Last July 7, as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was opening around much of the world, Johnny Depp and Jerry Bruckheimer sat in the oldest restaurant in Paris, Le Procope, having dinner and awaiting word of their film's fate. They had reason to be anxious. Reviews of the follow-up to the 2003 seafaring-adventure smash Curse of the Black Pearl had started coming in, and they were enough to put a man off his boeuf bourguignon. Critics were slamming the sequel, declaring the two-and-a-half-hour, $200 million-plus production a bloated, confusing mess. ''We were right across the street from where Dr. Guillotin perfected the guillotine, looking down on his courtyard,'' producer Bruckheimer remembers, ''and the numbers started coming in.'' It was quickly clear that no heads would roll. The box office returns were not just good, but shiver-some-serious-timbers good. Biggest-opening-weekend-ever good. ''These numbers kept coming in, and none of them made sense to me,'' says Depp. ''The only thing I did notice was that they kept getting larger.''
Well, hoist the mizzenmast, weigh anchor, and [insert your own nautical cliché here], because here we go again. On May 25, the final installment of Disney's Pirates trilogy, subtitled At World's End, will hit theaters across the globe. In the wake of the last film's $1.1 billion worldwide box office gross the third-highest in Hollywood history expectations are, to put it mildly, huge. Despite competition from other massive franchises, including Spider-Man 3, which just broke Dead Man's Chest's opening-weekend record, At World's End is still widely considered the favorite to rule the summer box office.
The finale picks up where Dead Man's Chest left off. Feisty Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), her swashbuckling beau Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), and the undead Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) are uniting to rescue rakish, rum-soaked Capt. Jack Sparrow (Depp), who was last seen being dragged into the sea by the kraken commanded by Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). Meanwhile, the East India Trading Co., led by the cold-eyed Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), is trying to snuff out piracy once and for all, leading the world's nine pirate lords to join forces in a final battle for control of the seas. ''It's really a Western,'' says director Gore Verbinski, boiling it all down. ''It's like The Wild Bunch or something.''
While there's no question the movie will reap heaps of booty at the box office, it won't necessarily be all smooth sailing. With At World's End, at 167 minutes, promising to be even longer and more narratively complicated than Dead Man's Chest, Verbinski is already bracing himself for another round of stinging reviews. ''That's going to happen again, I suppose,'' he says wearily. Which raises the real question at stake: Will the conclusion be deemed a worthy capper to a trilogy some have called this generation's Star Wars? Or, like the Matrix trilogy, with its successively more ponderous sequels, will it overstay its welcome?
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