Dark Flag Raised for 'World's End'

    It’s always proved difficult to pull off a sequel that does justice to the original, but one essential key to success is retaining the same talent (just look at what happened to the “”Alien”” series when it lost both writer and director). Indeed, veterans like Geoffrey Rush and Gore Verbinski have managed to almost single-handedly keep the shallow affair of Disney’s 21st-century “”Pirates of the Caribbean”” series afloat, but for “”At World’s End”” – like “”Dead Man’s Chest”” before it – preserving the existing cast and crew isn’t enough.

    Photos Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

    None of the trilogy’s chapters are terribly deep (and commendably never try to pose as so), but with new characters literally sailing in nonstop and from every direction, keeping up is no simple task for the audience. Not that Chow Yun-Fat and the Crypt Keeper (er, Keith Richards) in full pirate regalia is a bad thing – in fact, the pair provides some of the best moments “”End”” has going for it – but there’s a limit to the number of new, flashy characters we’re capable of empathizing with over a blimey 168-minute span.

    Luckily, “”End”” is so rife with talent that it can’t help but be anything less than thoroughly entertaining. To make room for the expansive ensemble cast, however, many beloved characters from the first two installments have fallen out of the spotlight. It must have been tough letting real talent like Jonathan Price (Gov. Swann) go to waste in lieu of more screen time for an undead monkey, but I suppose sacrifices must be made when flavoring a movie for the kids. Hell, who am I kidding – everyone loves monkeys.

    Even if “”Chest”” went so far as to include soul-harvesting as a major plot element, its violence was still relatively contained. And though swords clashed through “”The Curse of the Black Pearl,”” only the cartoonish zombie pirates were harmed, and cannon-fire explosions safely obscured all other brutality. But if young’uns are in fact still the target audience (and they do seem to be), the envelope for acceptable behavior in a PG-13 flick is apparently stretching. The first film questioned identity – Am I a lowly blacksmith or a dastardly pirate? A commodore’s wife or a pirate’s lover? – and the second allowed the characters come to terms with those selves. Now, in the third entry, the pirates start acting less fantastical and more like the swashbucklers they are – well, sort of. They still exchange endless quips, flawless puns and a trove of prop gags, but now they also manage to squeeze a few bloody jabs in between.

    Somewhere in the fantasy of “”Chest”” and “”Pearl,”” we forgot that pirates were cruel outlaws who made their living by theft and murder. With “”End,”” the romantic veil of fairytale ships sailing the seven seas has been lifted, making way for harsh murder and betrayal.

    But these pirates are still dashing heroes who cherish freedom and live by their “”code”” – even when that code is just a guideline. Amid a peaking battle sequence where two ships swirl madly toward the deadly center of an ungodly maelstrom, heroes Will and Elizabeth fight side by side, cutting down cursed fish-people and naval officers alike while Barbossa recites the words to marry them. The pair stabs and skewers a few more men that fight nearby, then embrace and kiss as newlyweds.

    Besides the expanding threshold of acceptable onscreen violence, there’s very little surprise at this “”World’s End.”” Though prop gags, punny quips and special effects run just plentifully enough to satisfy the adolescent in us all – with just enough lack of substance to send us out of the theater wondering what on Earth we’re doing with our lives – it could all be expected. The ensemble-cast charisma is sufficient to fill the seats and keep everyone happy. It’s no “”Last Crusade,”” but no “”Temple of Doom”” either – and if the continued pattern set by the cliffhanger at the end of “”Chest”” is any indicator, movie number four is a definite possibility.

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