Avast ye bilge rats
Pirates 3 is an endless, lumbering tub of creaky cliches, writes Donald Clarke PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END Directed by Gore Verbinski. Starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Stellan Skarsgard, Bill Nighy, Chow-Yu
ABOUT eight hours into the latest marathon exercise in water torture from Disney, Capt Jack Sparrow, fictional personification of a welcome long outstayed, does something especially tedious with a cannon, a rope and some part of a ship’s rigging. “Do you think he plans it?” somebody remarks. “Or does he make it up as he goes along?” Good question, sir.
This comment has, presumably, been inserted to remind us of a similar line in Raiders of the Lost Ark. But, whereas Spielberg’s entertainment did bear traces of a screenwriter’s hand, At World’s End looks as if it really was improvised in a collective rush by several thousand people, no two of whom share a common language. Spider-Man 3, whose surfeit of disconnected plots was burdensome enough, seems like a Chekhov short story by comparison.
Summarise the plot? One might as well attempt to draw up a précis of the random damage caused by an earthquake or a volcano. By the time the even more tedious Dead Man’s Chest finally slipped into a coma, Johnny Depp’s Capt Jack had been dispatched to the underworld, and Capt Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) had returned to help Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) further their campaign against 1) the British Empire, 2) a man with a squid for a head (Bill Nighy) and – double-crosses being ubiquitous in these affairs – 3) each another.
The new film, a sort of pointand-click computer game fouled up by a nasty virus, sets the cast a dizzying series of utterly pointless challenges: they must retrieve Jack from the land beneath; they must collect a series of magic coins; they must capture the heart of squid-man; they must send waves of sedative fumes about the unfortunate audience. None of these quests meshes satisfactorily with any another, and the significance of each is kept infuriatingly obscure.
More alienating still is the decision to construct a universe where virtually anything, even a character’s return from beyond the grave, appears to be possible. If death is no longer absolutely final, then the peril posed by a flashing cutlass is significantly lessened.
There is, to be fair, at least one impressive set-piece in this big, stupid film. Capt Jack’s bizarre experiences in the land of the dead – his ship, crewed by a dozen versions of himself, gets carried across the desert by a wave of crabs – reveal a hitherto unsuspected talent for disquieting surrealism on director Gore Verbinski’s part.
And the most minor characters, notably Mackenzie Crook’s monocular idiot, are granted several decent comic asides.
At World’s End does, however, play like a massive compilation of desperately tired, too frequently told jokes, none of which was all that good in the first place. Was there really a time when Depp’s fruity hamming seemed anything other than profoundly irritating? Back, perhaps, when dinosaurs walked the earth and Keith Richards’s jowls had not yet sagged to his oxters. The Rolling Stone turns up in a perfunctory turn as on old sea dog and, though singularly unamusing, finds his barely conscious demeanour quite suited to the somnolent proceedings around him.
Lord Richards’s appearance, coming after Depp’s repeated acknowledgment of the musician’s influence on Jack’s vocal stylings, would, in a perfect world, play a similar role to King Richard’s arrival at the end of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It’s over. You can all go home. Sadly, the final scenes of At World’s End suggest there is every chance of a fourth film in this bafflingly popular franchise.
Only you, the potential ticket buyer, can stop such an unwanted entity from manifesting itself.
Old sea dogs Chow-Yun Fat, Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Depp ham it up in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End