The producers of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End clearly wanted to end the threequel with plenty of room left for a fourth installment. But whether the prospect of expanding the franchise well beyond the borders of a trilogy inspires irritated groans or delighted applause will prove to be the most divisive issue ever to pervade a movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. On the one hand, Pirates 3 goes running with the tangled web of plot developments from the second movie that so many viewers found convoluted and boring. On the other hand, this film streamlines the story and brings it to fruition, providing a payoff for all that head-scratching setup we had to endure last time.
It'll be clear to you within the first 20 minutes whether you're too turned off by the narrative style of Pirates 3 to dig it. However, it'll also be clear to you if the third movie's slightly retooled approach is just what you need to float your big old pirate boat. At World's End is full of the delightful, adrenaline-fueled action sequences that an adventure movie requires, but while the second film (despite being a rollicking good time) lost sight of its own pacing because its sword fights, chase scenes, and naval battles were a tad too long, too many, and too near-between for some tastes, this movie nails the momentum a lot better. It spaces its over-the-top excitement sparingly, giving you just a taste here and there of the high-flying action to come, until it finally lets the swords, cannons, and supernaturally conjured sea storms fly in the enthralling, well-tuned climax.
There's also a fantastic sense of pirate lore in the film. The piratical world is brimming with rules and councils and procedures, with arbitrary authority and magical objects to be exploited, stolen, or misused by the brethren, whose double-crossing nature is the source of most pirate adventures in the first place. The confusing ins and outs of pirate bylaws provide a lot of humor, but those looking for a movie with a robust comedic side will be disappointed. The script for Pirates 3 isn't constructed around jokes for the most part, though there's still a healthy dose of character-driven humor. Johnny Depp, in particular, is as hilarious as he was in the first movie, but that doesn't mean that Jack Sparrow's existential crisis is over. That's one great thing about this film: the surprisingly sophisticated character development. Sparrow losing his cool because he no longer knows what he wants (as illustrated by the aimless spinning of his magic "knows-what's-in-your-heart" compass) passes as he realizes that he does know what he wants, he just doesn't know how to get it and still respect himself in the morning. Now, Captain Jack hallucinates a room full of Jacks talking his ear off and offering him an unflinching reflection of himself, which both forces him to think about who he is and provides Depp with the great chance to flex his bulging comic muscles.
Other characters get fleshed out, too, including Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Swann, who gives up hoop skirts altogether in favor of trousers and an impressive arsenal. And Knightley plays the part with intelligence and dignity; she doesn't shriek her way through it or play her hard-fighting duties like some cute, spunky girl from a romance novel. That's actually another surprisingly exceptional element of Pirates 3: the underlying themes about women are pretty progressive. Intentional or no, it's a relief that despite all the male blustering and masculine badassery, it remains in the movie that women wield the most potent power, and that the men who seek to contain it aren't rewarded.
Something to really watch out for in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is that it's a lot less kid friendly than its predecessors. Not only is there a ton of complex plot and wordy, old-fashioned dialogue that little ones just won't follow, this movie's violent themes are much more gruesome. The opening sequence, for instance, is meant to illustrate just how evil the bad guy, East India Trading Company boss-man Lord Cutler Beckett, really is, so it shows a crowd of peasants being led to the gallows, where we see nooses tightened around their necks, and their twitching feet dangling from below the planks following the drop. It's creepy and moving, and it does exactly what it's meant to for adults, but for young kids, it probably just means nightmares. Scenes like this, while not graphic, would be very conceptually disturbing for younger kids, so unfortunately for them, it might be a few years until they can watch what could, for all its faults, quite possibly become an adventure classic for all time.