Yo Ho, Haul Together, Hoist The Colors High…

People just don’t trust pirates. I suppose this is a given, in that they are, after all, pirates. They’ll cut your throat if it gives them the upper hand and rifle through your pockets before you’ve even hit the ground but still, they have an honor about them, and their resilience and tenacity, not to mention their resourcefulness, is never to be underestimated.

Which is all my way of saying that a lot of reviewers don’t know what they’re talking about when they say Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End isn’t as good as the previous films. In a lot of ways it’s better. complaints about the murkiness of the plot are unfounded– certainly, the details can get complicated but it’s only a challenge for those who can’t stomach a little moral ambiguity and don’t get that pirates will change allegiance at the drop of a hat, any hat, and sometimes just for fun.

I have to admit, I was suspicious going in to the theater. Having so recently been burned by Spider man 3 in all its god awfulness, I was hesitant, expecting that perhaps the filmmakers had decided to just cash in and coast on the popularity of the previous films. So I was presently surprised to discover a really fun and satisfying movie. No it’s no Godfather, obviously, but not every movie has to aspire to be the greatest ever. Some should, now and again, but an action adventure movie about Pirates isn’t that movie and to expect it to try and be something it is not is setting oneself up for disappointment (which, by the way is one of the themes of the pirates movies so there are still some greater themes to be had even if none named Corleone is involved). So, no, it wasn’t the Godfather. But even more importantly, it wasn’t the Godfather 3.

Some reviewers have criticised Orlando Bloom’s performance, saying that it was wooden and two dimensional which is plainly unfair. He has the burden of being the Good Guy who has to make tough decisions, which doesn’t exactly leave a lot of wiggle room for camping it up or soul searching. He’s our Errol Flynn, after all. But he does manage to breathe life and depth and genuine emotion into a character that could so easily be just a cardboard cutout. And his ultimate fate adds a few shades of gray to his character that go beyond the stereotypical hero anyway.

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack is, let’s face it, the real reason anyone is going to see this movie. Here is a character for the ages. Morally ambiguous, the rouge with a heart of gold– he’s everything we want Han Solo to be– a scoundrel who stays a scoundrel while also being a hero. And the scenes with him in Davey Jones Locker are just fantastic, a touch of Terry Gilliam that adds so much while seeming to do nothing but fart around. His affectations and antics should by the third movie, be getting on everyone’s nerves but instead, he’s such a lovable scoundrel that you can’t help but enjoy every moment.

Kiera Knightly, the other main reason to see the film, is solid. Elizabeth Swann has progressed so far from where she began in the first film that it’s hard to keep in mind that it’s the same actress and the same character. And it’s really a far more nuanced character than many people give her credit. here’s a pirate who wants to be a damsel but has to go save the boys from themselves. That she succeeds is only part of the tragedy of her character.

One of the most impressive elements of all three of the Pirate’s movies is the internal mythology. It’s built up gradually, with just enough revealed to show you a view of a larger world without the tedious exposition that usually drags down a fantasy film. We don’t need overly long prologues or opening crawl to set the scene. The film makers and the script writers are confident that the audience will be able to pick up the threads of the back story that are dropped in context of the story without needing more information. And when we do need that Little bit of exposition, we have Mr. Gibbs, the story teller, who lays out the legends in the time honored nautical tradition.

This nautical Tall Tale aspect is the key to the success of these stories as they pull in elements of world mythology that will seem familiar but still are changed enough to suit the unique world of the story. It’s perhaps this worldliness of the Pirate Mythology that is puzzling to some critics. We have a tendency to think of the Caribbean Pirates as American, but Pirate lore is world-spanning (as exemplified by the Nine brethren, who are all based on historical pirates from all parts of the world). This is a movie about the world and what stories we tell ourselves about freedom and ht elives we choose that make living in it bearable.