Close your eyes and pretend it's all a bad dream.

Batting third in the summer of the sequel lineup is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Shot simultaneously with last year’s Dead Man’s Chest, this one picks up where that one left off. Which is to say…I have no idea. (Audio review here.)

Okay, that’s not entirely true. When last we saw Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, he was being swallowed by the giant sea monster Kraken, which means that he's now surrounded by himself in a strange sort of purgatory located, that's right, at world's end.

The story initially involves getting Jack back from Davy Jones' locker, which is necessary in order to save pirates from extinction, because (if you remember from the second one) the British Navy is holding Jones’ heart hostage, and thus forcing him (he's the octopus-faced undead pirate) to exterminate the remaining pirates. If you were able to follow all that, good, because that's the most comprehensible portion of the plot. It's the trunk, from which plot lines and motives sprout like Hydra heads from every possible location, layering on additional story arcs that only complicate things. Hammering out all the whys and hows would take far more time and effort than such a movie is worth. Too often, the details of what's happening are fuzzy or uncertain, which is most frustrating because the plot is actually relatively simple.

Fortunately, that barely matters, because the point of the movie is to create moments and imagery that awe and enchant. On this level, Pirates 3 succeeds wildly. There are battles with visual effects so stunning that they are scarcely noticed. There's a great scene accompanied by wailing electric guitars that calls to mind the classic westerns of Eastwood and Wayne. The dramatic score is again filled with hard-driving strings and horns that rile adrenaline and make for an over-the-top movie experience. Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom are still beautiful people. There's a great cameo by a legendary rocker, and Depp still owns the idiosyncratic Captain Jack in every way possible. Just look at that poster! Is that not the epitome of cinematic coolness?

All these similarities to the first two are good, but also part of the problem. Some sequels (Shrek the Third) get ripped because they are too different from their predecessors. Others get downgraded because they are too similar, which is the category that Pirates 3 falls into. Many of the parts are good, but essentially it's is just more of the same, with an emphasis on the MORE. There is too much here in the almost three hour movie. Continuing the tree trunk analogy, the movie is an out-of-control tree that needs to be pruned back. Clip off those stray branches. Trim the bunny trails and betrayals. Shape the tree into a more presentable and palatable two hours plus.

Bottom Line: Pirates 3 had its moments, and wasn't a bad experience overall, but the exhausting length constantly throws needless curves and double-crosses into the relentless fray. As my dad said at the end, "I hope they stop." 4 of 10.

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