ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

First they lifted the "Curse of the Black Pearl" then they unlocked the secrets of "Dead Man's Chest." So what's left for Johnny Depp and his pirates of the Caribbean crew to do in their latest adventure at "World's End."

Our critic Bob Mondello has the answer.

BOB MONDELLO: Haven't had your swash sufficiently buckled after two "Pirates" movies? Well, Captain Jack Sparrow is back - for nearly three hours this time -which should be enough to sate even the most dedicated pirate-head. I hear your question: Didn't he die in "Dead Man's Chest"? Well, yes. But that's no impediment in this series - just ask Captain Barbossa, who died in the first movie, and is back, too, explaining where we're headed this time.

(Soundbite of movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End")

Mr. GEOFFRY RUSH (Actor): (As Captain Barbossa) Jack Sparrow holds one of the nine pieces of eight. He failed to pass it along to a successor before he died. So we must go and get him back.

MONDELLO: Back from Davy Jones' Locker.

So they head off, plunging with much splashy-splashing right off the edge of the earth.

(Soundbite of movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End")

Mr. JOHNNY DEPP (Actor): (As Captain Jack Sparrow) Limey.

MONDELLO: Limey, indeed.

And what do they find when they get to Davy Jones' Locker? That Captain Jack has been sentenced by Ol' Tentacle Face to spend eternity in what looks like a pirate-themed production of "Waiting for Godot." Since the chief bad guy this time is named Beckett, this sort of makes sense.

For those who thought there wasn't enough Johnny Depp in the last movie, there are at least two dozen of him in this sequence alone. Which is a good thing, because once the picture gets more seriously under way, Depp is going to be just as overwhelmed by special effects as everybody else.

(Soundbite of movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End")

(Soundbite of waves splashing)

(Soundbite of man screaming)

MONDELLO: I should probably note that there are actually a couple of interesting ideas in this threequel - an opening scene, for instance, in which the authorities decide to fight pirate terrorism by suspending the right to habeas corpus, perhaps knowing that they're near a spot that will someday be called Guantanamo.

There's also a whole theme about the piracy of capitalism, with the British navy in the service of corporate profiteers. It's not every pop-movie franchise that would make the East India Trading Company a villain.

This is mostly first-hour stuff, as if director Gore Verbinski wanted real-world concerns to anchor things before he started whipping up digital frenzies around the goddess Calypso and the romance of the high seas. Actual romance, of the Will-and-Elizabeth variety, requires not just high seas to move to the next level but a ship-consuming vortex plus a swordfight involving Chinese, African and fish-faced pirates.

(Soundbite of movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End")

Mr. ORLANDO BLOOM (Actor): (As William Turner) Would you marry me?

Ms. KEIRA KNIGHTLY (Actress): (As Elizabeth Swann) I don't think now is the best time.

MONDELLO: If entertainment value is measured in decibels, then "Pirates 3" could be called shipshape. But for a series that started out as subversively witty, it's now just another digital extravaganza - frenetic enough to hold your attention, certainly, and never actively dull, but more about spectacle than fun.

Count that as a bow to forces that accountants for the East India Trading Company would understand. The first film had a clever script and made $600 million, about half of it overseas; the second film tilted in the direction of bigger effects and made a billion dollars, about two-thirds of that overseas.

They could have restored the balance by bringing back the wit, but instead they went for box-office numbers, especially overseas, by making the effects so big and so noisy there's hardly even a point in translating the words anymore. By the time these Caribbean pirates actually arrive at "World's End," you can't really hear them anyway.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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