Dir: Gore Verbinski. US. 2007. 167mins.
Disney's Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy coasts to its conclusion with At World's End, a third instalment that adds nothing very exciting to the franchise's formula but spins out the familiar elements with just about enough energy and inventiveness to warrant an almost three-hour running time.
With Johnny Depp and his co-stars all returning, the new effects-enhanced swashbuckling adventure should pull in most of the moviegoers who made Dead Man's Chest, last summer's cliffhanger second instalment, a billion dollar global smash. Add in fans who have caught up with the films on video and the result could be a gargantuan box office haul for Disney and franchise producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Whereas the first two films had July domestic launches and gradual international rollouts, At World's End gets Disney's biggest day-and-date release ever, sailing into around 100 territories this week.
In the US (where Dead Man's Chest grossed $423.3m), it will have to compete with blockbuster holdovers Spider-Man 3 and Shrek The Third but will benefit from the effect of Monday's Memorial Day holiday. In the international marketplace (where Dead Man's Chest grossed $642.3m), the new entry, clearly designed to have added international appeal, will face less competition and should prove an especially potent draw.
Shot back-to-back with Dead Man's Chest by director Gore Verbinski, At World's End plays like a straight continuation of last summer's box office record-breaker. The script, by franchise regulars Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, picks up the story with Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Swann and Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbossa arriving in Singapore to parley with pirate lord Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat).
Elizabeth, Barbossa and Orlando Bloom's Will Turner plan to bring together the nine members of the pirates' Brethren Court to fight back against East India Company bigwig Lord Cutler Beckett, who has gained control of ghost ship the Flying Dutchman and Captain Davy Jones (a CG-enhanced Bill Nighy) and is using them to rid the seas of buccaneers. But first the heroes must rescue Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow from Davy Jones' Locker, the nautical purgatory to which he was banished at the end of the last film.
Even more than in the last film, the central narrative thread is confusing and not very involving. It really only serves as a way to resolve the main characters' outstanding issues: Will and Elizabeth's romance, Will's quest to rescue his father (Stellan Skarsgard) from the Flying Dutchman, Jack's rivalry with Barbossa, and his debt to Davy Jones. The only truly affecting new strand involves Davy Jones and Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), the sorceress who turns out to be a sea goddess in human form.
As for new characters, Barbossa is back from the original Curse Of The Black Pearl instalment but is not as enjoyable a villain on this outing. The addition of Chow Yun-Fat to the cast should boost Asian box office, but he gives an uncertain performance in a largely unnecessary role and disappears from the action before the halfway mark.
The much-touted cameo by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards (the model for Depp's Jack) is fun for a moment but not much more. Richards' appearance in some ways typifies the film's humour, which is more self-referential and less organic than in previous instalments.
Still, it's the lavish set pieces that give At World's End - made on a reported $225m budget - its entertainment value. They include the opening sequence in Sao Feng's bathhouse lair, a surreal segment that has Jack confronting multiple versions of himself in Davy Jones' Locker, and the Brethren Court meeting in the hidden pirate city of Shipwreck Cove. The set pieces show off some terrific design work but there's nothing to match the impression left in the last film by the introduction of tentacle-bearded Davy Jones and the Flying Dutchman crew.
Most of the wow-factor effects come in the action-packed sea battles of the final forty minutes. Spider-Man 2 effects wiz John Frazier worked with franchise regular John Knoll on the third instalment, and the team produces some impressive sequences, climaxing with a clash between the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman as the two vessels are sucked into a giant maelstrom.
A sentimental post-credits scene suggests that even though the planned Pirates trilogy has now been wrapped up there may still be a way for the massively lucrative franchise to continue
Walt Disney Pictures
Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Buena Vista International