Well, this is a fairly pointless review at this late date, isn’t it? In fact, reviewing a film like Pirates 3 is an ideal case study for the ongoing discussion about the value and influence of film criticism, given that critics will barely matter for a film that has acquired this level of popular love. Everyone who wants to will show up once they’re aware of the film’s existence via marketing, and any who might but don’t are swayed by word of mouth. Whether they like the movie or not, professional critics are essentially jumping up and down, futilely trying to attract attention to their opinion pieces. Alas, that debate will be long and multi-faceted as how we receive our entertainment changes. For now, I’ll just offer my thoughts on the third Pirates movie.
Rarely does a film offer so little in the way of surprise while still being utterly satisfying albeit immensely forgettable. I would have to sit down and strain to remember the Pirates 3 storyline. It was very entertaining at the time, although a little long at nearly three hours and rather awkwardly structured with the departure of Chow Yun-Fat’s pirate lord Sao Feng halfway through and the unimpressive presence of supposed orchestrator Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander). Plus there’s the staggeringly lame appointment of Keira Knightley’s character as a pirate lord in an attempt to keep the character relevant in lieu of any significant on-screen charisma. Orlando Bloom too continues to be adequate but stony as Will Turner, although the resolution of his story provides one of the film’s few surprises. Geoffrey Rush is sadly wasted as the returning Barbossa, his resurrection proving to be an afterthought and the script refusing him anything more than a rerun of his role in the first film. Bill Nighy and ILM’s Davy Jones continues to astonish though – the character is genuinely the first CG entity that is perfectly integrated into its live-action surroundings.
And Johnny Depp, of course, is magnetic, and is this time afforded more cracking dialogue and zany antics than in the last entry. Depp is both the blessing and the curse of this series, as he both distracts from and reminds us of the hollowness of the Pirates movies. They are fun entertainments, but they are not as memorable or lovingly crafted as touchstone adventure sagas like Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Taken in isolation, Depp’s performances are classic in their determined resolution to subvert all norms for movies of this scope. Jack Sparrow is a British sketch character transplanted into a Hollywood blockbuster, and the immense charisma and wit Depp brings to an eccentric outsider mark his work as fodder for the ages. But the movies themselves are merely highly competent, perfectly effective and harmless outings all the more laudable for the work that has gone into their technical brilliance. They are not entertainment travesties like Underworld or Batman and Robin, but they do not have the grandeur or weighty resonance of The Lord of the Rings.
Of course, do not misunderstand me as expecting greatness from Saturday afternoon entertainments. For most these movies are pure fun, and that is perfectly all right. But they cannot help but be judged within the wider canvass of the cinematic epic, especially given the staggering budget of these things – the $300 million ballpark that the Pirates 3 and Spider-Man 3 budgets were located in is the first time I have felt guilty about going to a major motion picture, especially since they are not classics that give more with each viewing. With that financial onus they have even more to answer for in the context of cinema, and while Pirates 3 is capable and smoothly exciting, it is not lasting. We can’t know that until we enter the cinema, but it should be a criterion for how high films of this type should shoot for.