Even if its predecessor, Dead Man's Chest, left us dangling over the proverbial cliff, there doesn't seem to have been a need for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Truly, I'd have subtitled this 168-minute excursion "At Wit's End": The ship has run aground, the rum barrel is empty and Captain Jack Sparrow is yesterday's hero.
But director Gore Verbinski has re-united the whole motley crew (sort of -- this third episode was filmed in tandem with the second) for further adventures. We're not given a précis of where we left off, and it takes some time to recall and sort out the various suspended plotlines.
Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is kind of dead; back-from-the-beyond pirate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is on the hunt, as are sort-of pirates Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Will (Orlando Bloom); and the navy is still after everybody, with the watery villain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) under its control.
World's End then piles on additional stories and background mythologies -- most of which feel made up on the spot -- in order to roll out another three hours of cinematic bombast. The result is a frequently incoherent jumble of characters, double-crosses and out-of-left-field subplots. For instance, a very minor character from Dead Man's Chest is now revealed to be a person of vast supernatural powers.
The tentacled Jones and his damned, barnacled crew aboard The Flying Dutchman were a lively addition to Dead Man's Chest, but too many fishy mutants here make one suspect the ships have crashed into the cantina from Star Wars. Costuming frequently overwhelms World's End, whether it's Knightley's Oriental-inspired drag-queen outfits (but always the perfect skin and teeth!), or the ludicrous pirates-of-the-world conference (seek ye there for a waxen Keith Richards).
Many scenes play out as elaborately conceived set-pieces -- a Singapore bathhouse, a giant whirlpool -- in search of an explosion or a brawl. But for the all the money spent on special effects and digital locations, this chapter seems closest to the series' origins: a cheesy water ride at Disneyland, noted for its dullness. The novelty of the film is gone; the jokes are flat (yes, Sparrow is still preening); and the ride is more tedious than joyful.
Romantics will be pleased that Elizabeth and Will finally resolve what has been a seven-and-a-half-hour courtship, marked by such adolescent posturings as "You're horrid, let me help you." And that's just one of several unsatisfactory conclusions. Some major characters just disappear into the fog or over the horizon, though I daresay they'll be back. What else to make of the final scene that unfurls a map to yet another mysterious destination? That's not terra incognita; that's Part Four.
Starts Fri., May 25.