POTC: At World’s End is a 21st century movie par excellence. More to the point, it is a 21st century sequel par excellence. It falls into the same trap, and I mean exactly the same trap, into which the Matrix sequels fell. Indeed, it is interesting to note how similar the two trilogies are, consisting as they do of a successful and well made first movie which spawns two further installments filmed back to back which overdose on action, explosions and special effects while losing sight of what made the first one special. Like the Wachowski brothers, Verbinski is a very capable director and so manages to insert a handful of intriguing elements, but not enough to keep the project from being anything other than ordinary.
One of the biggest problems the movie has is that there is simply too much story to tell. Many have complained about the convoluted alliances and betrayals and murky motivations being hard to follow, and I agree, but far more problematic is the sheer volume of story to tell in under three hours. This is a theme to which my reviews seem always to return whenever I see a big budget action film, especially a sequel, and frankly I am tired of coming up with metaphors for it so I’ll just say it plainly: the optimal amount of anything in a story, whether it be adventures, side plots or sex scenes, depends on how much the director and screenwriter can competently develop given time constraints.
I would rather have a POTC with only one well developed adventure rather than the jumble of different stories which are crammed into the movie and which run like Cliff Notes versions of superior and more carefully crafted originals. Back when Gerald Ford was president and George Lucas knew how to make movies, Mr. Lucas developed a story that would eventually become the entire trilogy of Star Wars episodes IV-VI. However, exercising a good judgment which has since become scarce in Hollywood, he opted not to film the entire thing as one movie. Instead, he took one third and turned it into the magisterial Episode IV: A New Hope. If you can imagine what Star Wars would have been like if the entire first trilogy had been packed into one nearly three hour movie you have an idea of what it is like to sit through POTC: At World’s End.
There are so many characters with so many plots and goals and who set out on so many adventures it’s a wonder a projector can hold all the reels without buckling under its gargantuan mass. Of course, with this much adventuring not only are the various stories lacking development, but space is conserved by cutting personal drama which might make us care more about the outcomes of the sundry and copious fights which are constantly breaking out. This is particularly disappointing because there is some real potential for some gripping drama. Love stories, broken hearts, betrayals, misunderstandings and all manner of intrigue are there in the story, but the film only infrequently and reluctantly pauses to take note of this, and it never delves deeply into any of it.
With the character drama nearly entirely out of the way, the movie has plenty of room to deliver its action sequences and my, what a spectacle it is. No, not a spectacle in the sense of the word that gave rise to the adjective spectacular; more like spectacle the way your grandmother means it when she tells you not to make a spectacle of yourself. The fighting scenes are so cartoonish, so outlandish, so over the top that I think it would be quite impossible to make a parody of them. Yes, the movie is riddled with humorous moments (although many of them are a bit forced) but I am quite sure it was not intended as a farce. And yet it is so outrageous it leaves no room for parody. Instead of sword fights, men hold on to ropes and swing high in the air around main masts while performing stunts no acrobat could hope to copy. If a character needs a quick escape it is a simple matter of a couple slices with his sword to a sail and, when the character grabs the corners he has cut off, the wind catches and carries him neatly away with his new parachute. In any given five minute stretch, as many as seven laws of physics are violated and a further twenty pushed to their limits. Can anyone watch such overkill and honestly claim to be exhilarated by it?
Raiders of the Lost Ark was a thrill ride, probably the best that ever was made. And part of the reason it was so thrilling was because the action drew you into the movie. Yes, the stunts were fantastic, but there was a realism and a consistent and coherent internal logic to them. Contrast this with POTC, wherein characters perform shocking and supernatural feats, and yet, when the script requires them to be captured or killed, their strange powers suddenly desert them and they are bested by a simple maneuver at which only moments ago they cavalierly would have scoffed.
There are good points about the movie. Like the second one, the opening images are quite arresting and immediately grab one’s attention, a tribute to Verbinski’s skill with a camera. There are some excellent images along the way too. The actors do well enough, though most of the work that went in to making their characters was done in the first movie. And there are some good dramatic elements waiting to be exploited, as I mentioned, along with an ending that was gutsy enough not to be all sweet and happy.
No doubt the movie will make a billion worldwide. For my part, I grow tired of the same offal being dumped on celluloid every time Hollywood thinks it has to go over the top to outdo itself. Since Hollywood insists on following its CGI formula for all its action flicks, why should I put more effort into reviewing them? From now on, I shall use a Summer Blockbuster Template for this sort of movie. I am being quite serious. I already know exactly how good they are going to be and exactly what the problems will be. I can leave blank spaces to fill in the gaps according to the particular movie in question when the time comes. This system will make my job considerably easier without sacrificing any accuracy. Bring on Transformers.