The third Pirates of the Caribbean opens with a squire’s announcement that the right to counsel, habeas corpus, and a dozen other rights have been suspended to prosecute the war on piracy. Cut to an under-gallows view of hanged legs as a rack full of swarthy people are dropped to their death. The next round of executions is interrupted by a condemned boy who sings a song about beggars as the rope goes around his neck—as if Lars Von Trier was directing The Crucible.
Clearly, we’re cheering for the pirates to cast off the tyranny of the empire and take to the seas. These outlaws may have their rivalries, but they are united in their hate of the British. But doesn’t this put the movie on the side of the terrorists—something like Michael Moore calling the insurgents “patriots”? But the suspension of habeas and trial rights is clearly tyrannical rule. Are constitutional protections merely loopholes for benevolent pirates? I’m confused by what Bruckheimer and crew are trying to get at.
There’s three more hours where that came from. Jerry Bruckheimer thinks the phenomenal success of the first film means that people are starving for something EPIC! They’ve bloated this series to almost nine hours worth of movie, at least six of which is superfluous. People go to the underworld, minor characters are involved in love triangles, somebody’s got to rescue his father, there’s a giant typhoon….I successfully charted each layer of Dante’s Inferno and catalogued each of Chaucer’s tales as an English major, yet I can’t keep up with the plot of Pirates of Caribbean.
That’s the fatal calculation of Bruckheimer and crew. We don’t give a damn about this lame pseudo-myth and all its ghost pirates and what-not—we want to see Johnny Depp swish around and Geoffrey Rush “aarg!” with his freaky monkey. That’s what people liked about the first one—not all this EPIC! pseudo-myth nonsense. Bruckheimer thinks he’s producing Lord of the Rings, but this convoluted plot has a thrown-together feel. It’s nonsense piled on nonsense. Why does Johnny Depp’s ship end up in a desert? What’s that whirlpool about? How does someone get to be the captain of the ghost ship again? For how long? Wait, who’s the captain of the Black Pearl? There’s a council of pirates? Was Keira Knightley dating that guy from “Coupling”? Is it over for Orlando Bloom’s career? What’s the deal with that black chick with the bad teeth again? She’s a god? What?
It takes a half hour to throw Johnny Depp into the fray, and for a moment, Pirates seems like it knows what he want: Jack Sparrow hallucinates a shipful of Jack Sparrows. But then we sit through ten minutes of white crabs arising from the desert to carry the Black Pearl back to the sea. Or something like that. It’s a cool image, I suppose, but what the hell does is have to do with anything? Figuring out the plot is like unraveling a hairball.
It’s pretty clear that Bruckheimer ordered this thing to be an EPIC! three hours, and Gore Verbinski is using it as a showcase for his visual style—a portfolio piece for future Oscar bait, perhaps. Verbinski’s strategy is to grow fungus in every frame. In fact, Verbinski’s pirates are almost mythically ugly: barnacles cling to cheeks, muddy teeth, thick mossy hair, growths protruding from every pore. The image of bodies floating on rafts in the waters of the underworld is captivating, but in the service of what, exactly? Or, as Captain Sparrow himself observes: “The immaterial has become…immaterial.” A perfect tagline for this movie!