Elizabeth Swann (Knightley), Will Turner (Bloom), Tia (Harris) and the reincarnated Barbossa (Rush) head to Singapore to meet Captain Sao Feng (Chow) in a bid to get his help in recovering Capn Jack Sparrow (Depp) from Davy Jones (Nighy) locker. But eve
It’s a central irony in the Pirates movies that a profession most generally associated with scum, villainy and other unpleasantries is painted as a heroic career for free-spirits and the righteously rebellious. For the most part, these pirates get up to little more than high jinks – picking a pocket or two, bar-brawling when the occasion presents itself – and haven’t been presented as real thieves or marauders since the supernaturally assisted attack on Port Royal in the first film. But while the pirates may still appear like lovable scamps in this third assault on world box-office records, the demands of this plot mean that they’re so concerned with keeping up the momentum that almost no time is devoted to actual, y’know, fun.
The plot is – well, your guess is as good as ours. There’s much sailing to and fro; something about a magical navigation chart, presumably to match Jack’s magical compass; lots of crosses, double-crosses, triple-crosses and so-many-crosses-it’s-basically-a-porcupine; and mini story arcs for even the most minor characters. We are pretty sure that Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) are having difficulties, that Cap’n Jack (Johnny Depp) is having hallucinations, and that Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) is using Davy Jones’ (Bill Nighy) heart to control the seas and stamp out piracy. But what, precisely, new Singaporean pirate Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) and voodoo priestess Tia (Naomie Harris) are up to is anyone’s guess, and as the betrayals and treachery mount (every major character betrays someone, with the possible exception of the monkey), it becomes impossible to keep track of anyone’s motivation.
But if you can just let the story wash past you, and stop trying to catch the expositionary dialogue as it flits past in a variety of syrupy brogues (not helped by the over-loud sound mix), there is still some fun to be had. Sure, Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann has little to work with despite becoming “King” Of The Pirates (apparently pirates settle disputes with a rule book — they’re pirates, for Chrisssakes!), while Bloom struggles to make any impact with a character who’s gone from pleasantly (if boringly) heroic to confused and confusing. But Johnny still saves the day, hamming it up and zinging lines off Rush’s always fun Barbossa and, in particular, Keith Richards’ surprisingly accomplished turn as Captain Teague. The hallucinatory early scenes in Davy Jones’ locker, where we see the Pearl crewed entirely by multiple Cap’n Jacks, show Depp clearly having a ball, and if later visionary forays are less successful (the ‘good Jack’ and ‘bad Jack’ on his shoulders are a step too far) he still eats up the screen every minute he’s on it.
Amid his welter of double entendres and trippy space-outs, it’s left largely to the undead monkey to amuse the kiddies in a film that’s taken a further turn towards the Dark Side. There’s some quite disturbing violence here from moment one, in an opening scene that sees mass hangings of pirates and their collaborators, and some surprisingly daring plot choices for a Disney summer blockbuster. It’s also undeniably impressive visually. A few of the sequences are gasp-out-loud gorgeous, there’s a beautifully shot finale for one villain and the effects are well-nigh flawless, with almost every scene up to the same quality as Davy Jones’ breathtakingly good execution. So is this the end for Pirates? Well, the climax of this film frankly has ‘sequel bait’ written all over it, and although the traditional post-credits coda somewhat suggests that it’s an actual finish, expect Pirates 4 to be announced the moment that the opening weekend figures come back in. Let’s just hope that next time they keep things simple.
The plots a trippy, twisty mess, and its far too long, but it looks fantastic and makes some bold choices in its execution. And once again Jacks back to save the day.