Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow
Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa
Orlando Bloom as Will Turner
Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann
Tom Hollander as Lord Cutler Beckett
Bill Nighy as Davy Jones
Chow Yun-Fat as Captain Sao Feng
Naomie Harris as Tia Dalma
Jack Davenport as Captain Norrington
Keith Richards as Captain Teague
Jonathan Pryce as Governor Weatherby Swann
Lee Arenberg as Pintel
Mackenzie Crook as Ragetti
Kevin McNally as Gibbs
David Bailie as Cotton
Stellan Skarsgård as 'Bootstrap' Bill Turner
Martin Klebba as Marty
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Despite a rather dull and uninspired opening, the last hour of action and resolution makes for a suitably satisfying ending, at least to this chapter of the "Pirates" saga.
The last time we left the crew of the Black Pearl, they had just lost their captain and their ship, so now Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley) with the help of Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) must travel to World's End to find Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Meanwhile, the ruthless Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) and the East India Trading Company have teamed with Captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) to bring an end to piracy in the Caribbean, so the various pirate factions are forced to unite in order to maintain their way of life.
It takes almost an hour and forty-five minutes for something really cool to happen in the third installment of Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski's high seas pirate epic, and that's when Keith Richards shows up as Captain Teague, keeper of the Pirate Code. It's not wholly unexpected or much of a surprise and sadly, it's over and done with far too quickly, but it's the first time in "At World's End" where the genius we've seen displayed previously rear its head, giving us hope that things will get better from there. Thankfully, they do, or else this would have been the dullest and least inspired of the three movies.
Up till that point, "At World's End" is a fairly dark and grim affair, opening with the residents of Tortuga lining up to be systematically hung by Tom Hollander's Lord Beckett. As a young child starts singing a pirate tune before his execution, you might start bracing yourself for "Pirates: The Musical" especially when it cuts to Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) continuing the tune while paddling a boat through the fabled Singapore. She has arrived there with Captain Barbossa and his crew to negotiate with Chow Yun-Fat's Sao Feng for his help in finding Jack Sparrow. They're given a puzzle map and set off on their quest to World's End, traveling through icy waters and over a giant waterfall.
Essentially, that's the first half hour of the movie without a single sign of Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, but when he finally turns up, he's trapped in Davy Jones' Locker and is quite insane. Trying to make up for lost time with a bit of Jack Sparrow overkill might cause some concern, since it's one of the oddest scenes since Keanu's subway scene in "The Matrix Revolutions," but it does set things back on track as Jack is reunited with the gang in short order. Unfortunately, things start to get problematic as the next half hour is used to pile numerous subplots on top of each other, creating another confusing mess of a story involving the 9 pirate Captains converging on Shipwreck Cove to unleash a goddess known as Calypso to help fend off Becket's fleet.
It would be fairly straightforward if not for a number of duplicitous dealings that seem to contradict each other followed by an hour filled with way too much dialogue and exposition that set up new developments rather than resolving existing storylines. A lot of the movie focuses on the relationship between Will and Elizabeth, which has hit some roadbumps due to his jealousy over her reasons for wanting to rescue Jack, and there's far more melodramatic overacting than the previous movies. Thannkfully, Knightley has toned things down a bit since the last movie, and Elizabeth gets a number of interesting developments that take her further away from being merely a damsel in distress.
You know that a movie has pacing problems when you're checking your watch after just 45 minutes with 2 hours to go, but that's because the movie goes for a long time without an impressive sword fight or anything as massive as the Kraken from the previous movies. The first major action sequence, the explosive Singapore escape, just isn't up to par with the last movie, and until Richards shows up, it's mostly more of the same, often relying on the same crowd-pleasing jokes and gags from the first two movies to liven things up, including the monkey, the parrot and MacKenzie Crook and his wooden eye. Even the squabbling guards from early in the first movie make a return for some reason.
Though Depp is once again in fine form as Jack Sparrow, rambling through his lines and hamming it up with a couple fun twists, the schtick isn't nearly as consistently funny the third time around. What does elevate things above the sequel is the welcome return of Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbossa, wisely brought over to the side of the good guys. When Rush and Depp are on screen together, squabbling over which one is captain of the Black Pearl, it reminds you why the first movie was so great. Some of the things from the second movie that didn't work are also brought back, like Naomie Harris' annoyingly heavy Jamaican accent as the witch Tia Dalma. Her character arc ties into that of Davy Jones, who's played up more as a sympathetic villain this time, as Tom Hollander's Beckett is now firmly established as the main bad guy this time. Chow Yun-Fat's Sae Feng, one of the few new characters, is wasted as he shows up in the Singapore sequence ranting in broken English, turns up later to add to the subplots, but adds very little to the story.
Fortunately, once the pirates are united at something called the Brethren Court, things build to a massive sea battle between the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman in the eye of The Maelstrom (a giant whirlpool created by the revived Calypso) with the British fleet waiting to take on the victor. The last 45 minutes of the movie is incredible in a similar way to the first movie with an amazing effects-laden action spectacle, and then everything's neatly wrapped up in a bow with a resolution that's somewhat poigant, but ultimately satisfying in the way all the ideas are brought together in the end. "At World's End" doesn't necessarily have to be the end of the Pirates franchise, but it's certainly the end of the Elizabeth Swann-Will Turner story arc begun in the opening scene of "Curse of the Black Pearl."
The Bottom Line:
Although the third "Pirates" movie certainly takes its sweet time getting to the point where the audience is allowed the level of fun delivered by the first two movies, the spectacle in the last hour makes up for the previous tedium with a series of satisfying twists and resolutions. Verbinski takes full advantage of the adage "leave them wanting more," and wisely things are set-up so that they could continue by following Sparrow and Barbossa, who really are the best parts of the franchise.
(A couple final notes: If you're wondering whether it's worth staying all the way to the end of the end credits, the answer is yes, since it offers an important resolution to the story. Also, much of the movie is far more dark and violent than the previous films, so parents of younger kids might want to be wary of giving them nightmares.)