Aaarr, mateys! Full sail! "Pirates of the Caribbean III" is just what it is supposed to be, no more and no less: 148 minutes of fun.
And it is a good thing, too, because I thought "Pirates II" had threatened to wreck the whole series on the level of the "Matrix" sequels. Here's why. The thing that made the original Pirates of the Caribbean work was the irony that, as Will put it, "Jack Sparrow is a pirate--but he's a good man." Sparrow exhibited plenty of amusing madcap rascality, but he began the movie by rescuing Elizabeth from drowning when nobody else would, putting himself at risk in the process, with basically nothing to gain. So the ironic premise had some credibility. It was that complexity in the character that made Pirates more than just a special effects version of a theme park ride, that made it surprisingly interesting.
But in "Pirates II," we lost sight of that theme altogether. II was just an excuse to do two more hours of special effects. Sparrow did not perform a single act in II that wasn't selfish, self serving, and callous to the point of cruelty. Everything that had made him interesting vanished, and he was just a rascally face running around as an excuse to do more effects. By the end, I had completely lost interest in his character and could not comprehend why his "friends" decide to rescue him from Davy Jones' Locker at the end. (This is explained in "III").
Then we come to "III." I won't even attempt to unravel all the plots and counterplots. Let's just say that whoever kills Davy Jones by piercing his heart in the treasure chest has to become the new Davy Jones and skipper of the Flying Dutchman. He is granted immortality on the condition that he spend 10 years at sea ferrying the souls of the dead to the next life for every one day he gets on shore. (The current Davy Jones has become corrupted and gross-looking because he has been neglecting his job--if you don't do like him, you still get to look and act human.) Sparrow decides that this is not a bad deal, because his first love is the sea anyway, and having been dead once, he is not anxious to do it again--and besides, he wants vengeance on Jones. Will also wants to kill Jones in order to free his father, who is a zombie in Jones's crew. He is torn between keeping his vow to his father and his love for Elizabeth, whom he would only get to see one day in 10 years if he succeeds. In the big final battle he gets killed by Jones right before Sparrow is ready to stab the heart--so to save him, Jack puts the knife in Will's hand as he does so, thus failing to fulfill his own quest for immortality. (Ah. Back to the original idea of Jack. That's good.) So Will and Elizabeth get married. I guess one day every 10 years is better than nothing, which is what they would have with Will dead, and Jack sneaks off to look for the Fountain of Youth and thus pursue his quest by other means, while setting the stage for "Pirates IV."
The moral of the story is that there needs to be a moral of the story in order for the story to be a good story. The presence of some moral dimension to the plot, an internal moral conflict to give complexity to the characters, made "Pirates I" interesting; its disappearance made "II" boring; and its return enabled "III" to salvage (ahem) the series (so far). The plot of "III" was way more complex than my summary shows, but without moral conflict that would just be so much confusion. It was confusing enough even so, with more betrayals and counter betrayals than I could keep up with-but, hey, it was fun anyway. If you have complexity in the characters, you don't need that much complexity in the action to keep things interesting. Well, "III" has plenty of both.
Ahoy, matey! Hoist anchor! We're off to the end of the world.
You will always remember this as the day you read a review which almost captured Captain Jack Sparrow.