Pirates of the Caribbean III: At World's End
It is long, and the plot is confusing, and the ending does lead one to believe they are considering expanding the franchise beyond the three promised films. Those things are all true, so let's dispense with them at the outset and move on. All in all, in terms of both heroine content and general movie-going pleasure, I think Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is actually a better film than the previous Pirates offering, and in terms of pure heroine content, if not swashbuckling fun, I think it's a better film than the first as well.
Finally, after a long long wait, Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Swann comes to her own in At World's End. From the beginning of the film, it's clear that she is at this point just as much pirate as her compatriots, and when she pleads with Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) to assist her and Barbosa in rescuing Captain Jack Sparrow, it's not "your enemies" she says they must fight against, but "our enemies." Her sword fights cease to be token, like they were in the second film, and become part of the material of the movie. She is included.
That part of the film I loved. However, the filmmakers once again can't resist making much of her womanliness and thus vulnerability, once again putting her in an almost-rape scene. Though the scene ends up not with her raped or rescued, but with her being made a pirate captain (and, oddly, eventually pirate king), I still could have done without it, and without an earlier scene where she is forced to strip her clothes off and run around in a short robe for no discernable reason. Still, all in all, At World's End's Elizabeth is the best of the trilogy's three. Or she is for 99% of the film, anyway. The way Elizabeth's character is left at the end, a mommy waiting patiently for the return of her not-worthy man, rather than doing some pirating of her own on her own ship, almost ruins the whole thing.
Naomie Harris' Tia Dalma is also back in this installment, in a much bigger and more badass role, which I liked. I was all for the advancement of her character from witch/sorceress to goddess. I would have liked to see a bit more wrath from her when her time to wrath came, but all in all I was happy with the portrayal.
The racism that spoiled Dead Man's Chest was thankfully not present in At World's End. The cast of this film was the most diverse of the three, with not only the addition of Chow Yun-Fat as Captain Sao Feng, but of international pirates from Asia and the Middle East as well as Europe. Though I certainly can't call any of the portrayals culturally nuanced, there was nothing like the horrendous slapstick racism of the second movie's cannibals.
So, while it wasn't a great film, it didn't fall into all the same sexist and racist traps the last one did, for which I am grateful--makes me feel marginally better about spending the time and money to go see it on opening weekend. It was fun to watch in the same way the previous two were, though it was a lot darker and more surreal and a bit less funny. As critics have pointed out again and again, there wasn't enough Captain Jack Sparrow (is there ever?). However, this was somewhat mediated by truly fantastic acting by Geoffrey Rush as Barbosa, and the absolutely priceless addition of Keith Richards as Jack's father, ancient pirate Captain Teagues. That bit alone is worth watching the film for.
These films will never be great examples of heroine content, which is too bad. The lackluster Elizabeth character could have been so much better in the first two films, as we see when she finally comes to life, however, briefly, in this "final" installment. The brief hints at the actual history of pirates could have been expanded to the films' betterment, I think (and were to some degree in At World's End, which took on the East India Company and the take-over of the seas a bit more directly than the previous films). The films could have been more political and treated women and people of color better without losing any of what made them good--the humor, the action, the fantastic acting. But that clearly wasn't a priority for director Gore Verbinski (nor has it ever been--he also did The Ring and the god-awful Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts vehicle The Mexican) or writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (Aladdin, The Mask of Zorro, Shrek). And why should these things have been a priority? The truth is that the vast majority of the moving watching public doesn't give a damn whether their cinematic pirates are unnecessarily racist and sexist--they just want to hear Johnny Depp make clever quips and see some cool sword fights.
It is only because I did appreciate what they did with Elizabeth, as well as with at least attempting internationally representative pirates, that I give At World's End two stars. It's really nothing groundbreaking, but it's a slight improvement. I can continue to hope, at least to some small degree, that if they do go ahead and make more of these movies, they will continue to improve. By the time they get to Pirates 8 or so they might actually have something.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At Wit's End by Nathan Lee at The Village Voice
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Tia Dalma Conflict by shadowfae at Tales of Adventure
- White and Black Sexuality in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End by Lake Desire on the Feminist SF blog
- Pirates III by firebird at The Hathor Legacy