Friday, May 20, 2011

Let's Review a Movie: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

Well Dead Man’s Chest wasn’t an improved sequel, but I’ll argue that this one was, to Dead Man’s Chest anyway. In fact with the fourth movie on the way, and depending on how long this franchise goes on it may start a reverse Star Trek trend, where the odd numbers are great and the even numbers suck.

Now something that all three films do well that I haven’t really mentioned before are the references to the ride. Going over the waterfall in this film, which I didn’t even get as a reference until the ride lines come up, nor did I get Barbossa’s line “these be the last friendly words ye hear” as a reference either until the second time I saw the movie. Even the entire plot of the first film is really a nod to the ride. Essentially the references remain as nice winks to the audience rather than bashing you over the head with them. Also I haven’t been on the ride since they added the movie characters, so I don’t know if they are a good addition, or a total abomination to the last ride Walt ever oversaw.

Keeping things subtle is one of the things I like about all three films, but it’s especially true for this one, with all the changing alliances. While a lot of the double crossing can be difficult to follow, no matter how many times you watch it, the filmmakers are certainly not running the show on the assumption that the audience is stupid which I like to see. We are being asked to think and to engage and decide for ourselves how we feel about the events and the characters.

Speaking of the characters this film has some new ones including Sao Fang and while this guy looks really cool I must agree with the reviewer Confused Matthew, why is this guy on the posters and the advertising? He doesn’t do anything! You could have had the promotional material display one the Pirate Lords who actually made it to the frigging meeting!

Speaking of the Pirate Lords what a wasted opportunity these guys were. All the hype for them in promotional material all the build with the song in the opening scene, which is awesome as always, and the Pieces of Eight, and we get to see them have a big fist fight and raise the colours and that’s it. Instead of seeing Elizabeth get crowned king I’d rather learn about Gentleman Jackal! The only really good character here was Captain Teague. He provides the only real link to the ‘pirate and a good man’ theme that I enjoyed so much in the first film with his line of “it’s not about living forever, Jackie, it’s about living with yourself forever.” and he’s played by Keith Richards and this automatically earns him an infinite amount of awesome points.

I did like the whole nine Pieces of Eight thing going with Pirate Lords though. It was very creative of the writers to take a simple piece of Jack’s costume and turn it into something important. I think this is a great bit of retro–continuity for the eye too, because why would Ragetti spend the first film being so protective of it when he said he wanted to replace it with a glass one? Because it’s Barbossa’s Piece of Eight, and if Barbossa hadn’t been brought back Ragetti would have been a Pirate Lord...let’s not think too much about that last part. I also love the gag with Gibbs and the changing the name: “to what? The nine pieces of whatever we have in our pockets at the time? Oh yes that’s sounds very piratey.” As much as I’m going to be bitching about the main cast in this review the supporting cast has certainly remained consistent and likeable through out this trilogy, so kudos for that.

The visuals in the movie are still stunning, with my favourites being Barbossa and crew’s journey to land of the dead; especially the shots of them by the ice flows and the sea reflecting the stars right before they go over the waterfall. Also Rule of Cool totally applies to the charts. No, they would never work that way in real life and I don’t care. Things that I do care about though, how did they get to Singapore to get those charts without a ship and a crew? We know they have to have used something besides the lifeboats left over from the Pearl, so what happened to that ship?

Now while the visuals are good it is this film where I find that the effects are starting to overpower the story a bit. I mean what purpose does turning Calpyso into a giant and then transforming into crabs serve? Yes it’s picking up on the whole crabs in the locker and her complaining about being trapped in a single form, but was this really the only way to show that? And why must we have the two ships in a raging maelstrom, with debris flying everywhere from cannon fire, and dozens of people in battle? It’s cool seeing Barbossa do what he does best, but I think it would have been better to do it on calmer seas and give the other ships something to do. It would have required a very skilled editor to cut so many scenes together well, but we did spend all that time setting up the Pirate Lords only to have them do nothing during the battle except celebrate afterwards and it’s a let down. This is supposed to be an act of war, that’s why we had the whole Pirate King vote, so why do all that if there basically is no war? It just comes across to me as a need to make Elizabeth even more important than she already was and I already want to punch her.

Honestly Elizabeth has turned into this loud aggressive person over the course of these films. As if we can’t show quiet internal strength anymore it all has to be broadcast at every opportunity. In the first film it worked well to have her explain stuff like Parley. It gets exposition to the audience and shows that Elizabeth has continued her interest in pirates that we saw when she was introduced. What we also got to see though was that other people knew more, or are better at this stuff than she is. When see wants to go back to shore and starts to quote the code again, Barbossa turns around and shuts her up and gives the constantly quoted catchphrase of: “the code is more like guidelines than actual rules.” The growth of her skills in sword-fighting is consistent with being in a relationship with Will and her having weapons in Singapore makes sense as a member of Barbossa’s crew, he would expect it of her. Still Gibbs had to explain things like the voting so why should she be king? Why does she give the big speech on the Pearl and why isn’t she on her own ship? The speech was started by Barbossa so he really should be the one to continue it. She isn't a respected Pirate Lord she got her position because Sao Fang thought she was Calypso. Why he thought she was so important and knew her name in Singapore I don't know. So why do the others listen to her yelling at them? Instead of it being like it was in the first film where she made a suggestion and then others built on it, now it feels like Elizabeth is always right and everyone else is wrong, so sit down and shut up. You know I liked Elizabeth before, but now I just want to watch anyone but her.

Unfortunately nobody else is all that sympathetic either. While the last film is where Jack stops being a good man this is the movie where everyone stops being good and the whole ‘good man’ theme has pretty much collapsed. Everyone is betraying everyone else at the drop of a hat and the only guy who tried to change after he realized he had done wrong is skewered by a crazy man, and of course Jack is still out to save his own skin, but at least he has a good motivation for it this time. Considering the last time he stuck his neck out for those guys they chained him to the mast and left him to die. Also he does give up what he wants to ‘save’ Will and at the end he is gambiting his way across the ocean again just like I like him to be doing so this is an improvement over the second film, if not a very big one. When Jack has a goal and is focused on achieving it he is a more dynamic character. This is why the last third of the movie begins to work for me again in terms of his character. He has firmly decided he is going to take the heart and when that is no longer an option his is going to the find the Fountain of Youth. For the first bit of the film Jack is going to get out of going to the locker by maybe stabbing the heart...or not...somehow.

Well I shouldn’t say that he knows that that somehow is going to involve a lot of other people dying. I mean Jack delivers the pirates all to get on the Dutchman so he can be immortal. So, much for the good man who saved a drowning woman because he could, who saved Will from the blood ritual, and who tried to reduce casualties in a ship battle. And I find the whole multiple Jacks thing annoying. Less is more with a character like Jack. We shouldn’t know everything about him and we shouldn’t see his thoughts, especially as two mini versions of him in his hair. All right enough about him let’s move on to someone else.

Now Will has come a long way from the naive man breaking a pirate out of jail, though he is still totally obsessed with treasure, unfortunately he went in the wrong direction. Will goes from a guy who saves Jack from the noose because it’s the right thing to do to “I need the Pearl to free my father that’s the only reason I came on this voyage.” Yeah, Will to hell with everyone else’s lives and feelings so long as you get what you want, our hero ladies and gents. We’re supposed to hate Norrington for doing that in the last film so why I am supposed to root for Will here?

The one character doing a lot of saving in this film is Barbossa. For one thing Barbossa is good at the job! He is a competent leader, a quality Jack seemed to be lacking in the last film when he was captaining the Pearl. Me thinks Jack does protest too much about him being captain. Also while Barbossa has the same goal as Jack: save his own skin, he’s much more subtle about it. For example when we are shown this deal when they arrive at Shipwreck cove Barbossa is all about finding loopholes in the bargain and then just gets fed up and puts Calypso in the brig. He may have to get the Pirate Lords together on Calypso’s orders, but he doesn’t have to look at her while it happens. He keeps his composure, stays cool and collected. Even after Calypso has been freed and he is sure she is going to renege on their deal at any moment he still pulls himself together when the crew needs him. If that bitch is going to take me she is going to take me down fighting, give me that wheel!

So, what other character issues do I have? Oh, yes I hate what they did to Norrington in this movie I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! You had Bootstrap kill him now I have even less sympathy for Will to rescue this man then I already did. He does it for Elizabeth which to me is a huge step backwards for the character when in Dead Man’s Chest it seemed he was over her with his zinger about “your latest fiancé.” Also Elizabeth once again has to make everything about her with her line “It’s too late to earn my forgiveness.” Hey Liz! He is doing this because it’s the right thing to do! You remember when you guys use to do that? Also let’s remember Liz your side filches and sacks and you sent a man to his death! You don’t get to claim the moral high ground here. *Sigh* So, one of the only good men left is now dead at the hands of a crazy man huzzah...?

Okay speaking of character relationships let’s look at Davy Jones and Calypso. I’m sorry, but I’m totally on Jones’ side here. You set this whole thing up and then don’t show up after ten years just because you didn’t want to? And you’re surprised that he reacted the way he did? As I said in my last review, are his actions right? No, but again they are sympathetic. The Will and Elizabeth relationship...I find I just don’t care about it anymore so I’m not even going to talk about it. One of the relationships that is a lot of fun to watch in this film though is the one between Jack and Barbossa. When they are beside the body of the Kraken they actually open about their feelings on this whole state of affairs with Beckett and the Brethren Court. This is big because Barbossa is the one who taught Jack not to trust anyone and here Jack is trusting Barbossa with his inner thoughts and insecurities. Another fun bit is the up is down scene, that has my favourite piece of music from this film, because Jack figures out the puzzle and then Barbossa looks at the map and instantly knows what Jack is trying to do and helps him. These two are clearly matched in terms of crazy ways of thinking. After Barbossa has stolen the Pearl again at the end of the film we see that Jack has stolen the important part of the charts, but Pintel and Ragetti asking to see them bears an eerie resemblance to Barbossa asking for the bearings from Jack to Isla de Meurta. So did Jack steal it to find it himself, or did he steal it for himself and intentionally save Barbossa’s life in the process? Also is it just me or does the new Piece of Eight hanging on his bandana look like one of Barbossa’s earrings? Well their relationship is certainly...complicated.

Finally I still have some questions about the plot. While re-watching helps to figure out who is betraying who and why there are still some things that don’t make any sense at all. For example why the hell does Will need the Pearl to free his father? Yes it can be faster than the Dutchman, but how does that help anything? Also why do they have to cut out Will’s heart after he stabs Davy Jones’? Jones cut out his heart in response to betrayal, either Calsypo’s or his we don’t know which, not when he was made captain. So, again, why is Will’s heart in the chest? We still don’t have a clear answer as to whether or not Will actually is free after tens years of service. Also if Will made his choice to be with Elizabeth, hence the kickass marriage ceremony, why did he go over to the Dutchman? Man I need a drink.

Okay time to sum everything up. Does this movie totally blow? No and I do think it’s better than the second one. Here, while there is a little too much padding I think in the Jack in the locker sequence, things moves at a much nicer pace. It keeps the excitement up with the changing alliances and keep the audience on their toes; and although much of the main cast is aggravating their interactions with the supporting cast are good. The story wraps up nicely, with a couple of errors, and the stage is set for more.

So, to sum up the trilogy as a whole: it was good all things considered. They worked hard to make the stories grow from each other, considering The Curse of the Black Pearl, was, of course, meant as a stand alone film. Each film has its great scenes and the comedy holds up very well in almost all of them. The arcs of Will and Elizabeth have come to annoy me, but there are enough other good characters to focus on that they don’t wreck the final film. I do think this is totally an occasion of first instalment wins. The characters were at their strongest there and in later films they become more obnoxious. While the plots have their holes and points of confusion there are creative in my opinion and I love that the audience is being made to think and engage with the picture. These films did well with what they had, but it still could have been better in my opinion. Now we await On Stranger Tides.

Now this next film has a lot of good things going for it. They don’t have to confine themselves to Will and Elizabeth as the two leads anymore so there’s a chance to bring in some more new characters. We have Jack at his strongest because he’s out of his ship again and he has a clear goal; and Barbossa is in his element as the captain of the Pearl. It even looks like Barbossa may following up on themes from this film, of it no longer being a time when a pirate could make his own way in the world, with him being in a uniform and talking about being King’s men. Of course this could be a ‘trailers always lie moment’, we shall see. The potential is good here and the creative team has proven to be quite strong in more limited story circumstances so being given a lot of freedom again should produce good results. Well also have some new people on the creative team, including a different director and I’ll be interested in seeing how that changes things. So, let’s see if they can keep the franchise out of zombie territory.

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