The first film, Curse of the Black Pearl, stormed the box office back in 2003 and took everyone by surprise; a blockbuster behemoth based on a long running amusement park ride. The second film, Dead Mans Chest, burst into theaters last year as the cinematic equivalent of a roller coaster and earned even more money with its endless action gags and skeletal plot. And now, Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, the franchises third but not necessarily final film, is pillaging the box office, proving once more that Johnny Depp and his Captain Jack Sparrow can do no wrong.
Picking up in the aftermath of Chest, Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) have been forced to collaborate with their evil nemesis, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), in order to preserve the pirates way of life. An era of high sea treachery under threat by the corporate machinations of the East India Trading Company and its Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), who, following the events of Chest, wields the slimy Davy Jones and weaponized behemoth, the Flying Dutchman.
In order to preserve the pirate life, Elizabeth and Will must first rescue Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who in Chest was swallowed into Davy Jones locker. Turns out Sparrow is important because, more than just the swishy pirate we first thought him to be, he is part of the Brethren Court, a secret society of pirates who until East India ruled all the seas. And, the only way to get to Jack is by aligning with another member of the Court, Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat).
Trouble is, the pirate code rarely lends itself to alliances as everyone has their own agenda. Elizabeth is more concerned with absolving her guilt than saving the pirate life. Will is more focused on saving his father from the clutches of Davy Jones. And, once found, Jack wants nothing more than to continue being Jack other pirates be damned.
Since End, along with Chest, was conceived halfway through Black Pearls filming, it is not entirely surprising that much of the plot seems a bit, shall we say, arbitrary. Jacks progression from a saucy pirate to a Lord of Brethren Court is at best silly and at worst indicative of the franchises growing runaway plotting; a tendency of screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio to inject far more than what seems necessary for a series of films based on a decades old amusement park ride just look at Pearl, it is easily the simplest and therefore best of the bunch.
But, what matters this quibble in the face of such swashbuckling escapist fun? Very little. Taken with a tub of popcorn, End delivers in all the right places: soaring music, orchestrated action, a rush of familiar music and incredible CGI effects on the high seas. As an added benefit, director Gore Verbinski teases emotion into the plot, which leads to a slightly darker story that allows Knightley and Bloom to stretch their characters; Bloom, in particular, manages to make Will less foppish and, believe it or not, more manly.
And then, of course, there is Depp. He relishes Sparrow so much that you cannot help but enjoy the performance easily one of the greatest pop icons to emerge these past few years. Depp keeps Sparrow a little bit more subdued here than he was in Chest, but no less over-the-top, with some hallucination scenes that harkens back to Disneys absurdist The Incredible Mr. Limpet days.
Best of all, though, is the hint of a set-up for a fourth (or spin-off?) Pirates film that, independent of Chest and End, could easily return the franchise to the uncomplicated adventurous wonder showcased in the first film. An idea so simple, so appropriately fun that you almost wish Disney had gone with it instead of this (obligatory) trilogy.