'Pirates' still delivers thrills of an amusement ride



Disney is getting an amazing amount of mileage out of its popular amusement ride, now that the third installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean” is money in the bank for a huge box office hit.

There are legions of fans for Johnny Depp and the franchise that will not be put off by sniping from critics or the film’s running time of nearly three hours.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” may be an endurance test for some, but for others it is a badge of honor to be figuratively strapped into a theater seat for one very long and thrilling theme ride.

The Pirate culture runs amok in this film, with betrayals piled upon betrayals as the cutthroat swashbucklers battle each other and the British navy.

“Pirates 3” picks up where the second installment left off, or so it seems. The British are becoming bolder in their attempts to wipe out the pirate tribes in the treacherous Caribbean seas. Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) of the East India Trading Company has gained control of the terrifying ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman, and its malevolent, vengeful captain, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, unrecognizable in the tentacles covering his face).

Roaming the seven seas under the command of Admiral Norrington (Jack Davenport), the Dutchman is an unstoppable force bent on destroying pirate ships without mercy.

The plot is needlessly convoluted, often so obtuse that confusion is certain to be a problem. Now, the surfeit of plot twists, piled up with endless double crosses and betrayals, may not be troublesome for most viewers, because the rogues, lovable or otherwise, capture our attention.

Let’s face it, Johnny Depp’s foppish Captain Jack Sparrow is hugely amusing and entertaining, no matter how inane the situations in which he is often placed. A real plus for this newest adventure is that Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa, full of bluster and venom, is on hand for the entire story to menace and terrorize his foes with obvious glee.

Also returning to the action are Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), two lovebirds so devoid of romantic chemistry that you can only assume pirates had no love life.

Elizabeth is much better at handling a sword in combat, a useful talent to possess when she teams up with Will and Captain Barbossa on a desperate quest to gather the Nine Lords of the Brethren Court, which is something like the United Nations for pirates.

Their hope is to defeat Beckett, the Flying Dutchman and the entire British armada, no easy task when pirates squabble more fiercely than warlords in Afghanistan. But first, they must find one of the missing pirate Lords, which happens to be Captain Jack Sparrow, currently trapped in the netherworld of Davy Jones’ Locker.

All things considered, Sparrow is in fine form when he’s rescued by an odd alliance of pirates. The mystical Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) lends her magical powers, while the goofy pirates Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) lend their less than helpful assistance.

The shaky alliance of pirates first travels to dangerous, exotic Singapore and confronts Chinese pirate Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat, the major new player) to gain charts, and a ship that will take them literally to the world’s end to rescue Sparrow.

The gathering of the Pirate Lords comes close to being a prison riot, but they decide to unite against a common foe. This is a good thing in so far as it allows nearly the last hour of the film to be consumed with every special effect of battle scenes that could be cast upon troubled waters.

Entire fleets engage in ship-to-ship battles, with cannons blasting and ripping through all hands on deck. Pirates swing from rigging in spectacular sword fights with their enemies. Storms at sea are impressively staged to render edge-of-the-seat thrills, particularly when swirling waters create the watery equivalent of a black hole.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” doesn’t stint on the dazzling special effects, but all this breathtaking wonder does seem to come up a bit short in the face of too numerous plot twists that threaten to sink the whole enterprise.

There’s a bonus scene at the very end of the credits, and if you are willing to stick around, it is worth the wait, particularly for the most devoted followers of this Pirate world. Oh, it should not be overlooked that Keith Richards, the gaunt member of the Rolling Stones, is perfectly cast in the cameo role of Captain Teague, mentor to Jack Sparrow.

Tim Riley reviews films for Lake County News.