26 MAY 2007, Page 56

Expensive pantomime

Deborah Ross

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End 12A, Nationwide The first two Pirates films were such huge worldwide successes — together, they grossed more than $1.5 billion — that this third is pretty much pre-sold merchandise: those who are going to go are going to go whatever. I could rubbish it to death, but it wouldn’t make a speck of difference. I could rubbish it not to death, but to Davey Jones’s locker instead, which is some kind of suspended death, and horribly confusing, but it still wouldn’t make a speck of difference. So the question here isn’t so much whether it’s a good or a bad film — it’s simply very, very expensive pantomime, more or less — but: why? Why is there such a huge audience out there for this? I suppose that if I really knew I wouldn’t be here — I’d be in Hollywood, making the sort of movie trilogies that, in turn, make billions, and which I believe would suit me — but I think I can tell you what it isn’t. It isn’t a film with anything to say, and doesn’t pretend to be a film with anything to say. It doesn’t philosophise. It doesn’t get all heavy and portentous in a Lord of the Rings kind of way. It simply rejoices in itself, and there must be those who can’t resist.

I can’t think of any other reasons. The plot, for a start, is impossible to follow, just as it was in the second instalment (Dead Man’s Chest), which had storylines springing up all over the place yet lacked a coherent narrative at heart.

All of the characters from the earlier films return and this time it’s something to do with Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), Will (Orlando Bloom) and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) having to rescue Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from the clutches of the Kraken while battling their enemies: Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, with a squid for a face) and Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander). Beckett is, I think, now in control of Jones’s heart — you know, the beating one in the chest — and plans to rule the seas and wipe out the last of the pirates. Can all the ‘Pirate Lords’ from all the corners of the globe be gathered together in time to foil him? We also have the dead who are really alive, the alive who are really dead, people whose betrayals are such you can never know for sure which side they are on; so many ships you lose track plus a key and a chest and a heart and a compass we’re meant to keep our eye on, although for the life of me I can’t remember why. The whole thing is so overplotted and overpopulated it quite does your head in.

Certainly, character development isn’t a priority and the script isn’t up to much. Much of the dialogue is used as a mumbled device to get from one bit of plot to the next, and as you haven’t a clue what is going on anyway, who cares? Consequently, most of the performances are empty. Keira Knightley does it all with her tremulous lower lip — Christ, how much does an actress have to get paid these days to use the whole of her face? while Borelando Bloom is handsome enough, but entirely flat. If you knew these two as a couple you would find yourself saying, ‘Oh, no. Don’t ask them over tonight. They’re just so wet.’ Much of the cast do, indeed, play it as panto, which is a style, I suppose, aside from Bill Nighy who has that face covered in tentacles but still gives it true feeling. Depp? He plays Sparrow as he’s always played Sparrow: like a girl who has just seen a mouse. Is there anyone, aside from Johnny Depp, who can make John Inman look like Oliver Reed and still somehow get away with it? Or does he get away with it? I’m pretty bored of it by now. I wish I knew where he got that waterproof mascara. It storms a lot and it never smears.

The visuals are often terrific, I admit. There are almighty, rollicking battles at sea during fearful storms. There are crashing masts and giant waves. There’s a scene in a Singaporean bath house where you can feel the steam. There are those creepy fish-men including my favourite, the one with the head of the hammerhead shark. But where does all this get us? Nowhere. Absolutely nowhere, which I guess is the point of the entire franchise. It simply rejoices in itself. End of story. Take it or leave it. I know which I’d do, but I also know there will be no telling some.