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Pirates' 'End': More Depp, More Noise, Less Jolly

Haven't had your swash sufficiently buckled? Well, Cap'n Jack Sparrow is back — back for nearly three hours, in fact, in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End — which should be enough of a fix for even the most dedicated pirate-head.

I hear your question: Didn't he die in Dead Man's Chest? Sure. But that's no impediment in this series — just ask Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who died in the first movie, and who's come back, too, to explain where we're headed this time. Which is basically on a return trip to Davy Jones' Locker, to bring Jack back.

So off they head, plunging with much splashy-splashing right off the edge of the earth. And what do they find? That Cap'n Jack's been sentenced by Ol' Tentacle Face to spend eternity in what looks like a pirate-themed production of Waiting for Godot. The chief bad guy is named Beckett this time around, so that sort of makes sense.

For those who thought there wasn't enough Johnny Depp in the last movie, there are at least two dozen of him in this sequence alone. Which is a good thing, because once the picture gets more seriously under way, Depp's going to be just as overwhelmed by special effects as everybody else.

I should note that there are a couple of interesting ideas in this threequel — an opening scene, for instance, in which the authorities decide to fight pirate "terrorism" by suspending the right to habeas corpus, perhaps knowing that they're near a spot that will someday be called Guantanamo. There's also a whole theme about the piracy of capitalism, with the British navy in the service of corporate profiteers. It's not every pop-movie franchise that would make the East India Company a villain.

This is mostly first-hour stuff, as if director Gore Verbinski wanted real-world concerns to anchor things before he started whipping up digital frenzies around the goddess Calypso and the romance of the high seas. Actual romance, of the Will-and-Elizabeth variety, requires not just high seas but a ship-consuming vortex to move things to the next level — plus a swordfight involving Chinese, African and fish-faced pirates.

If entertainment value is measured in decibels, then Pirates 3 could be called shipshape. But for a series that started out as subversively witty, it's now just another digital extravaganza — frenetic enough to hold your attention, certainly, and never actively dull, but more about spectacle than fun.

Count that as a bow to forces that the accountants for the East India Company would understand. The first film had a clever script and made $600 million, about half of it overseas; the second tilted in the direction of bigger effects and made a billion dollars, about two-thirds of it outside the United States.

They could have restored the balance by bringing back the wit, but instead they went for box-office numbers, especially overseas, by making the effects so big and so noisy that there's hardly even a point in translating the words anymore. By the time these Caribbean pirates actually arrive at World's End, you can't really hear 'em anyway.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.