- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

Heaven help the poor moviegoer who stumbles into “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” without having seen the first two installments.

“The Matrix” trilogy might have been set in the future, but when it comes to numbingly complex storytelling, Keanu and company can’t compete with these “Pirates.”

But even if you’ve pored over every frame of the previous “Pirates,” you’ll be glassy-eyed during “At World’s End.”

Like the first sequel, the film favors spectacle over coherence, length over efficiency. Whatever character development was drummed up for parts one and two walks the plank during the third, and supposedly final, “Pirate” saga.

At the end of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” our antihero Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) was in the clutches of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) were in full rescue mode.

Meanwhile, the East India Company (think Hollywood’s vision of Wal-Mart) has teamed up with Davy Jones and is bent on destroying the pirate menace.

“At World’s End” opens with a jarring prologue, the sight of men, women and, yes, children, being hanged for conspiring with known pirates.

Isn’t this supposed to be a sunny summer movie?

Then it’s back to Will and Elizabeth, who are trying to convince Chinese pirate Capt. Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) to join his fellow pirates to defeat the growing threat.

With the help of reformed pirate Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, having a blast), our heroes must defeat the pompous Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) and his corporate minions.

Just describing the first half hour is exhausting, and we’ve got another two-plus hours to endure. The movie’s soundtrack is set on “deafen,” and the characters are still running hither and yon as if they stepped on tacks. Character loyalties shift almost constantly, and the movie resorts too often to scenes in which the key players draw their guns on each other. Yawn.

“At World’s End” does jettison the laborious set pieces that dragged down the first sequel. The biggest action here occurs near the end, when two ships square off in the middle of a maelstrom. It’s as awkwardly framed as every other sequence, but it’s still a wonder to behold.

We’ve long since stopped marveling at Mr. Depp’s work as Jack Sparrow. By now, his performance feels more like an ego trip than anything else, although snippets of his comic mugging hint at why we fell in love with the old pirate in the first place.

Perhaps it’s a testament to the movie-going public that such dense storytelling doesn’t chase them away, but we suspect people’s amazement starts and stops with the spectacle. The various pirate boats sure are gorgeous, and the cast is so loaded with talent it’s hard not to dig them playing pirate on a studio’s dime.

And the sight of Davy Jones’ mug, a collection of slivery tentacles in constant motion, remains a CGI marvel.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” manages to waste the expected cameo by Keith Richards. But when a film squanders so many assets, it’s hardly a shock to see it fritter away one more.

**

TITLE: “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”

RATING: PG-13 (Swashbuckling violence, disturbing imagery and mature themes)

CREDITS: Directed by Gore Verbinksi. Written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio.

RUNNING TIME: 168 minutes

WEB SITE: http://disney.go.com/ disneypictures/pirates/atworldsend/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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