Director – Gore Verbinski, Screenplay – Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, Producer – Jerry Bruckheimer, Photography – Dariusz Wolski, Music – Hans Zimmer, Music Supervisor – Bob Badami, Visual Effects Supervisors – Charles Gibson & John Knoll, Visual Effects/Animation – Industrial Light and Magic (Supervisor – Roger Guyett, Animation Supervisor – Hal Hickel), Additional Visual Effects – Asylum (Supervisor – Nathan McGuinness), CIS Hollywood (Supervisor – Bryan Hirota), Digital Domain (Supervisors – Bryan Grill & Erik Nash), Method (Supervisor – Alex Frisch), The Orphanage Inc & Pacific Title and Digital (Supervisor – David Sosalla), Special Effects Supervisor – John Frazier, Makeup Effects Supervisor – Ve Neill, Makeup Effects – Creature Makeup Concepts (Supervisor – Joel Harlow), Creature Concepts – Crash McCreery, Production Design – Tom Duffield. Production Company – Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Johnny Depp (Captain Jack Sparrow), Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann), Geoffrey Rush (Captain Hector Barbossa), Orlando Bloom (Will Turner), Bill Nighy (Davy Jones), Tom Hollander (Lord Cutler Beckett), Naomie Harris (Tia Dalma), Chow Yun Fat (Sao Feng), Lee Arenberg (Pintel), Mackenzie Crook (Ragetti), Kevin R. McNally (Master Gibbs), Jack Davenport (James Norrington), Stellan Skarsgård (Bootstrap Bill Turner), Jonathan Pryce (Governor Weatherby Swann), Keith Richards (Captain Teague)
With the aid of Captain Barbossa, Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner arrive in Singapore to ask help from the pirate captain Sao Feng in going after Jack Sparrow. Pursued by the British, they flee in one of Sao Feng’s junks. Barbossa leads them over the edge of the world into the afterlife where Jack and the Black Pearl have been stranded in the middle of a desert. The sail back to the living world in the Black Pearl where Barbossa takes them to a meeting of The Brethren Court, the supreme council of pirate captains. There the pirate captains try to decide what to do about the threat of Lord Cutler Beckett who, with the use of Davy Jones’s captured heart, is attempting to gain control of the seas. After Sao Feng is killed, Elizabeth is made the captain of his ship and elected the Pirate King by the Brethren Court. She marshals the pirates to stand up to fight Cutler. At the same time, Barbossa and Davy Jones have been trying to unleash Calypso, the goddess of the seas and Jones’s love who has been imprisoned in the body of Tia Dalma.
At World’s End is the third of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. The series started with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), which was an enormous success and one of the top grossing movies of its year. Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer reunited all of the cast and most of the production personnel for two sequels that were shot back-to-back, beginning with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), released a year earlier, and followed by At World’s End here. I must admit to not being much of a fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. The Curse of the Black Pearl seemed to hold the potentially amusing combination of being a swashbuckling adventure that came with its tongue planted in cheek, although did so to only variable success. By the time of Dead Man’s Chest, that combination had been blown up with A+ budget over-production and a plot that was far too sprawling and complicated to seemingly keep track of where it was going.
The two previous Pirates of the Caribbean films sat equally between the amusing and the overblown and are enjoyable enough on their own terms. However, by the time of At World’s End, that mix has toppled over. The Pirates of the Caribbean saga feels like a successful film having been extruded into an epic-sized franchise not because there was a story that needed telling but because shrewd commercial dictates decided there was a good audience for more. It is important that we should not forget that what we have here is not a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings saga but something that started out as an attempt to spin a film out of a Disney theme park ride. Ever since the success of Lord of the Rings, filmmakers have been trying to create multi-story epics rather than sequels and it is hard not to see that Pirates of the Caribbean has befallen an exaggerated sense of its own self-importance in trying to spin an epic saga out of the series. As The Wachowski Brothers discovered with The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003), sometimes the self-importance that gets conferred on these multi-part sagas ends up collapsing under the weight of audience expectations.
At World’s End is the weakest of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. For all the filmmakers’ attempts to create an epic, screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio give the impression that they have created a work that is so sprawling that even they have lost touch with the story they were trying to tell. (In fact, the two sequels had started shooting back to back with no completed script and Elliott and Rossio were often writing scenes while on set). You could see this was a problem that was starting to take over Dead Man’s Chest but you sat with the hope that At World’s End would pull it all together satisfyingly. Alas, At World’s End only intensifies the problem. Most of the time, At World’s End feels that it consists of only a series of character allegiances that are constantly being shuffled around in relation to one another in lieu of any plot. Trying to follow what is going on at any one time is a distinct scratch of the head. By about the 90-minute mark (usually the length of any normal feature film), you are still wondering when the plot will kick in and if the film is actually going anywhere. Whenever the audience might notice there is a distinct lack of drama, the film throws in a big special effects sequence or ship battle. And then there are plot aspects that are downright bizarre like the revelation of the identity of the goddess Calypso. This promptly proves to be a plot element that goes nowhere – after much of the film spent debating about doing so, Calypso is unleashed … and then never heard from again.
At least, Dead Man’s Chest had a sense of humour and some amusing set-pieces in between its sprawling plot – the scenes involving the attempt to scale the cliff-face in the cage of bones, the runaway mill wheel sequence, Johnny Depp as a native kebab, the Kraken climax – that were enough to keep interest going. At World’s End lacks any of these memorable set-pieces and little of the sense of humour. For a time, the film is kept going by a range of eccentric images – Johnny Depp crewing a ship filled with doubles of himself or having an argument with miniature versions of himself that are hanging from his dreadlocks; the Black Pearl being carried through the desert by an army of crabs and sailing down a sand dune; a journey through a sea filled with the dead in tiny dinghies; the attempt to tip the Black Pearl upside down as it sails towards the sunset – but most of these peter out into a puzzled scratch of the head.
At World’s End at least gets itself together for a rousing climax with the various parties fighting around two ships locked together as they head down into the maelstrom. Here At World’s End finally starts to feel that it has come into its own. Alas the build-up to that point feels like a good deal of over-inflated (not to mention over-budgeted) self-importance that has been dragged out to nearly three hours running time. The numerous plot strands are eventually resolved, although hardly with any dramatic satisfaction. Naturally, the end of the film is left open on a cliffhanger that sets things up for a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film about the search for Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. After much wrangling, this came about with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) and was followed by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales/Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017).
(Nominee for Best Production Design at this site’s Best of 2007 Awards).