Evil Captain Barbossa (Rush) and the crew of his pirate ship, The Black Pearl, have been cursed to remain as the living-dead. When they kidnap the governor’s daughter (Knightley) whose blood may break the curse, heroic blacksmith Will Turner (Bloom) plans a rescue, but he needs the help of infamous pirate Jack Sparrow (Depp), who used to Captain the Pearl…
So, you’re Hollywood, and you’re running out of ideas. Or, more accurately, you’re running out of places to ‘borrow’ them from. Books? Done that. Television? Been there, got the T-shirt. Comic books? Yeah yeah yeah, every third event movie has a costume. But then, some bright spark suggested looking to a popular Disneyland ride (which was either supreme lateral thinking or a happy accident) and the rest is plank-walking, timber-shivering history.
Looking back, we now know that despite coming from a theme park attraction, the overly-titled Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl wasn’t the disaster that many were expecting. Good times. However, it’s also not nearly as exciting, first-rate or game-changing as hazy, popular opinion believes. So where does that leave us? Well, given that mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer got onboard, Pirates (no need for the sub-titles and what-not) inevitably ended up as a critic-proof, box office-dominating slice of popcorn. A pure summer blockbuster.
Importantly, the brand of block-busting here isn’t high-end, high-concept stuff. It’s easy-watching, crowd-pleasing formula. All the way. In fairness, director Gore Verbinski never steers the ship into boring waters and there’s plenty of light charm. Also, there’s undoubtedly a strong sense of adventure and while the comedy falls flat on occasion, there’s definitely wit to be found (check out Jack and Will stealing a rowboat). Problem being, with a mostly-breezy tone that constantly refuses to take itself seriously, the dramatic scenes are, well, hard to take seriously.
At times, yes, the welcome doses of supernatural border on eerie and the huge scope is certainly ambitious, but the many (many) action scenes suffer. There’s never any real sense of danger, the swash-buckling feels repetitively bland and the numerous set-pieces seem to go on almost as long as the movie’s title. A ship of Royal Navy soldiers fighting a hoard of skeletal pirates (moonlight reveals their true undead form, ya see) should be creepy and dark given that the latter can’t be killed - but there’s no tension. So ultimately, we end up just waiting for Johnny to return to the screen…
Because, when all is said and done, this is Johnny Depp’s movie. From start to finish. As much as everyone associates Hans Zimmer’s heavy score (which, to be honest, pinches from The Rock) with the franchise, Depp is Pirates Of The Caribbean. Undeniably, you still wonder why the quirky frontman was tempted to go this mainstream, but in amongst the formulaic swordfights, countless chasesand forced romance, his twitching, eye-darting Keith Richards-modelled performance is easily the highlight. Easily.
Fellow main players Orland Bloom and Keira Knightley admirably play it straight, yet the chemistry required to buy into their love-story isn’t there. Sorry. Their hands are also tied – like most of the cast – by some clunky dialogue which sounds more like characters advancing a plot than people actually talking. That said, Jack Davenport and Jonathan Pryce are great in small, thankless roles as hoity, toity British Naval officers; while Geoffrey Rush steals second place as a fine, parrot-toting villain.
Though any movie based on a theme ride should sink to Davy Jones’ locker, Pirates remains a box-office treasure trove thanks to an utterly iconic Johnny Depp. Savvy?