Ending saves “Pirates” from sinking under weighty plot line
Ending saves “Pirates” from sinking under weighty plot line

Arrrghhhh! Pirates are fun. History has long since glossed over their brutality, bloodlust, and greed and left us with romanticized stereotypes. We now see them as honorable thieves, scamps, and scallywags who represent anarchistic freedom long lost from our white-collared and cubicled world. And, man, oh man, did the Walt Disney Corporation ever cash in on it.

Their “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise has plundered theaters and broken box-office records around the world. And now with the third film “At World’s End” hitting movie screens, expect the booty to continue to roll in.

Of course, now comes the real question, is it any good? Not that it really matters, but as summer blockbusters go, it certainly delivers. At its worse, the movie is labored and familiar, at its best it is wry and stunning and fans of the first two “Pirates” films will not go away disappointed.

It is usually at this point in a review where I give a brief synopsis of the plot, but with the cost of newsprint these days combined with the fact that I’d have to draw up several charts and diagrams to explain all the contrived plot twists – you can forget it.

The plot, a complicated web that carries over directly from the second movie is, in fact, so much of a mess that it threatens to drag the entire movie down into the abyss.

But “At World’s End” is saved and ultimately elevated above the second film (although not the first one, which enjoyed a nimble freshness) thanks to a game cast, a director who can deliver the spectacle and a boffo ending that actually makes it worth enduring the second and most of the third movie.

The cast is led by Johnny Depp, who has created the 21st Century’s first great iconic character in Captain Jack Sparrow. It is Depp who has made these movies worthwhile in playing the sunbaked, gin-soaked, rock-n-roll pirate. It is clear that Depp is having a blast, and when an actor that talented is having that much fun, only good things can happen. “At World’s End” even gives us a bit of a window into Captain Jack’s mind, and we find it’s a pretty crowded place as his internal conversations become, well, external.

The movie is also boosted by the return of Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa, the villain from the first film who has now returned to form a shaky alliance with Jack. Rush may actually be having more fun than Depp, if that’s possible, as the man was clearly born to play a pirate. Plus, he’s the only guy in the movie who can actually get away with a good “Arrrghhh!”

The requisite pretty faces, Orlando Bloom as Will Turner and Keira Knightly as Elizabeth Swann, return as swashbuckling, will-they-or-won’t-they lovers. And as pretty faces go, the pair manage to bring more than their looks to the party. Bloom has been channeling Errol Flynn so much lately it’s starting to freak me out. When he dons a bandanna towards the end of the film I wondered if we should send someone out to Flynn’s grave to make sure he hadn’t been reanimated. Nothing good could come from a zombie Errol Flynn.

All three “Pirates” movies have been directed by Gore Verbinski, who should be applauded for wrangling anything that even resembles a cohesive film out of movie-star egos, massive special-effects set pieces, and plot holes so big you could sail the Spanish Armada through them. I also give him props for actually getting away with making some pretty subversive “family” movies. He knocks the pixie dust right off the Disney logo that appears at the first of the movie by opening the film with a relatively grisly series of mass hangings. You certainly didn’t see that in “The Parent Trap.”

As for the finale of “At World’s End,” which is worthy of every cliche movie-review adjective I could heap on it, it is probably among the most visually stunning 20-minutes ever committed to film. As pirate ships duel while swirling around the precipice of an impossibly massive whirlpool there are explosions and sword fights and enough spectacle to last you the next 10 summers.

Basically, just don’t get caught making a bathroom break at the end of the movie – any other time in the preceding two hours, you really won’t be missing anything.

And don’t be overly concerned that this will be the last of Captain Jack. With money to be made and Depp publicly stating he’d love to keep playing the character, it’s a pretty sure bet that he’ll be back. And hey, cut loose from the moorings of bloated plot lines, a fresh adventure with Captain Jack would be better than walking the plank any day.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence and some frightening images.

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