#3 in my ranking of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
This is the least of the three original Pirates of the Caribbean movies, more overstuffed, unfocused, and all over the place tonally than the previous two films. However, it still has that overarching and earnest desire to entertain, this time on a larger scale, with a solid balance of emotional catharsis and spectacle, concluding what has to be the weirdest trilogy of big budget films ever made. It also has my favorite moment in the whole franchise as well. It’s a bloated, unwieldy film, but at least it ultimately just wants its audience to have a good time.
With Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) dead and trapped in Davey Jones’ locker, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) head to Singapore in an effort to bring the nine pirate lords together in order to find a way to counter Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) who is using Davey Jones (Bill Nighy) as a tool against all who would stand against the East India Trading Company. Times are desperate for pirates (ugh…I wish this franchise had started with merchantmen who had to resort to piracy because of mercantile overbearing rather than just pirates who were…you know…awful people), and they must do something, even if that means finding a way to cross over into Davey Jones’ locker to bring Jack, one of the pirate lords, back to help. So, yeah, death doesn’t seem to mean much, especially since Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) pretty much says she can bring anyone back from the dead when explaining the difference in process between bringing Barbossa back and Jack. There’s no real reason to get terribly emotionally invested in any of this, not that I ever did.
After a series of double crosses and new deals struck with dubious meaning, our main characters take a Chinese ship to the edge of the world, fall off, and end up in Davey Jones’ locker. I do have to say that the fantasy elements are some of the reasons why I enjoy these movies as much as I do, and the implication that they live on a flat Earth tickles me. Anyway, Jack is there, going mad with the Black Pearl in a desert when a host of crabs made from rocks sweep the ship to the waterline where the rest of the crew wash up. Taking them along after an entertaining bit where he tells everyone what he thinks of them, they have to figure out a way back, and the nonsense logic of needing to turn the ship upside down at the precise moment of sunset doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. However, it tickles me nonetheless.
Back, the movie gets into gear proper and heads towards the final big confrontation against Lord Beckett and Davey Jones. More reveals (in particular that Tia Dalma is the heathen god Calypso trapped in human form by the Brethren Court of pirates by the advice of the lovesick Davey Jones) and double crosses occur. The plot mechanics can be difficult to follow at times, there being so many double crosses, plans within plans, and hidden agendas for so many characters, but we never really move away from the idea that Will and Elizabeth are our heroes, Beckett and Jones are our villains, and that Jack is the entertaining wildcard.
This is the one movie I’d say that fully embraces the idea that it’s an ensemble piece without anyone really rising to the level of main character. I maintain that it’s Will in the first and most likely the second, but he’s definitely not the main character here. He shares that with Elizabeth (who has an arc) and Jack (who has something like an arc that I can’t quite figure out) while the host of supporting characters from Barbossa to Jones to Tia Dalma to Norrington to even the minor characters like Pintel and Ragetti as well as Will’s father Bootstrap (Stellan Skarsgard) all get their due. This movie is big, and it’s not just big in terms of spectacle. It does try to invest in our panoply of characters to some decent degree.
And I think that’s why I can keep returning to these films despite the fact that they are mostly spectacle. The characters are well written enough that I can enjoy their presence amidst the loud noises and strange sights.
Those strange sights are back from the second film with a vengeance as well, expanding on Jones’ crew with new members based on sea creatures. There’s also the surreal sights of Davey Jones’ locker that probably could have used more time (an odd thing to say in a movie that’s honestly overlong to begin with). The maelstrom that the final concentrated battle takes place in is the exact kind of exaggerated nonsense I expect from my movies about pirates battling the East India Trading Company’s agent, the tentacle-faced Davey Jones, captain of the Flying Dutchman.
And my favorite moment of the series? The wedding between Will and Elizabeth. After most of a movie where they have a strained relationship because Will did not understand the kiss Elizabeth gave to Jack at the end of the previous film that ultimately saved them all, Will throws himself at his bride to be in the middle of the big fight and Barbossa presides over the nuptials, all while everyone continues to swash those buckles with Hans Zimmer’s score playing playfully and bombastically in the background. It’s the exact kind of silliness, earnestness, and extravagance I expect from this kind of stuff, and I love it.
The plot is overcomplicated, the first third is dedicated to undoing the last moments of the previous film, and the tone, especially in the beginning, is too serious for its own good. And yet, it still wants desperately to entertain me at a cost of $300 million, and I keep being entertained by the excessiveness of it all. It doesn’t reach the tonal heights of the first, but I can easily imagine worse ways to finishing out this kind of trilogy.