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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean 3 - At World's End

Today's review is Pirates of the Caribbean 3 - At World's End starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley. I know the DVD just came out this week and I should probably be careful, but there are a few points I'd like to discuss, so there will be spoilers! Stop reading here if you want to be surprised.

I wanted to love this movie--I really did. I loved the first one (Curse of the Black Pearl) so much and everyone had been assuring me that World's End was better than Dead Man's Chest, that I expected to enjoy this one even if it wasn't quite as good as the first. I've been waiting for World's End for weeks and made sure I had my last movie in on the right day at NetFlix in order to get this one for the weekend. I did like this movie, but I didn't love it.

Basic plot synopsis is that Jack (Depp) is in Davy Jones' locker and a rescue is launched to bring him back. Each of the major participants has his or her own reason for going, part of a larger agenda that plays out in the film. Rescuing Jack, though, is just the beginning because there's still the evil Lord Beckett to deal with. Because Beckett has the chest containing Davy Jones' heart, he controls Jones and his ship and he's ruthless about using them.

I thought the start of the movie was very slow. It begins with a scene of people marching to the gallows, hanged without trial because the evil Lord Beckett has suspended all rights and basically taken over. There are two things I didn't get about the scene. The first was the part where the prisoners start singing, led by a little boy on the gallows who's holding a piece of eight. When the British soldier reports this to Beckett, he says, "At last." Or words similar to that. Um, why did he want them to sing? It made no sense to me since it had absolutely no bearing on anything in the movie as far as I could see.

My second question about the opening scene is why have it at all? It served no real purpose in the movie at all except to show that Lord Beckett is evil, something that we could have figured out on our own from other scenes if we needed to know it at all. After all, we already love Jack, Will and Elizabeth and we're going to be rooting for them no matter what anyway. This opening scene just seemed completely unnecessary on every level.

You know, I just had a flash of insight come in. I'm looking at this movie as a writer, picking apart scenes, goals, motivations, etc. I don't think I can help myself because when I write or critique for my writing buddies, I'm always analyzing things like this. When it comes to scenes, each one should serve multiple purposes and the opening of POTC3 didn't IMO.

The movie continues to drag as Elizabeth and Barbossa go to Singapore. Things briefly pick up during the fight scene, and I totally loved the monkey and the parrot and their actions, but overall, was finding my attention wandering. I thought it was because I was waiting for Johnny Depp to come on screen.

When Jack finally does appear, it's in the midst of a hallucination where there are many Captain Jack Sparrows aboard the Pearl. This was another scene that dragged on far too long and something much shorter would have sufficed. Again, I found myself asking what's the point of this?

Other problems I had involve characterization. Will Turner was the biggest issue for me. In the first movie, Will possesses honor to an extreme degree. As he works with Jack to rescue Elizabeth, he learns that the real world, particularly the pirate world, doesn't have that same kind of code. At the end of Curse of the Black Pearl, he frees Jack to his own detriment because it's the honorable thing to do. That's a far cry from the Will we see in World's End. This Will is as conniving and duplicitous as any pirate. What happened to his sense of honor? I don't remember anything from Dead Man's Chest that would make me believe such a drastic change in this character's core.

The other character that seemed off to me was Jack. Not as far off as Will, and I can't express why I felt this as clearly as I could with Will, but Jack just didn't feel like Jack to me in some of the scenes. Not all, but some.

On the other hand, I think Elizabeth made a natural (albeit hurried) transition from governor's sheltered daughter to pirate queen. She always had a fascination with pirates and she was always a strong woman. Over the course of the films, she had to adapt and deal with pirates largely on her own. She was able to handle it and succeed.

The other thing that left me scratching my head was that later in POTC3, Jack again is hallucinating multiple versions of himself. Why? I didn't get that, and again, there didn't seem to be any purpose in it. I also didn't understand why he was hallucinating when he wasn't in Davy Jones' locker any longer.

Anyway, I found this movie to be overly convoluted. Maybe if I'd recently seen POTC2 before watching POTC3, things might have made more sense, but I didn't. Some day after I buy a copy of World's End and I have time, I'll have to watch all three movies in a row and see if three makes more sense then.

One of the reviews I read of the movie on IMDB said that two and three had lost touch with what made the first movie such a delight and I have to agree with that. Curse of the Black Pearl told a wonderful story from start to finish with good characterization and no unnecessary scenes. POTC2 and POTC3 seem to have wandered far from the first. Both movies seemed overly enamored with the special effects to the detriment of the storytelling.

And one last ding against the movie. Lord Beckett is portrayed as evil throughout, yet when push came to shove, he went down with barely a whimper. There was great satisfaction in seeing him destroyed, but it also felt anti-climatic. When a villain is portrayed as hugely evil throughout, he needs to remain a formidable opponent during the dramatic conclusion. The argument could be made that Beckett's power came from Davy Jones and once Jones was defeated, Beckett didn't know what to do, but I think that's a bit of a cop out. Bottom line, I thought he should have been a stronger bad guy to make the victory by the heroes and heroine seem more satisfying.

After all this, you're probably thinking I hated the movie. I didn't. There were some wonderful moments as well as the things that I found problematic. As I mentioned previously, I loved the first fight scene with the monkey and the parrot. I also really liked the competition between Jack and Barbossa as both tried to be captain aboard the Pearl.

Jack was also escaping by swinging from masts again, and that was fun as well. My favorite line in the entire movie is when one of the British officers asks his companion(I think it was the evil Lord Beckett (and yes, I'm using the evil Lord Beckett appellation repeatedly on purpose)), "Do you think he plans it all out or just makes it up as he goes along?"

Now to pick apart the romance between Will and Elizabeth. :-) I found it completely believable in the original POTC and the ending was satisfying. However, in POTC2, the writers introduced the question of a triangle with Jack. In POTC3, there are clearly huge trust issues at play with Will and Elizabeth and both of them are keeping huge secrets from each other. This undermined the romance for me and I found it nearly unbelievable that without working through any of their issues, they decide to get married in the midst of a battle.

As a writer, I believe if you're going to raise issues, you darn well better resolve them before getting to the happy ending. Nothing seemed to be resolved in POTC3, and because of this, I found it difficult to believe that Elizabeth would sedately wait ten years for Will. I also found it difficult to believe that she would give up her command of her pirate vessel to wait quietly for ten years. (This is shown at the very end after all the credits have rolled.) I could see her pirating for ten years and then going to wait for Will and having a baby after that, but I had problems with how the writers did choose to portray it in POTC3.

My other problem as a writer is that if an issue is raised (such as a possible triangle among Jack, Elizabeth and Will), something needs to be done with it otherwise don't raise it at all. This one shouldn't have been raised at all because almost nothing was done with it. To my mind, it was a convenient excuse in POTC2 for Elizabeth to get close enough to Jack to betray him. It garnered one mention in POTC3 because it caused Will to question Elizabeth's motives in World's End, but it was quickly resolved and nothing else was done with it.

And my own personal bias--okay, Orlando Bloom is cute, but if I had a choice between him and Johnny Depp, there's absolutely no contest. Give me Johnny! Especially with Elizabeth fitting so well into the world of pirates, it could have been a good match. Of course, with the way the romance was set up in the first movie, it wouldn't have satisfied a lot of movie goers, but I would have loved it. :-)

A couple of final thoughts--as if I haven't said more than enough already. :-) I loved what they did with Will toward the end, when Jack helps him stab Davy Jones' heart so that Will didn't die. Will would actually make the perfect person to cross souls who died at sea to the other side because of his honor (which unfortunately was largely missing from his character throughout much of the movie, but fits with the overall characterization). I also loved that Jack was willing to do this because he'd planned to do it himself and sail the seas for all eternity, but he was willing to sacrifice this for a friend. Also fits his overall character arc very well.

I also totally loved it that Barbossa's stealing of the Pearl didn't work out for him exactly the way he'd planned. And Jack setting out in the dinghy with Barbossa's map was priceless considering the way he'd double crossed Jack before Curse of the Black Pearl.

So after all this, what's my final rating on the movie? I'm not sure. I did like it, but I didn't love it, and overall, I was largely disappointed. Still, there were a lot of wonderful moments, and I obviously feel passionately about the series of films from the way I've gone on and on. So, maybe 4 stars?