'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End'

A winner: New worlds conquered with stars and stunts

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Can't get enough Johnny Depp? And, frankly, who can?

"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" serves up even more Captain Jack Sparrow -- although you have to wait 35 minutes for Depp to appear on screen. And then it's all Sparrow all the time as he hallucinates he is captain, crew and all hands on deck.

Martin Klebba, left, Orlando Bloom (facing right), Kevin R. McNally and Johnny Depp.
Click photo for larger image.

Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley
Director: Gore Verbinski
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence and some frightening images
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At one point, even he declares in that patented slurry voice, "Gentlemen, I wash my hands of this weirdness." But he's trapped in Davy Jones' Locker, where weirdness reigns.

As it turns out, everything about "At World's End" is bigger: The romances, the heartaches, the moral choices, the bargaining, the double-crossing, the armadas, the swordplay, the wicked weather, the transformation that calls to mind "Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman," the wattage of the rock star doing a much-publicized cameo ... and the stunts.

Come January, the Screen Actors Guild will honor outstanding film and TV stunt ensembles for the first time, and voters have a certain nominee here. The silly maneuvers of the second movie -- Sparrow trussed up like a pig on a spit, men in giant circular cages or crossing swords atop a water wheel -- have been replaced with circus-style fights and flights.

A scene in which the crew intentionally rocks a ship and tries to flip it over looks like an amusement park ride. Which, of course, is how this franchise started in July 2003, as a spin-off of a popular Disney attraction.

The first movie, "POTC: The Curse of the Black Pearl," grossed $305 million in North America, and follow-up "Dead Man's Chest" broke box-office records as it amassed $423 million on the domestic front. Now comes "At World's End," opening at 8 p.m. today and making for a May movie trifecta with "Spider-Man 3" and "Shrek the Third."

This sequel opens with a bang -- the floor snapping open as adults and a boy are hanged at a time when rights have been revoked and piracy is punishable by death -- and a resumption of the story from a year ago. There's no "Previously on 'Pirates' ..." update, so if you missed the second movie you might be lost, to say the least.

Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) of the East India Co. has gained control of the ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman, and its captain, Davy Jones (the wonderful Bill Nighy), whose tentacled beard still wriggles in fascinating fashion.

Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) head to Singapore, where a Chinese pirate (Chow Yun-Fat) calls the shots. The visitors are looking for charts and a ship that will allow them to find Sparrow, even as plans are afoot to convene the nine lords of the Brethren Court, a sort of pirate Supreme Court or all-star team that might let competing captains unite against a common enemy.

As Barbossa says, "It's not getting to the land of the dead that's the problem, it's getting back," but they manage with puzzle-solving and derring-do. That sets the stage for enough score-settling, spats, deals and dilemmas to fill out a movie that runs roughly 2 hours and 47 minutes.

Among them: Are lovebirds Will and Elizabeth being driven apart by questions of trust? Can Will keep his promise to his father (Stellan Skarsgard), who is turning into a human barnacle on the Dutchman? What is the price of trading places with the literally heartless Davy Jones? And what of the sea goddess called Calypso, imprisoned in human form?

With nary a drop of rum to be had, action generally trumps silliness this time around, and serious themes about loyalty, loss, the passage to the afterlife and the parent-child bond are addressed amid the swashbuckling.

Sparrow still gets his share of comic lines or moments, whether competitively comparing telescopes with Barbossa, suggesting pirates are an unimaginative lot when it comes to naming things or inquiring after an absent relative.

Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp.
Click photo for larger image.

Explaining why he cannot step into Davy Jones' waterlogged boots, Sparrow says, "I don't have the face for tentacles." After another bout of multiple personalities, one of Jack's doppelgangers says of the original model, "I miss him already. ... He is quite charming, isn't he?"

Yes, indeed, as is Orlando Bloom. Most of the other pirates are a grubby bunch, with rotting teeth, facial scars and skin that betrays the effects of too much sun, salt water and grime.

Swann, meanwhile, is the very opposite of a damsel in distress, emerging as a leader of men and marching across the sand with her buccaneer buddies as if it were high noon. She gets to fight like a man and still look as if she's just had her teeth polished and is wearing lightly but expertly applied eye makeup, lipstick and bronzer.

However, director Gore Verbinski lets some scenes -- as technically impressive as they may be -- go on for too long. Sometimes less is more. On top of that, the Hans Zimmer music ultimately proves overbearing, and swirling cameras and a maelstrom that acts like an oceanic drain may leave you a little seasick.

The moment where a character sprouts like a mutant monster stands out for its obvious fakery, much as the Kraken did in the second movie. And if you didn't guess by the reference to the mass hangings (even if the camera shows the rows of feet, not the faces), this is not suitable for very young children.

If "At World's End" is the final chapter in the "Pirates" franchise, I don't think anyone can complain. However, the door is left open for sequels and if you sit through the credits -- yes, they go on forever, but stick around -- you will find a bonus scene that could take the story to the next generation.

Post-Gazette movie editor Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.


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