Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

This latest film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series finishes off a trilogy arch. Other trilogies like Lord of the Rings, have plots set in steel. The three films blend together to form one single masterpiece. with action rising and falling on a global scale in the primary, and on an individual scale in the secondary. In Pirates, as in other trilogies like Star Wars or Back to the Future, we see a single plot which is mitigated by the individual outings that populate it. Each film could serve as a stand alone installation, though they work far better as a series.

In Pirates we see a phenomena emerge which was nonexistent in Back to the Future and only present on an incidental level in Star Wars. Because the three Pirates films are so long, many characters are introduced over the series. So many, in fact, it is extremely difficult to keep track of who is who. Villains from previous films become protagonists, and new villains constantly emerge. Foils become main characters, and new foils are introduced and killed from scene to scene.

The Tension of Plot and Economy of Characters

One of the reasons Peter Jackson left several characters, like Glorfindel or Tom Bombadil, out of the Lord of the Rings films, is because keeping track of that many characters is daunting and presents many problems. The audience might become confused or sidetracked by forays into the motivations of every individual. Furthermore, many characters were unnamed in the films, and only hardcore enthusiasts knew who they were. They had enough on screen time and presence to allow the audiences to remember them as “that guy” without having to know his name or his background. This was done with characters who played pivotal, but short roles in the films, like Damrod and Gothmog. Other characters who were cut out completely had their roles reassigned to others– like Glorfindel’s role being given to Arwen. This allowed the film to preserve the economy of characters which is a hallmark in modern literature. Since Tolkien was writing in a style more suited to centuries past, he didn’t follow those rules.

In Pirates of the Caribbean, this problem is inflated. Though all of the characters are amusing and colorful, and easy to distinguish from one another, their sheer number begins to complicate the plot and the tone of the story. Because the film depicts pirates, brigands, and megalomaniacs, a certain level of selfishness is necessary and topical to characterization. Every character in the film, from the main characters to the animal extras, has his or her own motives. They are going along with the action, if at all, out of a sense of what they might glean form it. While this is a characterization of this type of character, the braided subplots and betrayals that crop out flood the film with a consistent lack of direction.

Growing Pains

This could make the film a rollercoaster, and keep you guessing. Instead it causes doubt and suspicion to cloud the audience’s views of every character. This is a positive thing in some respects. By the end of these films, we have seen some characters rise from self-righteous babes to self-motivated leaders like Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s characters, or from hardened arch-villains to altruistic anti-heroes, like Geoffrey Rush’s character. They move into new roles, developing in the mold of other characters in the film– most notably Jack Sparrow.

Jack Sparrow

Sparrow is the main character, and as such, the film pays greatest attention to him. From the beginning he has made no qualms about his life as a rogue. However, it is also evident that he has a higher sense of morality which guides his plundering. Jack is never depicted as having attacked trade vessels or innocent people, as many pirates did. Instead he often speaks of finding lost treasures. He desires freedom over wealth, as he repeatedly passes up chances at gold for chances at happiness.

Jack is also outraged throughout the films at the betrayal of Hector Barbossa and the original crew of the Black Pearl. And though he attempts to double cross characters in the film, it is often for what appears to be their own good, as part of some larger plan. This sensitivity to betrayal and apparent sense of honor aligns Jack Sparrow more with the classic hero than any anti-hero.


The writers of this film series likely wrote Jack in that way to make him more likeable to the film’s family audiences. He needed to anchor all the other characters to a nobler style than pirates are able to muster alone. Since the last film depicts pirates as a subclass of citizens who are oppressed and hunted by an authoritarian regime, this became more visible. In the end the rivalry between pirates and the East India Trading Company becomes more analogous to class warfare between rich and poor. Any historical commentary erodes at that point, as the series embarks on a venture of social satire.

These films don’t have as much intrinsic cultural or satirical value as other film franchises. But that being said, they are a lot of fun to watch. The characters are colorful and extremely well-performed. The special effects, costumes, and sets are amazing. Some of the extras, for example the Pirate Lords, are great examples of the filmmaker’s magnificently created images. At Novus Literae, we reject the notion that films are made just for fun, but that doesn’t mean films like this can’t be a pleasure to watch.

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