Other people have written far more interesting and intelligent things about PotC:AWE than I ever could: If I become a little less pissed off with my current LJ addiction I might even link to them.
I liked AWE a lot. I probably wouldn't put it down as one of the great movies of all times, and think it was less good than "The Curse of the Black Pearl" in pure power of storytelling. Though in other regards it was better, and it took watching "Ocean's 13" to find out why.
"Ocean's 13" was funny and nice and sweet, and a little "out there". The characters were fun to watch and fun to listen to (though I have to admit having trouble keeping so many faces apart -- the only guys I could reliably identify were George Clooney and Al Pacino, i.e. "good guy" and "bad guy") when they went to ruin a new casino and hotel at opening night, because the owner had ripped off one of their gang. The plan was intricate and fun watch put into action, never mind the plot holes and bounced reality checks. With every plot twist, the characters drew a new ace out of their sleeves, like a stage magician draws rabbits and doves and silk scarves out of his top hat.
I like watching stage magicians. I might worry that they'd fail one of their tricks and embarrass themselves in front of the audience, which touches upon my personal phobias and would be very unpleasant were it to happen. However, watching a stage magician perform is not what I would call thrilling. The very faint risk of embarrassment isn't high enough a stake for that.
And in "Ocean's 13", the cost of failure for the gang is not high enough a stake. In the worst possible case they would end up embarrassed, and the bad guy (who I pitied about three quarters into the movie -- outnumbered, outclassed and outgunned, he had become the underdog) would end up keeping his money. Even the bad guy from the first two movies, who finances part of the undertaking in this one and spews threats if his money isn't paid back with interest comes over as a paper tiger: He has been powerless against the heroes for two movies already. He can threaten all he want, I won't take him seriously.
So basically the movie is a big old Gary Stu adventure, with Gary Stus pretty enough to make me lenient towards them.
Compare that to the first movie, which I loved and which had me gnawing at the theatre chair with worry for the heroes. Because there was so much at stake and so many things that could have gone wrong and got one of the heroes killed, and with a gang of 11 there was a good chance that one or two of them would go down in flames.
Which brings me, in a wide arc, back to PotC.
In the first movie, it was pretty sure that in the end the hero would get the girl, the rival would stand aside with dignity, the scoundrel would go free and the villain would die. It is what happens in fantasy adventure movies of that kind. How it would happen was the interesting part, the rest was fun and pretty pictures.
In the second movie, the girl fed the scoundrel to a monster, the hero felt himself in the role of the rival, the rival sided with the villains, and the previous villain became alive again and everyone's last best hope. Oops. (Also, squid!)
Now, the characters ending up in a mess at the end of the second movie of a trilogy isn't anything to worry about: In the end, Marty McFly returns from the past, Han gets rescued from Jabba's palace, and Mr. Spock doesn't stay dead.
Neither does Jack Sparrow, which won't surprise anyone. (The Kraken, however, is found dead later. Poor old Kraken.) Jack is rescued in a sequence of surreal and amazing scenes, which are everything the Cannibal Island scenes in the second movie weren't and had me staring wide-eyed at the screen and grinning like a fool, because I love the surreal. After that, it becomes all about betrayal, nicely echoed in the back story of Davy Jones and his faithless lover. Everyone plans and schemes, and uses and tricks everyone else, and soon it becomes very obvious that there are just too many characters, too many competing goals and plans for it to end well for everyone. That was the moment the movie really caught me: because the stakes were suddenly high, and anything was possible again.
Even better, the movie delivered as promised. While the villains get what they deserve, and many of the ambivalent characters emerge victorious (those that do not die, that is), none of the heroes ends up with what they desire most. Which amazed and delighted me to no end, and gave me a weird time-loop feeling as far as Jack was concerned. Now I wonder, did he actually not change at all as a character, to end up exactly where he started? Or did he return, changed, to the same circumstances? I do not like seeing Jack as a static character, I want him changed. But has he? I have to re-watch the movie.
On the not-so-good side, I regretted that the thread with the song from the beginning of the movie led nowhere: It sounded all cool and impressive, but it fizzled out. And many of the action scenes were done with a first person camera perspective, which gives me motion sickness. I prefer fight scenes in a wide angle, so that I can see what is going on and who is doing what.
One thing I loved: The sword. I tried to rewatch "Curse of the Black Pearl", just to look at the sword and gloat with foreknowledge, but my DVD player didn't feel like cooperating. Sigh.