Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ★★★★½

There have been plenty of ambitious films over the last decade but none of them are quite like this. Daringly, the third movie in the POTC trilogy and the second in an epic two-part story that began with Dead Man's Chest, is light on the action and heavy on plot and the politics of impending war. The first time I saw it I hated it for that. Over time, I've grown to appreciate this film so much that on each viewing it gets less bloated, less convoluted and much less boring.

Each film in the trilogy is vastly different to one another while maintaining the same overall tone, themes, characters and stories and perfectly capturing the spirit and heart of what is easily the most definitive pirate tale ever constructed. The first was a modern interpretation on the traditional piracy lore, with a superb Disney vibe and plenty of horror elements thrown in. The second was pure adventure, having the most fun of the three and laying the ground work for the finale while still feeling like its own movie rather than a sequel set up.

At World's End is a dramatic study of the series' characters and themes, an almost political thriller set in a theme park ride inspired world. It's one of the finest examples of a conclusion ever put to screen, oozing a sense of finality in every scene, the essence of which is captured in a few notes of Hans Zimmer's bittersweet score. We know everything is coming to an end, but we still get to spend a lot more time in this world, allowing room for an ever-intensifying build up in a movie that is made to be a culmination.

While it does have enough ideas to make it feel like it has its own beginning, middle and end, it most certainly is a companion piece to Dead Man's Chest, and delivers a payoff to every loose end in wonderfully satisfying ways. The characters begin the movie lost, both figuratively and literally, struggling to figure out who they are as a result of the events that have taken place before this one, and how they've changed because of it. Loyalties are explored and defined, as the characters all grow into the people they're destined to become and the purposes they are destined to serve. The feeling of 'it all led to this' has never been felt stronger than here.

Gore Verbinski directs with what appears to be a remarkable amount of creative control, delivering a movie that I cannot believe was released by a massive studio. The introductory scene with Jack Sparrow is such a beautifully story-boarded and shot exercise in surrealism that even Hans Zimmer experiments with sound to keep up with the absurd visuals. Verbinski commands this world with a sweeping energy that makes everything feel bigger, bolder and allows everything to carry more weight, and it's so mature with its themes and it's purpose that I'm surprised Disney let him make it. By the time we get to the immense climax and the movie delivers on the action, every clash of a sword feels desperate. You really get the feeling that the characters are truly fighting for what they believe in and who they love. The true culmination of the two-part epic is in this battle scene, where the showdown feels 100% earned, and it's directed with such flair and heightened sense of scope yet shown very clearly and concisely, focusing on the characters and their goals and motivations rather than trying to cram in as much action as it can. It finds the action within the characters, rather than making the audience find the characters within the action.

Dead Man's Chest/At World's End comprises one of the most fulfilling stories to ever grace the silver screen and I grow fonder of this half every time I watch it. I disagree with people who say it's hard to follow, boring or slow. I used to be one of them, but when you really pay attention and when you watch this right after the other two, there's so much to be gained and so much to be appreciated.

Gore Verbinski is a master.

Lewiss liked these reviews