pirates_of_the_caribbean_-_at_worlds_end_2007According to Captain Jack Sparrow, the pirate’s motto is: “Take what you can and give nothing back.” Apparently the salty adage doesn’t only apply to sea bandits. The Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End filmmakers seem to have taken it to heart as well—they’re going to take almost three hours of your time, your twelve doubloons admission and in return they’ll give you… well, more than nothing, but not much.

Part three of the Pirates franchise picks up the action where last summer’s cliff hanger left it dangling. Scurvy dog Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is still missing, presumably eaten by a giant sea creature. Heartthrob heroes Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) are allied with the formerly skeletal pirate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to rescue Sparrow from Davy Jones’ locker and conquer the ghastly ghost ship, The Flying Dutchman.

Treachery and betrayal abound as loyalties switch on an almost minute by minute basis—double crosses lead to triple crosses which, in turn, lead to quadruple crosses in a story so confusing it would give Machiavelli a headache trying to keep things straight.

The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy rivals only The Lord of the Rings movie for sheer length, the only difference being that LOTR was written by a scholar who spent fourteen years fine tuning the story, whereas POTC was written by a team of Hollywood hacks who are able to dream up pretty good action sequences, but fail to come up with a plot to connect the big money scenes. I suppose we shouldn’t expect much from people cobbling together a story based on an amusement park ride, but I doubt that even a hundred monkeys banging away at a hundred typewriters could come up with a more jumbled story.

None of the Pirates movies have been exactly easy to follow, but the first two were blessed with some commanding performances that smoothed over the rough hewn story telling. In supporting roles Geoffrey Rush and Bill Nighy stood out amid the action, creating characters that were memorable and colourful. Rush’s Barbossa was a great villain; flamboyantly evil, he added some delicious menace to the first instalment.

In the second one Nighy shone as the fish faced Davy Jones, complete with a slimy prehensile tentacle beard and a giant lobster claw for a hand. It was a strange character but despite layers of make-up and special effects Nighy made it his own and out acted the heavy prosthetics.

Then of course, there was Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, arguably the world’s second most famous pirate next to Captain Morgan. In part one his Sparrow was a marvel of comic invention, an unexpectedly swishy swashbuckler—a swishbuckler?—who stole every scene he was in. It’s the role that made Depp a household name, and for better or worse, will be the character he is best remembered for.

What seemed so fresh the first time around is now as tarnished as one of Sparrow’s fake gold teeth. Depp presents a caricature of a caricature, mumbling his way through this movie, relying on tricks recycled from the first two. It’s as if Depp, a constantly inventive actor always on the hunt for something new, grew bored of playing the same character for a third time. He can still raise a smile, but for sheer manic fun, check out the first movie.

Even less fun than watching Depp saunter through scene after scene is watching the embalmed performance of Rolling Stone’s guitarist Keith Richard as Sparrow’s father. Depp says he modelled his character on the guitarist, so pairing the two should be fraught with comic possibilities but instead we get an idea why Keith waited until age 63 to make his dramatic debut. As an actor rock and roll’s great survivor makes a great guitar player.

POTC: At World’s End is an orgy of swordplay, action and there’s even some hangings, but none of the big action scenes have the inventiveness of the previous efforts. Nothing here compares to the Dead Man’s Chest sequence where Depp, channelling Buster Keaton, balances atop a giant mill wheel while it careens through the countryside. The action here is big and loud, but otherwise pretty standard pirate movie stuff. Swords clash, pirates swing from ship to ship and cannons roar, but the stunts mostly feel like amped-up Errol Flynn retreads.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter the theatre! Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End lacks the panache of the first instalment, mistaking 168 minutes of rambling bombast for entertainment value.