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The third 'Pirates' chapter is better than the second, but not quite a classic

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is totally whacked in the head. Director Gore Verbinski and his crew certainly have a lot of ambition; for their pirate saga--based on an amusement-park ride--they didn't settle for a bunch of guys with peg legs and eye patches limping around squawking, "Arr!" Nope. They constructed a grand--and sometimes awfully confusing--mythological world.

Even if you don't like the Pirates pictures, you can't accuse these guys of slumming.

Where do I stand on the trilogy? I really liked the first one and thought the second one was a slog. The good news: The third is a return to form--almost. At World's End, like the second film, throws a few too many plot elements at us, and it's sometimes tough to keep track of exactly what's going on. Still, it delivers the goods on the visuals and action sequences, and Johnny Depp is in fine form as the increasingly insane Captain Jack Sparrow.

When the second film, Dead Man's Chest, came to an end, Sparrow had been devoured and killed by a large sea monster, with Swann and Turner (the radiant Keira Knightley and the pathetic Orlando Bloom) determined to go find him in the great beyond. As insurance, the extremely irritating character of Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) resurrected Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), the villain from the first film, to assist in the search.

Sparrow is not only dead, but enduring a rather schizophrenic afterlife in Davy Jones' locker. He's taken to talking to himself, with each facet of Sparrow's personality represented by extra Depps running around. So we get the interesting spectacle of Johnny Depp yelling at a bunch of Johnny Depps. Sparrow even puts a sword through one of his personality manifestations for not following orders properly aboard the also-banished Black Pearl, Sparrow's ship. Credit Verbinski and Depp for making this segment totally odd.

Myriad characters introduced in the past two films are back--perhaps a few too many. I personally can't get enough of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and his tentacle face. The character is one of the coolest creations of modern-day special effects. While a rather unnecessary subplot involves Jones' love for Tia Dalma (also known as Calypso ... I think), Nighy and the special-effects gurus make most of Jones' moments pop.

Everything leads up to a nasty final battle that captivates. I especially enjoyed a villainous soldier resigning himself to death and calmly walking across his ship as it disintegrates around him. Like Darth and Luke's final battle in Return of the Jedi, Sparrow and Jones have it out, dueling in precarious places. It's a great ending. In fact, it sort of makes up for a lot of the malarkey that occurs in the 2 1/2 hours previous.

A sure front-runner for Best Cameo of the Year would be Keith Richards, finally fulfilling some sort of cinematic destiny by appearing as Jack Sparrow's daddy. His appearance is short but memorable. It proves once and for all that Depp was right on the money when he said his Jack Sparrow was based on Richards.

It's certainly fun to see Rush back, but I've had quite enough of Bloom's Turner. The guy's mere presence irritates me, probably because it gives me some unhealthy Elizabethtown flashbacks. He did good as an elf in the Lord of the Rings movies, but enough is enough. The guy can't act, and he's no Errol Flynn. Also irritating would be Harris and her unintelligible accent. The movie seriously needs subtitles every time she opens her mouth.

Like Shrek the Third, this is a marginal third chapter in a franchise. It's not great, not bad, but simply good enough to enjoy. I'm still waiting for that summer blockbuster that will totally blow me away.

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