Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Review
Johnny Depp is one of the most versatile actors that I have come across. Considering he could have adopted the 'safe' Hollywood route of his pretty-boy peers and just taken thrillers, action movies and the odd romantic comedy, he deserves recognition for the fact that he has, at almost every turn, taken the path you would have least expected him to. He went from Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands to the offbeat Western Dead Man, playing opposite Pacino in the gangster epic Donnie Brasco and getting wasted for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He is famous for being quirky, unpredictable and enigmatic, and normally quite amusing. In 2003 he took part in what would soon become a multi-million-dollar movie franchise, the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Whether or not you enjoyed the story, the effects, the action, romance or comedy, few people would dispute the fact that Johnny Depp was thoroughly entertaining in it. So, was the rest of the movie really any good? And should Depp have really broken his rules about sequels to do two dire follow-ups?
Jack Sparrow is a down-on-his-luck pirate. He used to be the Captain of the Black Pearl, until he got ousted by the feared Captain Barbarossa. But his luck changes when he stumbles upon the simple blacksmith Will Turner, who lost the love of his life, Elizabeth in a fiendish plot that saw Barbarossa kidnap her and steal away with her on the Black Pearl. To make matters worse, Barbarossa is cursed, and must make a blood sacrifice in order to save himself and his undead crew. Can Sparrow and Turner save Elizabeth from the cursed Barbarossa?
I'm not sure I've ever been interested in the whole 'Pirates' thing. Eyepatches, walking the plank, silly hats, bad teeth, hunting for missing treasure, it's all a bit passé. And sticking Keira 'prim and thin' Knightley and Orlando 'wooden' Bloom in a swashbuckling period adventure about pirates certainly didn't get my hopes up. But Johnny Depp, well he's capable of making even the most unlikely-themed production into something a little more interesting, and in bringing us Jack Sparrow, he did just that for Pirates of the Caribbean. Witty - well mainly sarcastic - and often playing the part semi-drunk (or even stoned) Depp brings the show to life whilst all the others either play it straight (Bloom, Knightley and other Brit toffs Jack 'This Life' Davenport and Jonathan 'Tomorrow Never Dies' Pryce) or ham it up (Geoffrey 'Elizabeth' Rush as Captain Barbossa).
Sure there are plenty of swordfights, brawls, skeletal effects, walking undead sequences, and battleship antics, with this swashbuckling adventure taking us from land to sea to island of the dead and cursed cave, but what this effectively boils down to is Star Wars with pirates. (And it should be noted that Star Wars itself was based on the Samurai tale Hidden Fortress, re-imagined in a future fantasy environment) Here we have all the requisite Star Wars (A New Hope) ingredients: swordfights, battling ships, a novice swordfighter who has to recruit a rogue ship's captain to help rescue a 'princess.' And in much the same way that pretty-much the only interesting character in A New Hope was Hans Solo's sarcastic rogue captain, here the only cool character is Johnny Depp's equivalent Captain Jack Sparrow.
In fact, arguably, if the movie was left to just Orlando Bloom, he would have ruined it in much the same way that Mark Hamill's whiny Luke Skywalker did Star Wars. Honestly, I cannot understand why Bloom gets the parts he does - he fired an arrow into Brad Pitt's heel in Troy (what a bad shot, and what a cowardly move), became androgynous in Lord of the Rings (does he do anything other than look meaningfully into the horizon?) and became a fully-fledged knight and battle-familiar tactician overnight in Kingdom of Heaven. All the while retaining the same emotionally constipated look on his face. Steven Seagal has better acting chops than this guy (or at least the same lack thereof).
Keira Knightley has chosen her roles more wisely (Pride and Prejudice, the superior Atonement) and largely seemed convincing in them (even as a bounty hunter in the over-stylised Domino), even here managing to bring some zest to what would have otherwise been a standard token female role: the girl who all the men are fighting over. But as I've already stated (several times), the enjoyment to be had from this movie almost totally rests on the shoulders of Johnny Depp. If you really do have an aversion to the guy then this probably won't be your cup of tea, but otherwise he turns what would be a fairly average, forgettable swashbuckling romp into a much more interesting, amusing tongue-in-cheek adventure that stands out as being one of the few watchable pirate movies. Should he have come back for two bigger budget bigger effects sequels? Well no, they pretty much do for Pirates what the disappointing Matrix sequels did for the first one. But we must not forget that this is still a great, fun movie in its own right, and well worth revisiting.