative for the pirates, as significance is made towards silver pieces, and a gathering of nine lords of the brethren court. Their plan initially has them confronting a savvy, scarred Chinese pirate, Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat).
Importance is made to getting the fey, dreadlocked Capt. Jack from the netherworld, or Davy Jones's locker, as Depp has fun playing off of the characters' "clones", even one who has lost his brain.
Betrayals, conspiracies, and treachery are the orders of the script and lively director Gore Verbinski, as a supernatural showdown finally occurs on a massively scaled maelstrom sequence.
One may wonder whether coherence of this story is the point, given that the shoot was reportedly begun before the final script was approved. That being said, the loquacious, knotted, multiple-crossing nature of it all is whipped up with strong accents and Hans Zimmer's cacophonous score which palpates the all the humor, romance, and drama to come.
Given the harsh setting of those associated with pirates being led to the gallows, Verbinski does his best to keep the mood amiable for audiences. Luckily, it's not too long before Depp first appears, and his campness and arrogance as Capt. Jack is intact, an eccentric clown of swashbuckling if there ever was one. But, even he, as all involved, are flummoxed by the way At World's End goes about getting its sea legs.
Knightley brings more feistiness and ferocity to Elizabeth, strong-willed in scenes especially opposite Bloom and her governor father (Jonathan Pryce). Hollander has his farewell moment in an overblown surreal way that counters the sinister duplicity and sneering with Will, Jack, and Davy Jones. Nighy is more visible in a scene with tempting enchantress Tia Dialma (Naomie Harris) who really becomes larger-than-life as the sea goddess "Calypso" emerges. Stellan Skarsgaard has his moments (often in much makeup) with Will before and after some of the huge action set pieces. And, one can't forget the cameo of legendary guitarist Keith Richards as the keeper of the pirate code who has a momento that Capt. Jack won't forget.
For those who need to see lots of action, there is more downtime than expected between the early Singapore Sling and the climax in torrential rain. One can easily praise Rick Heinrich's evocative production designs, including the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman and Darek Wolski's swooping, pristine lensing. There is a strange ambiance to it all that provides some closure and further meaning even after the closing credit scrolling. Maybe the compass the Verbinski and his writers were using was a bit off-center, especially when it comes to all those CGI crabs and many Jacks, but all involved will be yo-ho-ing their way to pirate lore in this salty, somewhat silly action adventure.