Note: wherever possible, I will limit spoilers.
I went to see Pirates with pretty low expectations. Given other cliffhanger-based third-time fizzlers (the Matrix trilogy comes painfully to mind), I didn’t have a lot of hope for this new franchise. However, I was very pleasantly surprised. This movie outstrips the second one in many ways; it delivers action, some fairly interesting character dilemmas, an intriguingly bittersweet ending, and a good dose of the piratical humor that was somehow muted in the second movie.
The movie opens with a very macabre mood, like the second, but it doesn’t take too long to get going with some action. Captain Barbossa struts onscreen after the first five minutes, and it soon becomes very apparent that Geoffery Rush is committed to making Barbossa’s absence from the second movie felt during every minute of the third. He’s back with a vengeance, playing off of Jack Sparrow at any possible opportunity. He’s also the only character to really talk pirate, with many over-emphasized “arrrrrrr!“s, and his delivery of some lines is just priceless. He’s the centerpoint for three of what I thought were the funniest things in the movie: a short-running but hilarious gag revealing Jack Sparrow’s apparent inadequacy issues with a telescope, Barbossa’s version of “whispering as if to a lover,” and a marriage at sea in the middle of a swordfight (“De-ARR-ly beloved, we ARR gath-ARR-ed here to witness–ARR! TAKE THAT YE MANGY CURRRR! HAHAHAHAAAARRRR!“)
The first half of the movie did build up slowly. It also featured the most convoluted plot I think I have ever read, heard, or seen on the screen, and that wasn’t a good thing. A basic summary might run thusly: Jack betrays Elizabeth, who double-crosses Barbossa, but Will has triple-crossed both Barbossa and Lord Beckett, however, Sparrow anticipated all that and worked it to his advantage to double-cross Davy Jones at the last minute, who immediately responds by quadruple-crossing all of the above, some new character is introduced and betrayed, Elizabeth jumps on screen to mutiny against Will, and then after an hour the only ones left standing are Sparrow by virtue of his Johnny Deppness and Barbossa by virtue of his over-the-top pirateness. I found it impossible to follow, with none of that special quality that a really good betrayal or set of betrayals has–you know, where when it happens the audience says “aha!” quietly to itself, because all the pieces have just fallen into place so perfectly. However, I was able to get past the first half of the movie by just writing it all off with the word “pirate!” Seriously, all you need from the first half of the movie is to realize that everyone is out there for only themselves with their own motives, and they’re all working at cross purposes.
Not that the beginning isn’t without its charm. Chow Yun Fat just brings badassitude to the screen whenever he appears–though I felt he was underused. Give the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon guy some better fight scenes, eh? There is a whole sequence in the beginning having to do with recovering Jack that was very Garth Nix-ian, if you are familiar with the fantasy novel Sabriel, and very cool. It establishes that not only does the Pirates franchise have some random magicky characters, but there’s a whole mythology built into the movies (and, surprisingly, the mythology is still intact when the dust of the movie settles). There is also a priceless sequence involving a shipful of Jack Sparrows–need I say more?
The middle section of the movie is where the characters all discover (or, at least, the good guys all discover) that they’ve got to get their act in gear and start teaming up to defeat the evildoers. Some of the secondary characters get interesting roles here, and a bit of the history of Davy Jones comes to the fore and reveals the potential for plot developments later. Things start to build with increasing momentum towards the inevitable climax of the film.
That climax doesn’t disappoint. There are some great battles, some well-done images are presented, and the plot gets much thinner compared to the soupiness it had in the beginning. (It’s not too thin, just thin enough to keep things moving.) Some recurring themes seemed a little underdeveloped (particularly the Davy Jones/Calypso/Barbossa plotline, and the father-and-son-Turner plotline) at this point. There was also a strange moment with Jack Sparrow consulting with an angelic and demonic version of himself on each shoulder; but given Jack, it seemed okay. I have to admit I was pretty absorbed by the big naval battle in the end, and I was pretty riveted by some of the smaller duels, too.
The movie winds down with an ending that I really did not see coming until about 15 minutes out. At that point, a surprising event occurred and then the movie moved inexorably to a resolution that made perfect sense but I couldn’t sense from the beginning. The good guys win out in the end, of course, but things are decidedly not happy for all of them individually. That surprised me a great deal–the ending left me satisfied, but everything wasn’t necessarily okay. For some of the characters, their lot at the end stinks, but not as much as it could have given the way things were going halfway into the movie. I have to appreciate the writers and director for pulling off that kind of bittersweet ending in a trilogy-closing big-blockbuster summer franchise movie like this. It closes all the movie’s storylines (okay, well, most of them, and all the ones we care about), and not necessarily in a happily-ever-after storybook sort of way.
All in all, it was a fun thing to see. It wasn’t, of course, as compact a package of fun as the first movie was, but it held together better than the second and didn’t seem to be all fluff. It also brought a lot more piratey fun to the forefront than the second movie did. It has its shortcomings, but I give it a thumbs up.