‘Pirates’ finale LIVES UP TO PROMISE

Pirates of the Caribbean had long been one of the most popular Disney theme park attractions, but when the studio announced a film version of the beloved ride, fans and industry insiders alike were

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justifiably skeptical. However, 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl became an audience favorite, earning more than $300 million in the United States alone and landing Johnny Depp his first Academy Award nomination. Taking note of the film’s phenomenal success, Disney reunited the entire team for two more chapters in the saga, the last of which hit theaters nationwide Thursday night.

Allegedly the final film in Disney’s proposed trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End picks up soon after its predecessor, last year’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), now in a shaky alliance with the mysteriously resurrected Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), must rescue Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) from Davy Jones’s Locker and unite the nine Pirate Lords against the sinister Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), who is intent on eradicating the entire pirate population.

Nearly three hours long, At World’s End tackles a number of unresolved subplots, and unlike this month’s Spider-man 3, the film pulls it off nicely. Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio skillfully juggle their massive cast of characters as if they are chess pieces, moving each one into position in surprising yet satisfying ways. While many fans regarded Dead Man’s Chest as a disappointment, it effectively set up the events of this film, and the payoff is just as exhilarating as promised. At World’s End is a bit convoluted at times, but the writers crafted an elaborate, dense tale that warrants repeat viewings.

While the story may be more intricate than most, At World’s End also delivers loads of epic battles and action sequences, culminating in a visually awe-inspiring standoff as the trilogy’s two most notable pirate ships do battle on the brink of an immense whirlpool. The film offers nonstop thrills but never shifts its focus away from its now-iconic characters and their individual journeys.

What makes these films so interesting is their dynamic cast of characters – each of whom has his or her own motives and objectives. As the principle focus of the trilogy, Depp is again delightful as the eccentric Captain Jack, who suffers some loopy effects after his stint in purgatory. Even more madcap than usual, Jack’s antics are not quite as fresh this time around, but while the character’s novelty has dissipated, his trademark wit and outrageous attitude still charm viewers.

Bloom and Knightley also effortlessly slip back into their roles, and the rest of the supporting cast is as amusing as before. Bill Nighy offers another impressive performance as tentacle-faced Davy Jones, and Rush’s over-the-top portrayal of the magnetic Barbossa is no less sharp than in the original film.

In addition to its enormous ensemble cast, At World’s End introduces some new faces, such as Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and legendary rocker Keith Richards as Captain Teague, Jack’s estranged father. Since Richards was the original basis for Depp’s portrayal of Jack Sparrow, his role here is essentially an acknowledgment of his influence on Depp’s Oscar-nominated work. Though At World’s End is crammed with humor, thrills, action and more than enough plot twists, it never feels overcrowded. Thanks to its sharp writing and faithful continuity, the film organically flows from its predecessors, imbuing the Pirates trilogy with a consistency sadly lacking from most blockbuster film series. Despite the resolution that it offers to the previous two films, At World’s End leaves room for the story to continue. Although there are no definitive plans for a fourth Pirates film, Depp has repeatedly expressed interest in returning, and Disney is likely to pursue the series as long as it remains profitable. For now, fans can be thankful that Pirates of the Caribbean has avoided the pitfalls of most film trilogies and entered the cinematic lexicon as a prime example of how to provide a successful series with a fitting conclusion.