With last week’s release of the franchises’ fifth film, resident 10YA pirate-ologist Scarlett O’Hairdye journeys into for a decade-later look at Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. To quote the author, “PHYSICS CAN EAT A DICK.”
Let me just start with:
This is not a good movie.
This is a movie that was rushed through production so hard that half the time the actors didn’t even have scripts until the morning they were shooting. This is a movie that had five million ideas and then was incapable of editing them for time or clarity or quality. This is a movie that can basically be described as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Quest For More Money. These are all things that I understood when I was watching it ten years ago at the tender age of 21 (Jesus H Christ, really?). But:
This movie is fun as shit. This movie presents two middle fingers to the laws of physics, turns the wheel firmly toward WHEEEEEE, and then breaks it off and throws it into the ocean. This movie makes about as much sense as an actual theme park ride and it throws random shit at you with about the same frequency. Do not judge this movie as a movie on its own merits, judge this movie as a trash heap of buckled swashes that’s been sprayed down with fifty gallons of “Yes, And.” Turn your brain off and get ready to have a good time.
Things I remember being great about this movie: Elizabeth Swann, a shout-out to Ching Shih (a Chinese pirate queen who was so impossible to stop she was eventually allowed to retire legally just so she would stop robbing people), a ridiculous scene with coconut snorkels, Elizabeth Swann, a scene where Davy Jones is standing in buckets because he cannot touch dry land, Elizabeth Swann, a wedding taking place in the middle of a shipboard battle, Elizabeth Swann, Elizabeth Swann, and Elizabeth Swann.
If we’re looking at the movies in terms of which of our main three characters really gets to have their story told, then the first movie is about Will Turner coming to terms with his parentage. The second movie is about Captain! Jack Sparrow coming to terms with his mortality. The third movie is about Elizabeth Swann being completely 100% out of shits to give about anything. She gives a lack of shits that Hermione in book seven would be proud of. She knows what she wants (to bring Jack back from the dead, to get married to Will, and to get hella laid, in that order) and she will do whatever it takes to make it happen. Get in her way and you might get murdered, brah. Elizabeth is the goddamned Pirate King and she will wreck your shit.
That’s how I remember it, anyway. There’s also a scene where she takes more weapons out of her clothing than could possibly fit in there, which is one of my favorite jokes I swear. I’m easily pleased sometimes.
(Also, disclaimer: Johnny Depp is a garbage domestic abuser. He can burn in hell forever. I have acknowledged this, now I am going to ignore it for the two hours and forty-ish minutes it takes me to get through this stupid theme park ride of a movie.)
(As I may have mentioned before, there was a span of about five years there where pirates were my thing. Please see attached An Actual Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Young Pirate. Oh, no, this is a much worse drawing than I remember but I made my decision.)
Holy shit this movie is so much longer than I remembered it being.
The film opens with what I think is one of the most stirring and beautiful and grim scenes to ever exist in a Disney film, and is much more politically relevant than it was ten years ago. The East India Trading Company, which is garbage and can burn in hell, has instituted a fascist regime and is using its power to summarily execute anyone who even looked sideways at a pirate one time. A young boy starts to sing a shanty as he’s standing on the executioner’s block, and then the song builds, and then everyone sings. It is beautiful and dark and defiant and horrible. The rest of this movie is disjointed fun garbage but this opening still gives me chills down my spine.
Also I think this is one of the only Disney movies that just straight up murders a kid.
ELIZABETH SWANN!!! We’re in some kind of Asian locale now (we later learn that it is Singapore) and we have wasted no time in having our white female lead menaced by some evil men of color so it’s good to see how racist these movies are and how much better I am at spotting that then I was when I was 21. We have the coconut snorkel gag almost immediately followed by the “Elizabeth pulls a million guns out of her coat, followed by even more guns, followed by one final gun that is improbably large for where it was being stored” gag and the comedic timing on both of those is choice. We enter a bath house where everyone is the filthiest any human has ever been while being inside a house designed for bathing. It is an impressive skill.
Captain Sao Feng and Barbossa provide some exposition about something we’ve never heard about before, namely the Pirate Council and the Nine Pieces of Eight. Everyone present hates the East India Trading Company, as they rightly should, but not everyone agrees the right way to go about fighting them. Feng isn’t super into the idea of opposing them directly, so Elizabeth gets her first badass speech of many where she yells at dudes to punch people. It comes out that they need to bring Jack back to life in order to hold the council in the first place because he has one of the Pieces of Eight. Feng is pissed. Will is captured and in a wet shirt. Elizabeth is startled. Everyone turns on everyone else, swords get tossed up through the floorboards (a delightful scene), and Feng grabs some random dude.
“Drop your weapons or I kill the man!”
“Kill him, he’s not our man!”
Turns out he’s with the East India Trading Company, who choose this moment to burst in. There are a lot of explosions. There are so many more gambits in this movie then I remembered, so I’m gonna take a second to lay out everyone’s motivations right now so maybe it’ll help you keep it straight:
Elizabeth wants to save Jack because she feels guilty about killing him, and then she wants to wreck the EITC’s shit. She’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.
- Will wants to save his dad from the clutches of Davy Jones’ crew. In order to do that he has to kill Davy Jones. He’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.
- Jack wants to kill Davy Jones so he can live forever, and failing that, he wants the Black Pearl back. He’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.
- Barbossa wants to murderize the EITC and get and keep the Black Pearl. He’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.
- Beckett wants to kill all the pirates. He’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.
- Davy just wants to be sad and play the pipe organ, my dude.
- Tia Dalma doesn’t seem to have a motivation because she’s being poorly written by a bunch of white dudes.
Basically, this movie is about a bunch of murdering thieves who like freedom, vs. a bunch of murdering thieves who are fascist. I know on which side of the coin I’m gonna come down, but when like every pirate outside of our main Cadre of White People has been repeatedly revealed to be a backstabbing garbage fire of skin diseases it can be hard to root for them. Then Beckett gets back on screen and I’m willing to murder him myself, so the garbage will do! Rich white men historically and presently are The Worst. Norrington is back, he’s an Admiral, and he also hates Beckett.
The movie is blessedly free of Captain! Jack Sparrow so far. They sail through Antarctica maybe where some body horror happens to a man of color, not to any of our main White Cadre, and Will looks at the fancy map they got from Feng. WHY WOULD THIS MAP BE IN ENGLISH? Okay I can accept a lot but they stole this from a Chinese man in Singapore. It is in English but written in like Chinese restaurant script. Why. No. That is a bad choice and you should feel bad.
Oh my shit this review is going to be as long as the movie is. Let me speed through some stuff:
- Barbossa likes being inscrutable and sails them all off a cliff.
- Beckett is mad at Davy Jones because Davy is just too good at murdering pirates.
- The movie is still trying to make us believe there’s a love triangle with Jack, Will, and Elizabeth. They need to USE THEIR WORDS and talk this out.
- Jack Sparrow is in hell and hell for Jack Sparrow is eternity with a bunch of hallucinations of himself. That makes sense because hell for me is an eternity with a bunch of Jack Sparrows.
- JACK RIDES THE BLACK PEARL OVER A SAND DUNE ON A WAVE OF ROCK CRABS AND THE THEME SONG SWELLS AND SO DOES MY HEART.
Okay, Jack actually does shine in an ensemble. He’s like capers or something—best in small doses mixed into other things. I don’t know how much I like capers. Eh.
I’m just gonna condense a lot of scenes down into one sentence: Everyone talks about releasing the Goddess Calypso from her human bonds and then it basically results in JACK SHIT. Elizabeth and Will almost use their words with each other, and then Elizabeth sees her dead dad in a ghost boat. (The scene is legitimately beautiful, I have zero complaints about the visuals even ten years later.)
That was almost a good talk, kids, keep it up and you’ll figure out how to use your words yet.
Ah, here we’re setting up something that never really gets paid off later. The Goddess Calypso. I’ll also throw out that Tia Dalma is the closest we get in these films to an actual heroic character of color at least close to as heroic as the other protagonists. Here are some verbatim notes from my watch:
SCREW THE LAWS OF PHYSICS WE’RE GONNA FLIP A SHIP OVER BY RUNNING BACK AND FORTH THIS IS THE STUPIDEST THING IMAGINABLE
- No one trusts anyone and there’s a lot of gun-pointing.
- Zhao Feng shows up. Then the East India Trading Company shows up. Everyone betrays everyone else. I can’t even keep track of this shit anymore.
- More foreshadowing about Calypso, something that really does not pan out!
- There is a lot more double-crossing in here, and way too much of a bunch of dudes and not enough Elizabeth.
“Do you think he plans it all out, or just makes it up as he goes along?”, a question about Jack and also about this movie.
Feng things Elizabeth is Calypso because he just misunderstands what Barbossa is talking about, so he kidnaps her. Listen, I know we only have two female characters in this movie but it is so so problematic that the white woman is the most valued, the one assumed to be a goddess, and also constantly menaced by men of color. (All the disposable characters in this film have been men of color, almost all Asian. Ugh. UGH. KILL MORE WHITE MEN, POTC FILMS.)
Anyway Feng gets cannonballed by the EITC and makes Elizabeth is Captain and shit’s gonna happen! Shit like making Norrington feel really bad, and then getting thrown in the brig and learning yet another plot point from Bootstrap Bill. There’s a lot of stuff in here about whoever kills Jones having to take his place, and also we learn Will’s dad is slowly being absorbed into the ship and therefore losing his memories and sanity. Norrington turns back to the right? Side of things and frees Elizabeth and her pirates, then kisses her and promptly dies for his trouble. Eh. It was a fair deal, you kinda deserved that.
Jack has figured out Will’s double-cross and has offered to kill Jones for him and then promptly shoved him off a ship. I can’t even remember what the original cross that was doubled was, it’s just gambits upon gambits upon gambits in here.
In a startling turn of events, we learn Tia Dalma is Calypso!!! I had no idea!!! What a shock! The only other female character in the movie? How could it be! Davy was in love with Calypso and now he’s sad. This movie still has like an hour and fifteen minutes left, dear Christ.
Pirate court! With nine whatever things we happen to have in our pockets, which Gibbs points out is a really shitty name and therefore they went with Pieces of Eight since it just sounds cooler. Barbossa gets his speech on, then everyone fights. We have a quiet scene with Tia Dalma and Davy Jones where we learn some emotional things about their sad sad breakup and then we go back to fighting. Jack speechifies about cuttlefish. We get the cameo of Keith Richards as Jack’s dad, which is honestly pretty funny. Elizabeth gets voted Pirate King and there really has not been enough Elizabeth in this movie.
Is this final fight scene actually going to take 45 minutes? Holy tits.
Jack calls for a parley so they all land on a handy sandbar. Davy cannot touch dry land so he’s standing in a big bucket. (The trail of buckets behind him is one of my favorite details in this movie.) We have five more gambits all pile up (crosses and double-crosses and triple-crosses and I don’t care anymore) and Elizabeth is ready to MURDER. Jack is now on the Flying Dutchman and Barbossa is gonna release Calypso! What will happen?! What magic will be released?!
She gets really big!!! And yells! And turns into a bunch of crabs! And then…. Nothing happens. There is no payoff for the Calypso shit. There’s a whirlpool and a storm and that’s it. This is the one place where this movie really just forgets to do the cool thing. You released a sea goddess and then she just goes kaput. The seas are supposed to go super wild, y’all! One dinky whirlpool. Ugh. Such a waste.
Elizabeth steps up to do a badass speech about freedom because murdering thieves who believe in freedom will always be better than murdering thieves who believe in fascism! Hoist the colors! Get your hair out of your face, girl, how you gonna fight like that! The music swells! I’m inspired as SHIT right now! Yeah! Let’s murder a dude!
There are eight million ships out here but it’s gonna be a fight between the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman because main characters are the only thing that matters! Fight in a whirlpool! Shit yeah! Jack and Davy do a lot of fighting over the chest with Davy’s heart in it. Assume they are still fighting until I say otherwise.
Will proposes to Elizabeth as they are fighting fish people and EITC goons. She accepts. Barbossa performs the ceremony. Yes, you idiot diamonds! Get married on a ship in the middle of battle! Nothing like murder to spice up a wedding! This is so dumb! I love it! Everyone politely doesn’t murder them while they make out for a hot minute. The entire movie is justified for this scene I don’t care about anything else. How much more extra can you be?
(What are all the rest of the ships doing while this is happening? Are the all politely waiting to see who will win?)
Davy and Jack fight some more. Will manages to get on board the Flying Dutchman and snag the chest with Davy’s heart. Everyone is looking for the key to the chest! Will has to fight his own dad, who doesn’t remember him! Elizabeth is here now, too! Davy is gonna kill Will! Jack has the heart! It’s all very dramatic! Davy stabs Will, Bootstrap remembers his son and attacks Davy, Jack does the decent human thing and makes Will stab the heart to save his life. Will still kinda seems like he’s dying. As he is surrounded by the crew of the Flying Dutchman, Jack grabs Elizabeth and they fly??? away on a sail??? PHYSICS CAN EAT A DICK.
There’s a hot second where it seems like maybe all the pirates will lose the fight and die, but then THE DUTCHMAN IS BACK AND WILL IS THE CAPTAIN! They’re not fishmen anymore, they’re just men! Time to murder the shit out of the East India Company. The Flying Dutchman and the Black Pearl flank Beckett’s flagship and just blow the shit out of it. GET DEAD, BECKETT. Beckett dies amid some really beautiful slow-motion explosions, which ends the entire war. Once you murder the flagship all the other ships run away, that’s just how nature works. Ships are dependent on the leader of the herd.
So it’s a victory for the freedom-loving murdering thieves. Maybe now everyone will take the chance to take a SHOWER.
Nah, brah, just kidding, everyone loads up a boat for Elizabeth so she can go GET LAAAAAAAIIIIID! At long, long last Elizabeth gets to bone Will for basically a whole day, which is something we can all appreciate. Will gives her his heart in a chest and then heads off for ten years of ferrying the souls of the dead to the afterlife. He leaves her on the beach and sails off into the sunset.
Jack flirts with some wenches and the Black Pearl is stolen. Barbossa sails off into the sunset with the Black Pearl, only to find that Jack stole the magical chart that will show them the way to the fountain of youth. Jack sails into the sunset in a tiny boat and everyone has a new quest.
Eventually, after the credits, we see that Elizabeth is there for Will after ten years (with their ten-year-old son) and everything is great and this movie is finally finally over. Christ on a frigging cracker. (I have seen a lot of people critique this scene because they dislike the implication that Elizabeth just like waited around on land moping for ten years while Will was out doing important psychopomp work, to which I say there is nothing in the next to support your assumption. The terms of the deal was that she would meet him there at sunset in ten years, not that she be trapped on land for that time period. Get to your fanfics, my friends!)
Okay the main difference in my experiences of this movie when I was 21 and when I was 31 is that this movie is so much more racist and so much longer than I ever remembered. Honestly? I can’t point to a single piece of this movie (other than the Too Many Jacks scene) and directly say, “This is bad.” Every scene is pretty enjoyable and I think a lot more of the humor is spot on in this one compared to Dead Man’s Chest, there’s just so goddamn much of this movie.
Also, not enough Elizabeth.
I like the movie I remembered better.
(It was shorter.)