SYDNEY - Australian actor Geoffrey Rush has his sword at the ready for critics who want to label the third Pirates of the Caribbean film too long and too complex.
Already one of the most profitable film franchises of all time, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer unleash Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End on May 24.
It follows The Curse of the Black Pearl which gave an old-fashioned pirate yarn some hi-tech treatment and last year's follow-up Dead Man's Chest, which made more money than the first but was panned by critics.
Dead Man's Chest featured a significantly more involved plot than the first instalment and was even more action-packed.
The trilogy's opener was more light-hearted and unveiled Johnny Depp's bad boy hero Captain Jack Sparrow as one of film's most entertaining, if not efficient, swashbucklers.
Packed with stars, including Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly alongside Depp and Rush, the films have made more than $US1.7 billion ($NZ2.33 billion) at the world box office.
Regardless of the success, or perhaps because of it, critics found many points of contention with the second film.
The most-argued fault was its abrupt ending which left the impression the entire film was an overture to the next act, At World's End.
Early reports suggest this was indeed the case and it's been promised At World's End will have even more bang for even more bucks with a budget of $A272.6 million ($NZ310.97 million).
"The critics came down quite hard on the second film saying it was too long and too complicated, but I think that's selling the audience short," Rush says.
"It's the intricacies of the plot which make this such a good set of films."
Academy Award-winner Rush labels his pirate villain Captain Hector Barbossa among his best works, alongside his Marquis de Sade in Quills and the role that won him the Oscar, David Helfgott in Shine.
Barbossa was largely absent from Dead Man's Chest, having been killed in the first film by Sparrow. But in the final shot of the follow-up, he miraculously re-appeared.
At World's End will revisit the part two cliffhanger and reports say a bizarre set of circumstances will mean Barbossa will be called upon to save Jack, his sworn enemy.
Rush wants the pirates films to be recognised for clever writing and attention to detail, more than for its superb special effects, cool fight sequences and chests full of gold for producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Although Rush is sure the "too complicated" barbs will return.
"I know my own kids and their peer group, they will sit for five hours playing war craft games, role-playing, they have great imaginations and love the intricacies of the sub-pots, the red herrings and dead ends. It's one big subconscious lesson in narrative," says Rush.
"I often get on the chat rooms to see what the fans are talking about and what sort of plots they are coming up with based on the previews. What they write is very impressive, and shows they really understand and appreciate the effort that goes into them."
He insists the At World's End plot, while it may be complex but, will offer resolutions rather than make the story more murky for fans.
Rush further praises the franchise, elevating what most happily see as a big budget popcorn epic - based originally on a Disneyland ride - to the heights of great literature.
"It's like reading Dickens ... but this is on their own turf," he says referring to young film audiences.
Many would say Rush is drawing a long bow. However, with Pirates' vast cast of characters, all with their own plot that affects storylines, and the writer's sharp social sensibilities, his claim may be fair enough.
Even when making such grandiose claims, Rush is a hard man to ignore.
At age 55, he has plenty of great roles left in him but little more to achieve as an actor in terms of accolades. He has even less to gain from brash exaggerations.
Despite his pulling power as one of Hollywood's leading character actors, he has not abandoned the stage.
He's spent recent months playing to sold out crowds in the starring role in a Melbourne production of absurdist play Exit the King. The production also has sold out its upcoming season at Sydney's Belvoir Street Theatre in June.
Rush says his Los Angeles manager understands that he must "sharpen his knife", so to speak, on stage even, when big pay cheques are on offer.
He has also recently seen a rough cut of feature film The Golden Age in which he revives the role of Machiavellian royal adviser Sir Francis Walsingham from 1998's Elizabeth.
The movie is due for release later in the year,
"I am not exaggerating when I say Cate Blanchett (who returns to her role as the great British monarch) even outdoes herself in this one. She is incredible," he says of his fellow Australian Hollywood star who has also made a return to the theatre.
Rush says he places the same importance on plays with a budget in the thousands as he does films which cost tens of millions.
As many say, although not as believably as Rush, it all comes down to the story.
"There are a lot of special effects and spectacular events in Pirates, sure, but at its core it's very dialogue driven," Rush says.
"It's steeped in the grand tradition of Hollywood movies. There are 12 to 15 key characters who all carry their own subplot. It's the story that drives it regardless of what it looks like ... and it will look great."