Jack Sparrow is dead.
But that doesn’t stop Capt. Barbossa, Will and Elizabeth from wanting to somehow rescue him. So they acquire fabled Chinese sea charts, pull together a motley crew and sail to the end of the world to find their slurring and swaggering friend—in his own private hell, stranded aboard the Black Pearl in the middle of a dead desert. (That qualifies as dead in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.)
Through a miraculous event—similar to Jack’s fabled turtle ride—Jack makes his way to his saviors and together they discover how to break free from death’s grasp. They sail back to the living where Barbossa calls together the Brethren Court of pirates. He hopes to convince these bloodthirsty leaders to band together and battle Davy Jones, Lord Beckett and the armada of the East India Trading Company.
But all is not as it seems when Will deceives Jack and Jack deceives Barbossa and Elizabeth deceives Will … and on and on it goes. Lies set a number of people’s plans in motion. But the worst of these is Lord Beckett’s. He hopes to send Jack back into Davy Jones’ barnacle-encrusted embrace and violently wipe the pirate nation from the face of the earth.
Jack gives up what matters most to him to save Will’s life. Elizabeth and Will (in spite of the lying) eventually voice their love and commitment to each other. Elizabeth and her father share a deep love and respect for each other. And her transformation from damsel into fiery leader is now complete, sending a message of empowerment to young women.
When she and Will’s father (“Bootstrap” Bill Turner) speak of Will’s promise to return and rescue dear old Dad, Bootstrap realizes, “If he saves me, he loses you”—and selflessly says, “Tell him to stay away.” Undaunted, Will still strives to uphold his promise.
A man of questionable loyalties makes a final redemptive stand. The pirates have a slightly twisted but noble saying of, “No cause is lost if there is but one fool left to fight for it.” During a brief cameo as Jack’s buccaneer dad, Keith Richards advises him, “The trick isn’t living forever; it’s living with yourself forever.”
Pirate superstitions both abound and are realized—just as they were in The Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man’s Chest. Sacred pirate law books. Cursed ships. Davy Jones. The undead. The not-quite-dead. And the voodoo charmer Tia Dalma, who this time around is tied more directly into a legend about a goddess of death named Calypso. She casts bones in a time of trial and is the focus of an incantation that liberates Calypso from her human prison.
Jack is in a place “off the edge of the map” where only the dead can go. (His afterlife plays out like a psychotic episode.) His rescuers sail over a waterfall, apparently dying themselves, to reach him before beating the system and re-entering our dimension. A supernatural phenomenon then turns the world upside down and brings them back. An occult curse gives a dying man life and damns him for eternity.
Women wear low-cut tops and skirts that are slit up the thigh. There are a variety of bare-chested pirates. As for the franchise’s jokester love of innuendo, the most obvious one here involves cannonballs dangling from chains.
The Asian pirate Capt. Feng kisses Elizabeth, attempting to force himself on her. Before gaining an audience with a pirate lord, Elizabeth is told to remove all her clothes except for a loose-fitting frock. We don’t watch her disrobe, but later we see pirates peeking up through the floorboards to see beneath the garment.
Will and Elizabeth kiss several times. And after they’re wed—in a scene some will interpret as a morbidly romantic encounter between the living and the dead—it’s implied that they have sex on an island beach. While the two are dressing, Elizabeth puts her foot up on a rock and Will reaches over to grab her bare leg and kiss it.
No surprises. But the violence does ratchet up a smidgeon from movies 1 and 2. Sword fights. Impalings. Gun blasts. Explosions. They’re all commonplace. Ships are ripped asunder, sending bodies and tons of splintery shrapnel flying. More up-close violent moments include a man being choked as Davy Jones’ tentacles work their way into his head and body through his mouth and nose. Two women are shot at close range, one in the forehead. A beating heart is stabbed. A heavy cannon crushes a man, and a corpse turns up with a stake jammed through its mouth and out the top of its head. A half-man, half-eel creature bites down on a man’s head. Dead men are tied to floating barrels.
The action starts with hundreds of pirate sympathizers being lined up and systematically hanged (then tossed into piles). The nooses are placed around their necks before the camera shifts to show their feet dangling through open trapdoors. (A young boy is among their number.)
A man is shown with a large, raw-looking scar on his chest. Another’s frostbitten toe breaks off in his hand. As Jack and Co. attempt to escape the land of death, they see hundreds of deceased souls floating just beneath the water’s surface.
The British profanity “bloody” is uttered frequently and combined with “h—.” Many of the pirates’ growled interjections are indecipherable. (Think variations on the classic “arrrgh!”) Discernable sayings range from “slap me thrice and hand me to me mother” to “blimey” to “god’s bucket.”
As would be expected, rum is the swill of choice for many pirates (including Jack on several occasions). It’s tossed back either from a cup or straight out of the bottle.
Everyone lies to everyone else. And they all attempt to justify their actions.
In our reviews of the first two movies, we noted how “cool” they made pirates seem. Nothing’s changed between then and now. Not even the pirate’s creed. Jack and the first mate recite, “Take what you can. Give nothing back.”
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is one whiz-bang of an action flick. There’s no denying that. The wind is howling, the sails are at full mast and the anchor hasn’t just been hoisted, it’s been pounded into small pieces and loaded into cannons. It’s obvious that the film’s creators (Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man’s Chest director Gore Verbinski helms this one, too) wanted nothing more than to top everything they’ve done up till now. In fact, they want this film to have more heroes, more villains and a bigger, splashier pirate sea battle than ever a bunch of landlubbing moviegoers saw before.
But as it’s said onscreen, “There’s a cost for what we want most.” To set up all those special effects, the story gets pulverized. After we have the rug pulled out from under us again and again by duplicitous plot twists, we lose track of who the good guys are—if we ever knew to begin with. I started asking myself, “Will anybody do the honest, upright thing?”
Then, after the villains one-up each other with desperately dastardly deeds to demonstrate who has the super-evil-dude market cornered, we aren’t sure who we want to hate, either. And as the messiness mounts, we begin to care less and less about where this aimless projectile of a movie is heading. All that’s left is crash-boom! What was born from an amusement park ride ends up as little else. An almost three-hour boat ride through Disneyland’s pirate world. The monsters moan and the pirates prance and the ship rocks, but Jack, Elizabeth and Will end up meaning as little to us as those theme park animatronics.
Putting aside the romanticizing of piracy, violence and dark spirituality (if you’ve even heard of the Pirates movies, you know those things are all in there), the other cost of selling your soul for a few more big bangs is that At World’s End feels as heartless as its scaly, squirmy-faced villain, Davy Jones. You have to sit through 10 minutes of credits to be shown one brief tender moment that rings true. One earnest soul you might identify with. But that’s like tormenting a parched pirate—stuck in the middle of the land of death—with a single drop of water.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.