It didn't take long for film fans to realise they were in the presence of greatness when Johnny Depp first sashayed across the screen as Captain Jack Sparrow in 2003's 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl' - a couple of lines and most of us were hooked.

Here was a character who managed to make cowardice cool; who had better one-liners in a single scene than others had in whole movies; who deserved to be ranked up there with some of the best action and comedy heroes; and who, like the very best of them, deserved to return in a sequel. Or even two.

But despite its huge box office haul, there were those who felt that the first follow-up, 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest', didn't either live up to or outdo what had gone before, and that while Depp still stole the show, he should've been stealing it in a better film. That opinion will only be hardened even further by '...At World's End'.

Picking up where '...Dead Man's Chest' left-off, '...At World's End' finds Will Turner (Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) and the back-from-the-dead Captain Barbosa (Rush) on a mission to rescue Captain Jack from Davy Jones' Locker. But even if they get him back up topside, what lies ahead for them all will be anything but plain sailing: the evil Lord Cutler Beckett (Hollander) has declared war on all pirates - and he's got the fearsome Davy Jones (Nighy) in tow.

No matter how many times it happens, it still stings when you go into a movie with your heart set on liking it, only to realise you're in the middle of a disappointment - and in this case a very, very long one. An hour over what it should be, spaghetti-like in its plotting and far too po-faced for anyone's good, '...At World's End' is one of those films that's so intent on being EPIC that it strays too far from what was special about the story in the first place: the characters and the humour.

It begins in spectacular style with an opening set-piece in Singapore which right away convinces you that director Verbinski is determined to outdo anything from his previous two movies but not long after '...At World's End' starts taking on water. The effects and production design, it must be said, are incredible, but the fun and energy you were expecting are stuck down in steerage. 

Here it's more a case of quadruple than double-cross and the storyline is so elaborate and confusing that you begin to feel that the actors are just vehicles for even more ponderous dialogue. Instead of too many scenes that don't get you excited about anything, what was needed here were all the things that made the first film so special: razor-sharp repartee, breakneck pacing, great chemistry and more Depp.

With Verbinski trying to devote extra time to every other relationship onscreen, the real star of the show doesn't get as many scenes as he should. It's puzzling how the writing team - who've been together since the first movie - failed to play to their biggest asset and the guffaws that arise when Depp says a great line only serve to heighten how absent they are elsewhere.

It seems that 'Pirate of the Caribbean 4' could be on the horizon - it's a certainty that some of us will have abandoned ship between now and then.

Harry Guerin

To view photos from the 'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End' premiere, click here.