"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" is not a conclusion to the blockbuster trilogy, but a clever set-up for future swashbuckling adventures. Vastly superior to last year's lousy "Dead Man's Chest", Pirates 3 is thematically one of the darkest films to be released under the Disney banner. It has its lighthearted moments and is loaded with action, but takes the story to a more mature level that will either win over fans or lose them completely. The story is fantastically intricate. You'll actually have to pay attention to understand what's happening. This might be a stretch considering its two hour and forty-eight minute runtime, but you'll definitely get your money's worth.
Spoilers will ruin this film, so I'll keep this summary short. The story picks up with Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and the witch, Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris in a much larger role), leading the pirate crew to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) locker. This is the purgatory that Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has been sent to. Why is it so important to rescue Jack, because Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) is using his control of Davy Jones to wipe out all Pirates globally. It seems that Jack has one of the all-important "pieces of eight", magical trinkets used by the Pirate Lords to capture a dangerous enemy in the past. Only the united Pirate Lords can defeat Lord Beckett and kill Davy Jones.
Pirates 3 takes its characters to unexpected places and conclusions. Without revealing anything, it's not a happy ending for all involved. This film basically closes out the old storyline and opens up new chapters in the saga. I applaud the filmmakers for boldness of vision here. It's an obvious goldmine, but their set-up is actually very good. They could have taken a much easier route, story-wise. They chose to ratchet up the story's complexity and it will pay off in spades for years to come. They've successfully laid the groundwork for future films.
The elements that worked well in the first two films continue to shine here. First and foremost is the brilliance of Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush. These two characters are primary to the story and add the saltiness needed to pull off the 'pirate' story. They're damn good here. The second nod goes to director Gore Verbinski and his effects team. I really can't imagine the production design being any better for this film. Every special effect is well conceived and executed. They're visually stunning, but molded well into the real world. This is the key to willing suspension of disbelief working for the audience.
Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom are terrible in this film. In fact, they single-handedly bring the entire film down with their one-note performances. Knightley, who I like in other roles, is a pouty and belligerent annoyance. She fails to flesh out her character, thus making the romance storyline clunky and boring. Orlando Bloom doesn't help her either. His character deals with a monumental choice, and its like he's choosing between loaves of bread at the bakery. Pirates 3 is filled with top tier British actors. Knightley and Bloom are just not up to par with their supporting cast.
Much has been made about the film's length. Admittedly it's too long, but that is not a negative here. The story is involved and time is needed to play out. Remember, resolve is not the purpose of this film. It is the framework for other stories. The filmmakers needed to end the current plot, while establishing the premise for the sequels. Normally this is poorly done (insert "The Matrix" trilogy here). But they got it right this time.