Whether you're satisfied or stupefied by the latest "Pirates of the Caribbean" film, you won't feel shortchanged. If this extravaganza of frenzied action, multitudes of featured performers, titanic naval battles and a flotilla of miraculous special effects could be distilled to a single word it would be:
At 168 minutes, it's still bursting at the seams. And if you think the treasure chest has been emptied when the end credits roll, guess again. There's a big sequence tucked in after the finale, too.
The mantra of the film (which opens tonight to get a jump on the weekend) is "More, more, more."
For viewers who adore Johnny Depp's boozy buccaneering, the filmmakers have found a way to populate the screen with a twittering flock of multiple Capt. Jack Sparrows. Do you thrill to the sight of great ships in exotic locales? This episode voyages to the China Sea, the Arctic Circle, back to home port in the Caribbean and, fulfilling the subtitle's promise, to the World's End, a torrential waterfall that makes Niagara look like a dripping faucet.
If that's too wet for you, there are desert scenes where the Black Pearl sails on sand dunes. There's more swordplay and smooching from Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). There's more of the resurrected buccaneer Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), ably carrying the film until Depp makes his remarkable entrance. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) has more tentacles in his writhing beard. It all builds to a visually dazzling battle between two pirate ships in the vortex of a giant whirlpool.
But rather than staggering beneath a feeling of bloat and excess, the film romps and races. After a dark-as-a-dead-man's-chest opening sequence reminding us that the corporate privateers of the East India Trading Co. are far worse than their pirate foes, the focus shifts to the Singapore den of tyrannical Sao Feng (Chinese superstar Chow Yun-Fat). "He's much like myself," Barbossa tells Elizabeth, "absent my merciful nature and sense of fair play."
The Asian warlord's scrolls chart the route to Davy Jones' Locker, where Capt. Jack was exiled at the end of the previous film. Barbossa and Elizabeth spark a melee trying to snatch them, inevitably leading to the detonation of a fireworks warehouse. The film whizzes along explosively from there.
There are rough waters ahead for the inattentive. Every character has a secret personal agenda, and a half-dozen double-crosses to help achieve it. Will wants to lift the curse on his father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), a barnacle-crusted slave on the Flying Dutchman. Elizabeth is transformed from governor's daughter to pirate royalty and develops a lusty independent streak that leaves her boyfriend gasping. Barbossa, Davy Jones and voodoo priestess Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) form a sort of romantic triangle until it's revealed that she is actually the human form of ...
Best to stop there. The studio has issued a request that reviewers not disclose the story's twists and revelations, and I'm happy to comply. Even if I were in what Capt. Jack calls a "divulgatory" mood, I couldn't do the tale justice. The movie demands a second viewing to unpack all the skullduggery.
I'd also like another chance to savor the spotlight moments when even minor characters have their turn to shine. Who'd have expected one-eyed, weedy pirate Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) to have a romantic moment that will set hearts aflutter? Or that the vile East India Co. chairman (Tom Hollander) would be granted such an unforgettable exit? And another viewing means more of Depp's euphorically silly show-stealing. Amid a season of franchise movies you couldn't pay me to endure twice, the prospect of seeing "Pirates" again, and soon, makes me a very Jolly Roger.
***1/2 out of four stars.