Fun with Franchises: Final Thoughts on Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

All right… we’ve watched the film, talked about it, had fun with it, and then we went and listed our favorite images from the film yesterday. Now all that’s left is to finish up with what we actually thought about the film as a whole.

This is our space to go over what we liked and didn’t like about each film we watch for Fun with Franchises. We talk about specific things as we get to them during the articles, and we’ll mention our general thoughts during them, but we don’t really ever get to sit and do broad strokes during the articles. So this is why we do these Final Thoughts. We get to take a step back and talk about the films as a whole, rather than discussing specific scenes or images. We’ll talk about how we felt about the film, how we liked it as a film, how we liked it as a member of its franchise, and where we think it falls within that franchise.

Again, it’s not very complicated, but it is a place to find out what we actually thought about certain movies, since, while we’re having fun with them in the articles, it may get difficult to tell sometimes. Because we’ll just rip things to shreds for fun, even if we love them.

So here are our final thoughts on Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End:

Final Thoughts on Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End:

Colin:

I genuinely didn’t expect to like this movie very much at all. Before Fun With Franchises, I’d only ever seen Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man’s Chest, and I’ve always operated under the assumption that they got progressively worse with each movie. I think we finally have a trilogy (since that’s really what it is. A trilogy plus a fourth movie.) where the second movie is definitely the weakest.

Let’s get it straight — this isn’t as good as Black Pearl. Everything about that movie worked, and there are a few issues with this one. First of all, it isn’t nearly as much fun. There’s a little too much drama between Will and Elizabeth, too much bullshit about saving Daddy (you’re risking everything to save the man who abandoned you! Explanation?) and it was still a bit heavy on recycled jokes. We all love sea turtles, but when you use that line as an exit for a major character, it feels weak. You can do better than that.

As Mike pointed out, the Jack Sparrow scenes in this movie went way too far. I approved of him being schizophrenic in the Locker. It was new, fun, and it offered an abstract or supernatural aspect to the new location. Most crucially, it didn’t really give us extra insight into what Sparrow was thinking or what any of his schemes were. The setting on the ship in the middle of the salt flats was gorgeous, and I even went with the weird rock crabs because they weren’t overused. So I was actually a big fan of that whole first sequence. I like it when characters are caught in their own minds and unsure of what’s real and what’s not. It was Depp’s Inception moment. Then they brought it back two more times, which was wholly unnecessary. On my first (and only) watch, I was excited when they brought it back because I was just letting it happen in front of my face. I remembered enjoying the earlier sequence, and was sort of excited he was doing it again. Then, looking at it in context while doing the articles, I realized that it was silly and out of place. Why did that need to be in there? Little Jacks on his shoulders, talking to him? The old Dutchman Jack dropping his brain? What the hell? So I’ll stick by that first sequence in the Locker, but for the rest of the movie, I have to agree with Mike. What were they thinking?

I still don’t love Davy Jones as a villain. Nothing’s really improved since the second movie in that respect; he’s still a sort of two-dimensional plot point that doesn’t get much development. Look at his appearances throughout this movie. Showing up and snarling at Will but then leaving quietly. Standing in a bucket on an island silently as the other five characters present all speak. Standing outside a brig cell gasping as Naomie Harris touches his chest. This guy is worthless other than Bill Nighy’s great line deliveries and the fact that as a character, he seems to be the ultimate weapon. It’s easy to forget that the whole movie sort of revolves around him and what he’s doing, because he’s not too interesting, is he?

Beckett was the interesting one. I really liked that guy. He just works as a bad guy, better than most bad guys do these days. The awesome thing about Beckett is that there doesn’t need to be a big reveal. Too many movies do that on autopilot. There’s a problem or a threat, so we need to figure out who the bad guy is [reveal!] and then defeat him. They introduced Beckett in the first minute of Dead Man’s Chest and made him the bad guy immediately. And if you forgot about who the bad guy was, they started this movie with him hanging hundreds of men, women, and CHILDREN. I love that they just give you a bad guy and still manage to make it interesting. There’s no guesswork about anything; it’s more about how Beckett is able to be the bad guy and get closer to his completely obvious bad guy goals by doing deals with everyone.

That’s a true badass — the guy who does deals with his enemies when both parties know full well that they’d like the other dead. And he does the deals anyway because he knows that he’ll come out ahead in the end. It’s like Monopoly; you give up properties and possibly even give your opponents monopolies if it means getting one of your own. I love a calculating bad guy. That’s why when he lost out, it was with acceptance. He’d done everything right (except for leaving his armada behind for the final battle) up to that point, and when he ended up losing, it was a fluke that had to be accepted. No screaming.

Barbossa married them while fighting off fish pirates.

Oh, and plenty of locations, huh? Singapore was okay. It set the plot going, so it’s already way ahead of cannibullshit. I liked the Asian females, but they got shot. And Chow Yun Fat’s always good.

Can we talk about how they got Keith Richards to cameo? It wasn’t even that over the top, and he had a baller character. I liked it.

I liked seeing the whole Brethren Court thing, too. Just different kinds of pirates interacting with one another. And a dude named Gentleman Jocard.

I can’t forget to mention how unbelievably good the shots were when they were in the snowy place and when they crossed into the No Man’s Land or wherever that was where the sky and the water were both black and starry. MAN that looked good.

My biggest gripes with Dead Man’s Chest were that there were too many extended action sequences and that the plot didn’t get off to a real start until we were off the cannibal island. This movie started strong, and while it ended with a pretty long and ridiculous action sequence, it was an isolated incident and was punctuated by various plot points that broke up the action. Hearts and stabbings and weddings and the like. So all in all, we have a movie that — while lacking whatever quality made Black Pearl so perfect — didn’t fall into the same traps that kept Dead Man’s Chest from being better. It was decently well-written, looked amazing, didn’t go too over the top with the action sequences and tried to win us early by opening on several dozen executions.

A good time was had by all.

My Final Thoughts:

I’ve given a lot of thought to this, and I think the reason none of these movies can and will ever reach the level Curse of the Black Pearl reaches is because you can only get that first taste of Jack Sparrow once. When we first meet Sparrow, he’s entertaining, but we don’t really know how ruthless he is or what he’s willing to do to not get caught. He actually takes Elizabeth hostage within the first ten minutes of us meeting him and actually says some potentially sinister and threatening things to her. Add to that the fact that we never really know his motives or what he’s thinking, along with Depp’s performance and the general essence of what that character is to watch, and it makes for a perfect storm of brilliance.

But now that we’ve seen Jack, and we know that he’ll mostly do the right thing and is, for the most part, honest, it’s hard to surprise us with the things he does. Just wait until we get to On Stranger Tides. You have to completely turn off your expectations of Sparrow and resort to just enjoying what he does, because there’s no mystery left to him at all. That’s how I consider the rest of this franchise — the slow disassembling of Jack Sparrow. Because after that first movie, he’s now the spotlight, which means we’re watching him and what he does. They cloaked him as a supporting that’s really a lead with that first movie. We got introduced to Elizabeth and Will first, so we were supposed to be emotionally invested in them as protagonists, and then Sparrow shows up, and we don’t know which side he’s on, and he fluctuates back and forth, and he’s entertaining as hell — he sneaks in there and steals the show. But now he is the show.

So the problem with Sparrow is, all they can do to him is disassemble him. They can show you more. And more means less. Last film, we found out the only reason he was captain of the Pearl was because he essentially sold his soul to Davy Jones, who raised the ship from the depths. Wasn’t it better when the ship was this mysterious ghost ship that he used to be captain of? And then here, we see his thoughts portrayed as multiple versions of himself, and hear how he figures out his schemes? Just wait til we get to On Stranger Tides. Within twenty minutes of that movie starting, there are no more surprises with Jack. And he just becomes the character you watch to enjoy him doing his thing. Which I guess is what happens with these characters. Even by the end of The Thin Man franchise, I wasn’t really loving the movies as much as I was loving William Powell being a drunk and seeing him say witty things with Myrna Loy. So I guess that’s something that’s bound to happen, but it’s upsetting to see them helping this along by doing things like that.

That Locker scene works on its own, given that it’s what would happen to someone who was there. But seeing it happen again later on makes no sense at all and completely kills Sparrow’s character. He has no aura anymore. We don’t need to be told what he’s thinking. We need to see him do his thing and accomplish things without telling us. Because what if we didn’t know why he wanted the heart? What if his goal was to maybe have someone else be the one who got stuck doing the job? If it wasn’t so obvious, it would be more interesting. But these other Jacks come up and basically tell us what Jack is thinking, and they’re still a part of the stupid humor of this franchise that also dilutes it. So the thing with Jack is — he kind of needs a strong story around him to fully function, but now he is the story, which puts them in a bind in terms of how to tell the story. So the movies can never be as good as that first one.

That said — in terms of the franchise — this film works. A lot of people who saw it when it came out (and probably still, after the fact) thought it was overly long and got really convoluted in the middle, but honestly, after watching it again this time, I don’t really see that. It’s pretty straightforward. Everyone’s fucking over everyone else. The only time it gets moderately confusing is when they cut back and forth to Jack making the deal with Beckett and the stuff on the ship. Because it’s inexplicably intercut for no real reason, and you have like three betrayals at once there. The Chinese guys betray Barbossa and them to Sao Feng, Will betrays them for the Pearl, Sao Feng betrays Will for the Pearl, and Beckett’s guy betrays Sao Feng because he can. And all that’s happening while you’re watching Jack do his thing, which makes it confusing, because you’d rather just be watching Jack and aren’t paying attention to the other stuff as much (because you don’t really give a shit). Other than that, it’s all pretty straightforward. Jack is dead. We need Jack. Go get Jack. We have Jack. Now we gotta gather the pirates and figure out what to do. Oh, but we’re all fucking each other over. Now let’s get there, and now let’s decide what to do, and now let’s fight. It’s all there. It’s just that one scene that makes things more confusing than they need to be.

At this point, I’m glad Barbossa is back, since his presence decreases the need for cannibullshit. There aren’t any unnecessary action sequences in this one at all, and Rush gets some great moments opposite Depp (and on his own. His performing the marriage is still one of the best parts of the film. Colin was right, that’s really the only reason that moment works. Without him, there’s no way a marriage between those two during that sequence works at all. He adds the right balance of humor and entertainment to it.

Will has become totally useless since the first movie. Well, progressively more useless. Since the second movie, I get it. She’s arrested, and he’s like, “I’ll get Jack’s compass for you so she can get out and we can be married.” And along the way, “Oh, it’s your father.” And all that. But that being the only thing he wants for a movie and a half is stupid as fuck. There’s no interest there, and it’s stupid from every side of the equation. There’s no reason for him to be that obsessed with saving his father. At least have him be doing shit with Elizabeth. His story is so pointless.

Though, I guess it’s better that he didn’t do stuff with Elizabeth in this movie, because her storyline is entertaining as shit. Now she’s a full-on pirate, showing up at Sao Feng’s with a bunch of guns, helps fight their way out of there (all for that asshole Will, by the way), gets Jack out of the Locker (even though she put him there), becomes captain of Sao Feng’s ship (and all of Southeast Asia), and becomes pirate king. And she’s Keira Knightley. So I was a fan of all she did in this.

And Beckett, as Colin said, is a badass villain. I never really appreciated him until this watch. I thought he was kind of boring when I saw the films before this, but now that I watched them closely, I really started taking a liking to him and everything he did. It was that moment in the second movie when he shows up like, “Oh, right, this is a warrant for her. Arrest her. Here’s the warrant for him like I said.” He just got better from there. He was a baller and ran his shit until unforeseen circumstances arose. So I’m a fan of Beckett.

The Calypso stuff is stupid.

And Davy Jones — I agree with Colin that as a character he’s pretty two-dimensional and weak, but him being played by Bill Nighy, looking the way he does, and being a formidable presence on the screen does really make him almost appear to be more than he is. I’m glad they at least gave him the bells and whistles rather than half-assing it and just throwing someone random out there. Plus, when you think about it, he’s the perfect balance to Beckett, since Beckett is all the things Jones isn’t as a villain, but isn’t (and can’t be) flashy at all. That’s classic villain 101 — the flashy guy is the one everyone sees, and the smart one who is the real villain pulls the strings. And it’s even better here, because Jones doesn’t want anything to do with Beckett. Which adds that little wrinkle to it all. But the Calypso/heart thing is stupid and detracts from him because they don’t develop it properly (or at all). But whatever. It doesn’t detract, so I don’t care as much. It’s just there.

The final action sequence — kind of long, kind of pointless when you consider they both had armies and only ended up fighting with two ships and then destroying a third (but honestly, how much more chaos would there have been if they got everyone else involved. In a way, it was the smartest thing they could have done, just having our main ships fight and having everything else go that way), but I enjoy it. Not crazy about the Will taking over the Dutchman thing, but they spent a lot of time building to that, and they stuck with it, so I don’t have a problem with it. It’s what they wanted to do, and it was entertaining enough, so I’m cool with it. My only real problems with the final sequence are with what each character does in it, and that’s because of the problems I had earlier in the movie — Jack explaining his motivations, Will being an idiot and still trying to save his father, Calypso.

And again, like I said — overall, I’m a huge fan of this movie. I like how it’s trying to be a big, epic, Good, the Bad and the Ugly ending to this trilogy. (And you know it is, since everyone’s betraying each other and they literally have a Morricone moment during the parlay.) I still think Dead Man’s Chest may be the better of the two, overall, in terms of cinematography (because I’m counting the stuff shot on the islands and whatnot, as opposed to just shots in general), but this is right up there. It has more standalone shots and images that are nice, but overall, I think Dead Man’s Chest takes the prize on that one. (It’s because this third act is mostly CGI, and Dead Man’s Chest‘s third act takes place mostly on a practical location and set. They actually fought on that water wheel.)

But still, I’d say, of the trilogy, this is clearly second best as an overall film. Nothing will top the first one, and this is easily better than the second one because of the motion it has. We end at a completely different place from where we start, whereas in the second one, it’s mostly A to B to C to D with not too many wrinkles in between. Mostly it’s setting up for this. So, in that regard, I’ll give props to Dead Man’s Chest, because it really lays down all the groundwork for none of the recognition in order to make this movie better. So while I still think this is the second best movie of the trilogy, it’s not as far ahead of Dead Man’s Chest as it used to be. I really respect what that movie does and like a hell of a lot about it.

But this is still second best. I love this movie.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow, we start On Stranger Tides.

(See the rest of the Fun with Franchises articles here.)

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