I doubt very much that Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is, in fact, the last we’ll be seeing of Captain Jack Sparrow and, you know, all those other people. How could it be? Treasure remains to be squeezed from Planet Earth, great swaths of which are evidently held captive by the grip of this imbecilic Giant Squid. Far be it from me to spoil the conclusion of the picture, which may or may not hint at adventures to come. Not that I could, even if I tried: Long before the third, fourth or fifth climax in this endless, obligatory summer diversion, I slunk into my seat in a passive, inattentive stupor, fully submitting to the fact that I hadn’t the slightest idea what the hell was going on.

At World’s End is a lukewarm maelstrom of secret agendas, double-crossings, tricky alliances, backstabbings, familial complications, romantic entanglements, political conspiracies, warring factions, hidden gods, cheeky monkeys and excessive eyeliner — some of which is linked to events from the previous installments, some of which is freshly pulled out of the collective ass of director Gore Verbinski and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and none of which is the least bit captivating or, by and large, comprehensible.

The story, such as it is, involves the rescue of Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from the Locker of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), and the attempts of Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and her Super Pirate friends to fend off the snooty imperialists of the Dutch East India Company. But seriously, who cares? This isn’t a movie so much as a delivery system for two kinds of special effect: those created by computers and those generated by Johnny Depp.

When Depp freaked his funk in The Curse of the Black Pearl, it seemed a sneak attack — the deployment of frisky, flamboyant, softly subversive shenanigans across the cold, impersonal grain of corporate entertainment. Dead Man’s Chest put him in the spotlight and he withered; blooms of such mincing, mascaraed rarity depend on nooks and shadows to flourish. At World’s End is even more aggressive in flaunting and defanging his spectacle, resorting more than once to the multiplication conceit. Give ’em what they want has never been so literal, to such diminishing returns.

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