PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END directed by Gore Verbinski, written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, with Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. A Disney release. 167 minutes. Opens Friday (May 25). Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Before the screening for Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End , the nice publicists from Disney asked critics to refrain from publishing spoilers. No worries. It would take the sharpest sword in the armoury to cut through this sailor's knot of a plot; I couldn't explain it if I wanted to.
When we left our intrepid crew, Elizabeth Swann ( Keira Knightley ) had just consigned Captain Jack Sparrow ( Johnny Depp ) to Davy Jones's locker. Racked by guilt, she and her estranged love, Will Turner ( Orlando Bloom ), set out to bring Jack back from the dead with the aid of one who's already made the journey: the resuscitated Captain Barbossa ( Geoffrey Rush ). Standing in their way: Davy Jones himself ( Bill Nighy ) and the power of the East India Trading Company, personified by Lord Beckett ( Tom Hollander ).
By the end of the second film, it was obvious that the battle royale of the third would be between the pirates and Beckett: between unfettered, take-what-you-can mercantilism and regulated capitalism. The irony of a film backed by Disney -- one of the most recognizable and tightly controlled brands in the world -- coming down in favour of piracy is enough to sink a ship.
So they've stuck in lots of distractions: finny monsters, sea goddesses, pirate conventions and Keith Richards , to name just a few. It's a rolling tempest of a story, in which loyalties shift like sand bars and the idea of honour among thieves gets torn up and pieced back together more times than you can count.
Critics panned the second film because it lacked the beautiful simplicity of the first. There seems no point in bewailing the fact that the third is even more confusing and grandiose, or that the intricate loveliness of one-on-one sword fighting has been permanently traded for ear-splitting, eye-popping battles at sea. The only bigger fight is for the prettiest cheekbones: Knightley's, Depp's or Bloom's.
Rush's presence was sorely missed last time around, and his return gives the film some ballast: Depp doesn't have to carry it on his own. The two are obviously having a blast, and their fun is infectious; while they're on the screen, the movie pops.
But I wish the first Pirates had been allowed to stand on its own as the best popcorn flick in recent memory. And if a fourth is ever made, I hope the filmmakers ditch Knightley and Bloom and focus on the guys who make Pirates what it is: Barbossa and Captain Jack.