Note: This review was penned by an unapologetic Pirates of the Caribbean lunatic. (I expected the first movie to STINK, and I ended up adoring the thing. I expected Part 2 to be a tired rehash, and it was anything but.) While that certainly doesn't mean I walked into the flick INTENT on giving it a good review, the simple truth is that these movies speak directly to the ravenous 12-year-old movie geek who (fortunately) still holds residence inside my soul. The flick is far from perfect, indeed it's bottom-heavy and swollen to bursting with wriggling plot threads, but damn if I didn't have a good time tagging along on this third adventure with all my old Pirates pals. Having said that, let's move on...

Sometimes the big-time franchise makers are damned if they do and damned if they don't: Churn out a skimpy "Part 3" that just rehashes what was offered in Parts 1 & 2 and you've got something vaguely entertaining but clearly inferior like Shrek the Third. Try too hard to jam too many arbitrary plot threads and flimsy characters into your third entry and you're stuck with a lurching behemoth like Spider-Man 3. And then you have the middle ground: The sprawling, gorgeous and massive adventure epic Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which while far from a flawless film, aims to stay faithful to its predecessors while still upping the ante (a lot) with a boat-load of new plot developments, characters and surprisingly nifty subtext. Yep, this particular popcorn movie runs almost three full hours, but if producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski had produced a quick-buck 92-minute third chapter, then the complaints would be legion. You can't win. Except at the box office, obviously.

As it stands: Yes, Pirates 3 has a few more plot-threads than it really needs. And yes, it's probably a bit longer (168 minutes) than it really needs to be -- but the bottom line is this: Once again, the Pirates series delivers the goods. In style and color, in character and adventure, in wit and weirdness ... this movie delivers. I'll make it even simpler: If you enjoyed Part 1 but thought Part 2 was over-plotted, overlong and over-kinetic, then you'll feel the exact same way about Part 3. As an outspoken and very geeky fan of the first two chapters, however, I was pretty much dazzled by what World's End has to offer, and I'm not just talking about the action, the effects and the mayhem. And if the flick's got just a little too much fat on the bones, oh well. A bit too much is always better than not enough, if it's me you're asking.

When we last saw Will Turner and Lizzy Swann, they were coming to grips with the fact that the untrustworthy yet hilarious Captain Jack Sparrow had been swallowed by a massive sea creature. Tough way to end a second chapter, but more than juicy enough to keep the moviegoers wondering how the writers would scrawl their way out of this mess. As Part 3 opens, we join Will, Elizabeth and most of the colorful Black Pearl crew as they attempt to steal some vital information from the devious pirate Sao Feng. With the opening salvo of high-octane lunacy out of the way, we get down to story number one: How to rescue Jack Sparrow from the arid netherworld that is Davy Jones' Locker. (The "locker" is like something out of a Terry Gilliam flick, really.)

Once that's finished with, just about every character from all three films gets their own subplot, motivation and screen time: Will Turner wants to rescue his father from the clutches of Jones, squid-faced Davy Jones is compelled to do the unholy bidding of the evil Lord Beckett, creepy fortune teller Tia Dalma must put an end to a old curse, the resurrected Barbossa wants his ship back, poor Norrington is still looking for some redemption ... Whew. Who knew the Pirates of the Caribbean series would turn into such an entertainingly convoluted soap opera? The first 2/3rds of At World's End are jam-packed with more plot twists, character developments, back-stabbings and revelations than an entire season of Desperate Housewives. And, provided you're already invested in the series, just about all of the material is good, goofy fun.

The most common gripe about the flick will be the blather. Just about every character onscreen gets to deliver huge speeches, explain current plot threads in blatantly expositional chunks, and then head off to betray everyone they just hung out with for an hour. There are certain points in the movie where you're forced to wonder why the characters even talk to each other at all; obviously nobody in this movie can trust anyone. But what some see as indulgent and unnecessary plot meanderings I choose to enjoy as a soap opera mixed with the world's coolest video game. It's interesting when characters screw each other over, worry about their own asses, and then (maybe) step up to be noble when the time calls for it.

And if you get too confused, here's a simple roadmap:

1. Beckett is using Davy Jones to kill as many pirates as he can.
2. The surviving pirates hatch a plan to re-awaken an ancient sea goddess in order to protect themselves.
3. Will wants to marry Liz and save his dad from a waterlogged purgatory.
4. Squidface Jones is still suffering from a sort of seasick lovesickness. ('Nuff said.)
5. Captain Jack Sparrow is worried about his own keester and very little else.

As in the last two films, the cast is photogenic, amusing and generally solid across the board. Yeah, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley's characters are still a little bland, but there's more than enough color here to deliver a few diversions. (The long-discussed Keith Richards cameo is a gimmick, but a briefly funny one.) As in the second chapter, it's the supporting characters who keep the ship afloat: Kevin McNally as Jack's right-hand man, Mackenzie Crook and Lee Arenberg as the Abbott & Costello of the unwashed pirate set, Naomie Harris as a borderline indecipherable fortune teller, Chow Yun-Fat as a devious pirate captain forced to reach an accord with the ever-scheming Sparrow, etc. (One only wishes that series regulars Jonathan Pryce and Jack Davenport had been given a little more to do. In a movie this long, the firmly established characters shouldn't get shunted into the background, but that's pretty much what happens here.) But the true standout of At World's End is Mr. Geoffrey Rush, whose snarling comments and boisterous energy were sorely missed in Dead Man's Chest. Rush and Depp make a fantastic team whenever the pair share the screen.

To delve into the sterling cinematography, the seriously stunning set design, the outrageous action scenes or the eye-tickling special effects would be pointless and redundant: You've already seen Pirates 2, and this one was shot at the same time by the same team. Sure, Pirates 3 is longer than it needs to be, and it's more than a little circuitous with all its overlapping story threads, subplots, character motivations and ceaseless back-stabbings ... but I don't think the fans will mind all that much. When you order an extra-large pizza with "everything," it damn well better be delivered with everything. To close this silly analogy: At World's End is that pizza. It gives you everything you want from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and if doles out just a few too many toppings and a couple of 'em spill off the plate, well, that seems like a pretty wacky thing to complain about.

(Fair warning to the parents out there: At World's End is arguably the most violent movie ever released under the Disney banner. It's actually quite dark in some places, too. Just letting you know.)