Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) Director: Gore Verbinski

★☆☆☆☆

As incomprehensible a mess the second Pirates movie was, At World’s End somehow manages to top it. At nearly three hours long, At World’s End is a droning, painful attempt to rival a massive modern epic like Lord of the Rings, but it fails in spectacular fashion. It shovels so much nonsensical drivel into the plot that it has become notorious for being completely incoherent. Indeed the plot of At World’s End is willingly sacrificed in order to ram through endless special effects and every cinematic trope and cliche imaginable. The pacing is explosive, the characters are ancillary, and the plot is complete bedlam. I suppose it is a tall order to request that a movie simply make sense in order for it to be enjoyable these days, but then again Disney does have its shareholders to consider, and sadly frenzied pandemonium sells in our day and age. At the time of its production At World’s End was the most expensive film to date.

The following is my brief attempt at a plot analysis of this unmitigated disaster. The East India Company has begun hanging hundreds of pirates, including children, because the company now possesses the heart of Davy Jones, and so Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) falls under the company’s control and is forced to destroy the kraken (the opening scene is almost directly lifted from Les Miserables). Somewhere between this film and the previous, the East India Company has decided to extinguish the rebel pirates forever, thus setting up a dichotomy between the evil imperial Englishmen, and the raucous freedom-loving pirates who apparently now represent the oppressed democratic majority (i.e. the heroes). Meanwhile, Elizabeth and the newly-resurrected Barbossa travel to Singapore to acquire a ship to rescue Jack Sparrow since the Black Pearl was swallowed by the kraken. However, Will has somehow been captured in Singapore for trying to retrieve a map to Davy Jones’s locker so they convene a ‘United Nations of Pirates’ with a pirate named Sao Yeng (Chow Yun Fat). This reveals a new quest: to find Jack Sparrow, but for some unknown reason we now learn that Jack Sparrow actually carries with him one of the magical “nine pieces of eight” -an indication of a sophisticated pirate brethren, I guess. Apparently there is a political allegiance of nine pirate lords ruled by one pirate king (the introduction of “pirate politics” is vaguely reminiscent of the bureaucratic jargon from George Lucas’s Star Wars reboot). The pirates are spontaneously attacked by the English and thus all parties involved fight their way out of Singapore in order to recover Jack Sparrow for one reason or another.

Meanwhile Barbossa, Will, and company set sail for the far reaches of the world and over the horizon. This whole time Jack Sparrow has been living in a strange altered reality -a discombobulated scene that completely disrupts the electric pace of the plot. Aesthetically, it looks more like a Johnny Depp-inspired acid flashback, and the only way to escape is to flip a ship at sunset. They recover the Black Pearl with the maps to Davy Jones’s locker where they meet the dead being ferried onward by the Flying Dutchman. At any rate, there are numerous odd side-plots (such as a troubled yet forgettable romance between Will and Elizabeth, a secret agreement between Will and Sao Feng, various bargains made between all the different factions) and ultimately the group is reunited and ventures to an island where the washed up remnants of the kraken lie, it is also the location of a diplomatic convening of the pirate lords (who all represent a collection of silly racial tropes from the cinema of yesteryear -with Keith Richards as Johnny Depp’s father). The inane bureaucracy of the pirate lords at Shipwreck Cove eventually leads to the release of Calypso, a giant sea goddess trapped in human form who once was the lover of Davy Jones. Calypso is soon revealed to be Tia Dana the voodoo priestess from the previous film. Elizabeth is given a piece of eight (after nearly being raped in the caricature-esque opium den of Sao Feng) and so she becomes a pirate lord because Sao Feng mistakes Elizabeth for the mythical Calypso. Suddenly Elizabeth is taken captive aboard the Flying Dutchman where she is imprisoned but she meets a crusty Bootstrap Bill in her cell. To further complicate matters Bootstrap Bill claims that in order for him to be rescued, Davy Jones must be killed but whoever kills him is destined to become the new captain of the Flying Dutchman and can only go ashore once every ten years. Then Norrington sacrifices himself so Elizabeth can escape but the Flying Dutchman remains under English control. Also, apparently Will has defected to the English so they also set sail for the pirate brethren following Jack’s magic compass.

As the haphazard plot continues, Elizabeth announces herself to the pirate lords and they agree to an all-out war. They release Calypso, an ancient goddess who was bound by the nine pirate lords in generations past (a vague allusion to the Homeric epics). This leads to seemingly infinite back-stabbings and betrayals, and an absolutely absurd war of all against all that never seems to end. It becomes a battle for the survival of piracy against the cold, intransigent empire of the East India Company. During the battle, Calypso disappears into a mountain of crabs, Will and Elizabeth are frivolously married in order for the screenwriters to continue forcing a romance between the two characters (apparently the script was feverishly being written while being filmed), at the same time Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones duel over a massive whirlpool. Somewhere in the mix, Davy Jones is killed and Will becomes the new immortal captain of the Flying Dutchman and the leaders of the East India Company are destroyed when the pirate forces unite against them. Thus ending the “epic” battle. In the end Barbossa abandons Jack Sparrow to search for the Fountain of Youth but Jack has stolen the map to the fountain, meanwhile Will impregnates Elizabeth just before heading out to sea for his cursed ten years as the new captain of the Flying Dutchman. Years later we are offered a glimpse of Elizabeth standing along the shoreline with a child, waiting for Will’s return. It is a fitting end to a cataclysmic montage of cynical incoherence, an homage to excessive modern indulgence, and corporate greed. What an atrociously awful movie.

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