The time has finally come. Continuing my retrospective on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise in the lead-up to the release of the fifth one, we now get to nr. 3 on the list. After nearly 10 years to the day that this film came out, I finally have the opportunity to get this off my chest! Oh, sure, I’ve spoken to people about my thoughts on the third Pirates of the Caribbean film, At World’s End, but never have I had the chance to truly rant about it, because this is one film I’ve had strong opinions on (one way or the other) for years. I recall hating it after first seeing it in the cinema a decade ago and considering it by far the worst installment of what was still an enjoyable series of films so far, only for my opinion to grow more nuanced as the years went by. On my most recent viewing a few days ago, I found that there were bits of this film I love to pieces, while others are so ridiculously stupid I still hate them with a burning passion. Either way, I find Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End to be an excellent case study to examine where writing can go wrong, so let’s get to it.
The Blacksmith in the Room
First of all, this seems like the most appropriate moment to adress the elephant in the room – or the blacksmith in the room, as the case may be. I’m just going to say it: Will Turner is by far the worst part of all these films, as far as characters are concerned. I don’t blame Orlando Bloom: I think he’s a pretty good actor, who’s just trying his best with what he’s been given. The problems with the character of Will Turner rest almost entirely with the writing. How so? Because Will Turner is a freaking idiot who contributes very little, is not very sympathetic and is not very interesting. He seems to only exist to fulfill the typical, standard Hollywood, young, white, handsome, noble and utterly boring hero-role and to be the love-interest for Elizabeth – both are functions that could’ve easily been taken up by Jack Sparrow, who is far more entertaining, far more interesting and (let’s face it) far more sexy in his strangeness. In contrast to a guy like Jack, Will just falls flat on every level. And I would be okay with him being a more run-of-the-mill, regular hero-type, if I actually cared about him. But I don’t, because Will keeps coming across as either young and naïve, dumb, whiny, unlikeable or flat-out incapable. Nowhere are these issues more appparent than in At World’s End. Don’t believe me? I kept a list this time.
- At the start of the film, Will was supposed to infiltrate Sao-Feng’s (Chow Yun-Fat) hideout and steal his charts – he fails at this, prompting Elizabeth, Barbossa and the rest to have to go to a lot of trouble to save him.
- As they’re escaping, Will is shown to be willing to betray Jack and the others by making a deal with Sao-Feng to get his hands on the Black Pearl. For all his complaining about Jack being traitorous, this doesn’t make him much better.
- Nor does he tell Elizabeth about this. Yes, he’s understandably upset because he thinks Elizabeth betrayed him, but not only does he not confront her openly about this, he doesn’t tell her about his plans, which is dangerous for everyone.
- When the truth about Elizabeth and Jack is finally revealed to him and they finally do talk about it – he still complains that she betrayed his trust! Eventhough Elizabeth only kissed Jack in order to save all their damn lives! The way he’s pissed off at Jack in this movie, Will should be thanking Elizabeth for killing Jack! More importantly, it reveals that Elizabeth has mostly been true to him all this time and he’s still whining about it.
- It later becomes crystal clear that Will only went to save Jack to get his hands on the Black Pearl and doesn’t care about Jack’s life at all – considering that Jack’s death paid for Will and Elizabeth’s lives at the end of Dead Man’s Chest, that seems a tad ungrateful.
- Will then betrays Jack with Sao-Feng for the Pearl, as he planned earlier – only to be betrayed by Sao-Feng in turn and for everyone to nearly get caught by Cutler Beckett. Will’s rash action seriously jeopardises himself, Elizabeth and everyone else. Not only does this make Will look traitorous, it makes him look like a freaking idiot.
- After Jack and everyone else escape from Beckett, Will is (understandably) locked in the brig – he then gets out of the brig and betrays everyone AGAIN, by leaving a trail for Beckett to follow. Jack (being far too good for this world) not only does not stab Will immediately, but throws him off the Pearl in a way that he’ll survive and gives him his compass, allowing Will to make a deal with Beckett to save his own life.
- With nothing except possible imminent death to bond them and with no real reconciliation between them, Will suddenly asks Elizabeth to marry him during the final battle. Elizabeth accepts this for reasons I don’t think I’ll ever understand.
- Will then fucks up yet again by getting himself killed in the final fight against Davy Jones. Jack Sparrow, being nothing short of a saint at this point, makes sure that Will is the one that stabs Jones’ heart so that Will becomes the new, immortal captain of the Flying Dutchman, thus ensuring his survival.
- Jack then also bothers to save Elizabeth as they escape from the Dutchman, as it sinks beneath the waves. Need I remind you that this is Will’s love-interest and also the person that betrayed and killed Jack not too long ago? As far as I recall, Will never thanks Jack for this or anything else, really. Instead, Will becomes an immortal sailor of the seas – something Jack desired very badly, but was willing to give up to save Will’s life. I can think of no person that deserved this less than Will Turner.
My God. Writing it out in detail makes it even worse than thinking about it. And I’m not even mentioning some of the ways that Will messes up in the other movies Will Turner is a perfect example how you should NOT write a hero. Worse, it even affects other characters. Because I can’t bring myself to care one iota for Will Turner, I don’t even care that much about the romance between Will and Elizabeth – I know I always find myself wishing for Elizabeth to ditch him and go for Jack instead.
Why this character turned out so disasterously is probably worthy of a study in and of itself. I suspect it’s because the writers were simply uncertain of what to do with him: perhaps he was shoe-horned in because they felt they needed a young, male hero for the audience to connect to in the first film, without realising that they didn’t need him at all. Realising that he was perhaps too simple and boring in the first film, they tried to make him more ruthless and cut-throat in the sequels. This backfired, as Will just ends up looking like a huge, but incapable asshole. He’s a hero that cannot be allowed to triumph on his own, because frankly, we all enjoy Jack Sparrow more. As a result, Will keeps adding unnecessary problems for our heroes and falls further because of it. Sparrow soars, while Will keeps sinking. And now that we’re talking about things sinking to the bottom of the ocean…
The Squid on the Shores
…Let’s get to the logic of the villain’s plot, because there is one aspect of At World’s End that is so mind-bogglingly stupid, it rivals the collective mistakes of Will Turner as a character: the death of the Kraken. In the film, Cutler Beckett explains that he also made Davey Jones kill “his pet”, the Kraken a.k.a. the giant squid that Jones used to unleash on his enemies. At first glance, this seems logical: the Kraken is capable of easily destroying entire ships, so maybe Beckett is worried that Jones would turn it against him, even with the heart in his possession.
Except this little plot point also happens to ruin Beckett’s entire scheme throughout two films. At the beginning of Dead Man’s Chest, upon Will’s suggestion that Beckett wants Jack’s ship, Beckett retorts that “His desires are not so provincial”. So Beckett wants something more powerful than a ship… like the awesome might of Davy Jones. But the most powerful thing we have ever seen Jones unleash is the Kraken. So if you get Jones on your side and make him kill the Kraken, the best thing Jones has left is – his ship, the Flying Dutchman. No other reference is ever made to any other awesome power that Jones posesesses. So for all of Beckett’s talk that his desires are not so provincial as to wish for a ship… He still just ends up with a ship.
What. The. Fuck. Everything about Beckett’s schemes still makes sense up to this point. Getting a giant sea-monster that can easily destroy any vessel your enemies possess before they even know what’s happening is worth going to all this trouble for. Having the Flying Dutchman is a nice bonus, but it’s hard to see why having it would tip the scales in Beckett’s favour. The death of the Kraken takes a shotgun to any logic that this plot had.
Drink up me hearties, yo-ho?
And yet despite all the stupidity I’ve just mentioned, I caught myself enjoying this film upon re-watching it. It has far more flaws than I can point out in this article: it has a longer run time than necessary, takes a long time for the main plot to get going, the myriad of plots and sub-plots can make it difficult to keep track of what’s going on, there is a magic pirate-song at the beginning that is never explained, the final battle (involving a whole fleet of pirates that end up doing jack shit) is both too long and stupid… And still I enjoy it.
The reason why is probably because there is so much fun to be had in this film and Pirates of the Caribbean in general. I love Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow and every witty line he gets, even if the character doesn’t get as much development as he should. I love Jack’s banter with Barbossa, who is an excellent frenemy – and Geoffrey Rush always looks like he’s having a blast playing this character. I still enjoy Bill Nighey as Davey Jones and Naomi Harris as Tia Dalma. Shipwreck Cove, the meeting of the Pirate Lords and the cameo of Keith Richards as Jack Sparrow’s dad are all amazing. Even the climax, despite being lengthy and feeling over the top, is still a spectacle. And in the end, maybe it’s not so strange that I feel this way: Pirates of the Caribbean is ultimately based on a ride in Disney World and screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio clearly set out to deliver the same experience for the films – they’re thrill rides. They don’t have to be particularly deep or profound, or even have to make sense all the time; they merely have to be entertaining, whirlwind adventures. Despite all the aforementioned problems, At World’s End is still that, at least.
But seriously, fuck Will Turner, though.