Depp Perception: Jack Sparrow looks to extend the Pirates franchise.

The latest chapter in the Capt.Jack Sparrow saga opens at an early-18th-century Gitmo, where scores of pirates are hanged as a British official announces the rights that have been “suspended.” Almost three hours later, the main action ends—a half-dozen epilogues still impending—with the symbolic destruction of mercantilism at the hands of a weird alliance of freebooters and seafood-platter zombies. Such political commentary is not the essence of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, but then the film doesn’t really have an essence. While Disney has requested that reviewers not disclose “the many plot resolutions,” only the most literal-minded could sweat the fates of Sparrow (Johnny Depp), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), Will (Orlando Bloom), Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and the rest. They’re franchise players and can be returned from the dead as long as their contracts hold and the series continues to make money. Like most contemporary Hollywood blockbusters, Pirates combines the bombast of a swashbuckler with the silliness of a musical comedy. (There’s even a sort of underwater chorus line.) The battle scenes boom almost as loudly as Hans Zimmer’s egregious score, but what propel the movie are zany asides and playful bits of stage business—never mind the plot, just watch what the monkey is doing. This episode travels to a cartoonish Singapore, home of a Chinese pirate lord (Chow Yun-Fat) and a host of brazen ethnic stereotypes. Then it’s on to the “end of the world,” which resembles Antarctica but also the Bonneville Salt Flats, and finally to the Caribbean for a pirate parley and a big nautical showdown in which many of the underdeveloped supporting characters finally disappear. In between, rocks turn into crabs, Keith Richards does a walk-on, and Depp—perhaps to compensate for Sparrow’s increasing insignificance to the story—plays a few scenes with multiple versions of himself. And yes, viewers who sit through the prodigious closing credits will be rewarded with postscript, this one providing a quick glimpse at a few of the characters who are still around 10 years later. Alas, they don’t include the stone crabs or the monkey.

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