The last time I saw any of the Pirates of the Caribbean films was in the cinema. Given that I will be writing about pirates fairly soon (and that HMV had the blu-rays for cheap) I figured it’s about time I returned to give the franchise another watch. I’ll be doing one each Sunday, continuing today with part three, At World’s End.
The third, and longest, of the Pirates of the Caribbean films is often criticised by fans of the franchise for moving too far away from the franchise’s roots of fun pirate adventures, but that’s really what I like about it. Several times throughout, characters state that the world is getting smaller. Cutler Beckett has the heart of Davey Jones and command of the Flying Dutchman with it. Pirates are literally facing extinction. There are no more adventures to be had.
We all know how this goes really. The first act where they rescue Jack from Davey Jones’s Locker is good fun, as is the second act with the pirate council meeting. I’ll always nerd out over Ching Shih being there, and casting Keith Richards as Jack’s father is a stroke of genius, if fairly obvious. I also love the massive web of double and triple crosses that takes place. But what we’re really here for is the final battle. And what a battle it is.
I’ve said twice now that Gore Verbinski is an excellent action director, and At World’s End is his tour de force. Jack and Jones fighting on the top mast is an excellent duel, Barbossa marrying Will and Elizabeth while they all fight off the fish people is amazing fun, and once again I was never lost as to what was going on, despite the multiple players in the massive battle. If I’m ever not excited when the Pearl and the Dutchman are dragging each other down into Calypso’s maelstrom, that’ll be a sad day indeed.
But the film’s crowning moment for me comes after the main battle itself. Will is the new captain of the Dutchman and he brings his ship back up so the two of them can fight side by side. The climactic shot of Cutler Beckett just calmly walking through oblivion as the two ships just wreck shop on the Endeavour is just perfect.
Annoyingly, the ending is also the perfect place to leave the franchise. Barbossa once again makes off with the Black Pearl but Jack gets one over on him by stealing the map to the Fountain of Youth. It brings the whole series full circle in a way that will be impossible to replicate in such a satisfying way again. I don’t remember what I thought of On Stranger Tides. Detractors of the second and third tell me it’s more in line with the quality of the first. But for now at least, At World’s End stands for me as Pirates of the Caribbean at its best.
1. At World’s End – Just utterly huge. The action is amazing from start to finish, and it brings the whole thing full circle in a satisfying conclusion all around.
2. Dead Man’s Chest – Retains the fun of the first film while introducing a more epic fantasy story and maintaining a more consistent quality throughout.
3. Curse of the Black Pearl – A fun, lighthearted pirate adventure that is let down slightly by not being able to maintain its excellent quality going into its second half.