This turned out to be more hahaaargh than aaaaaaaarrg...vastly exceeding my expectations.
Master and Commander it most certainly isn't, but while naval history purists will dive despairingly from the decks, there's enough to keep art-house enthusiasts on board...so much so that the film is showing this week at the Curzon-run Chelsea Cinema! (Surfer and I saw it however in our usual D18 and D19 seats at the now doomed Kensington Odeon.) There's a delightful Terry Gilliam-lite sequence featuring Johnny Depp and his 9 CGI-generated parallel selves camping it up on the bleached out landscape of Utah's Bonneville salt flats, here standing in for 'Davy Jones's Locker'.
The moaners fail to credit Verbinski with fashioning a credible and entertaining no-brow fantasy cycle which doesn't need to lean on an underlying text like LOTR or half-baked countercultural politics like The Matrix trilogy or even the Star Wars films.
The night before I had tried to catch up by watching Dead Man's Chest and it was this that had led me to believe that, like The Matrix trilogy, the dramatically becalmed middle section would be followed by a maelstrom of unbounded awfulness. At World's End might sail perilously close to this particular wind, but it comes through in the end very much un-sunk.
Yes it's overlong and overdone. Yes it has accumulated too many characters to manage coherently within a single plotline. Yes, pirates the like of Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner don't so much have peg-legs as peg-personalities. Nevertheless I quickly realised what this film has that the previous one lacked: Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa. Arrrrrgh. In Dead Man's Chest they all seemed to have forgotten that hammy pirates are what we all keep coming back for.
Keith Richards sways in for his knowing cameo as Captain William Teague a.k.a. Blackbeard. Acting is even more beyond him than it is for Keira Knightley so the scriptwriters give him a nice little visual gag for us to remember him by.
Dare one ask what happened to the Kraken? Actually, as noted above there was already too many dramatis personae clambering all over the rigging here, but if there is to be a fourth outing several repeating members of the supporting cast will no longer be with us. Though death does seem to lack finality in this world.
(So, I find myself strongly disagreeing with Mark Kermode's Radio 5 rant about this movie. It is highly entertaining though, especially the bit about Keira the Pirate Queen.)