Published May 25, 2007The best film series based on a ride (and, um, pretty much the only) comes to a conclusion, at least for now, with a massive, convoluted but occasionally entertaining (nearly) three-hour tour that attempts to wrap up every plot point and resolve every moral dilemma raised in Dead Man’s Chest, the sequel to the 2003 surprise hit, The Curse of the Black Pearl.
True, POTC: TCotBP came from literally out of nowhere to make pirates cool again (were they ever not?) and establish Johnny Depp as a Keith Richards-channelling brigand deity (Captain Jack Sparrow), but the film was legitimately fun, entertaining and impressive CGeye candy.
Its sequel (despite protests, the three movies are not a trilogy), Dead Man’s Chest, sacrificed some of the first’s charm and established convoluted plot lines but still featured the charismatic Depp, lovebirds Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley), even more impressive CGeye candy (Bill Nighy’s tentacle sporting Davy Jones) and a ship-killing kraken. However, fans that thought DMC was bloated and sacrificed too much of the first’s undeniable charm will be hard-pressed by AWE.
AWE has much work to do to resolve DMC’s threads, and after a rather dark mass hanging opening, begins with Turner, Swann, a resurrected Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, from the first film) and crew in Shanghai attempting to “acquire” maps to Davy Jones’s locker so they can rescue Jack because, well, everyone has their reasons, but philanthropy doesn’t seem to be one of them.
It breaks down as so: Turner needs Jack and the Black Pearl (his ship) to free his father from Jones’s demonic crew. Barbossa needs Jack to help battle the East India Trading Company (who are attempting to wipe out all the pirates and gain control of the seas) and Jones by calling a pirate meeting and freeing a goddess (yeah, I know) who may or may not help the pirates, while Swann, well, she feels guilty about leaving Jack for kraken chow in the second. And poor Jack? He’s stuck in purgatory (Davy Jones’s locker), commanding a stranded vessel crewed by numerous Jacks or just going insane; it gets a little meta but is one of the film's funnier bits. Eventually, Jack and company are reunited and its devious (but no so much) twists and betrayals until the final battle between the pirates and Jones (who’s now a pawn of the East India Trading Company).
However, while it is a rather taxing, muddled journey (no quarter is asked, and none given), it’s not without its rewards. Depp, of course, is great as Sparrow, even if he’s lost some of his charming lustre, while the return of Rush gives the film another heavy, and someone for Depp to play off of. Nighy as Jones is again great (even if the love story between him and the goddess Calypso isn’t, or even resolved) and the effects for Jones and his crew are virtually flawless. And, of course, there’s Keith Richards, who may or may not be Jack’s father, dropping by for a cameo as a pirate badass.
However, one of the problems of AWE (besides the bloated, long-winded narrative and convenient outs the story takes, especially for Swann) is that it sets up numerous pay-offs then doesn’t deliver. For the final battle, armadas of pirate and navy ships are aligned but never come into conflict, leaving the battle to be fought between the Flying Dutchman (Jones’s ship) and the Pearl. And while that fight is fine, it seems a let down after such a set up. As well, the freeing of the goddess Calypso, which should be a big event with grave consequences, turns out to be, well, not much of anything; she makes it rain, seriously. And for a series that built its rep on climatic battles and such, the third film seems a little light in the conflict department, at least for much of its run time.
Still, for fans of Depp and the series, AWE will be an entertaining (if butt-numbing) experience, even if it feels more like a flounder than a shark. With Depp expressing an interest to continue the role of Sparrow, and with the rather arduous journey of two and three finally tied up, oddly, the series has the potential to create its best work in the future. Hopefully with more kraken. (Buena Vista)