This is the one Johnny Depp performance everyone knows about because it has been done to death. Pirates of the Caribbean is the series that never says die as it consistently releases films with great actors and fun performances…that just never pan out in the later installments. The Curse of the Black Pearl however was back when the world was just released to the phenomena that was “Captain” Jack Sparrow. There we saw the exact trajectory of Johnny Depp’s career, he was going to do this character for the rest of his life. Is this a good thing? Well I love Johnny Depp as an actor and I like it when he has good roles lined up for him, yet does the movie still hold up without his performance to ground it?
Usually what comes to mind when someone brings up the Pirates of the Caribbean series is either how they got worse as they went along, Captain Jack Sparrow is either great or overrated, or that the first film was easily the only one still watchable. The Curse of the Black Pearl at times can be summed up as a long busy film shoving in numerous characters and motivations all the while trying to tie it back to the Disney theme park ride in the process for nostalgia. I think each set of characters really deserve to be talked about in length when talking about the trilogy as a whole, but a lot of their growth and story can be summed up very quickly because it isn’t that complex no matter how much time they want to dedicate to them. The entire story can be summed up with one word: Pirates.
The Curse of the Black Pearl follows three characters specifically: William Turner (Orlando Bloom) who is a boy rescued from a shipwreck and is easily obsessed with his rescuer, Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley) who is the governor of Port Royal’s daughter and obviously obsessed with pirates, and Jack Sparrow…who is obviously a pirate obsessed with getting his ship back from a bunch of mutinous scallywags. Then you have Commodore James Norrington (Jack Davenport) who is in love with Elizabeth and upholds duty above everything…except when it involves Elizabeth. Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), the mutinous first mate of Jack Sparrow, who desires to eat apples once again and free himself from a curse that neither lets him live or die. Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce) who wants what is best for his daughter even though he honestly doesn’t know what that is, and constantly proves that to be the case. You have Pintel (Lee Arenberg) and Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) who have a bigger part in the entire series, and in this film we see them bumble around as cursed pirates under Barbossa. Let’s not forget Mr. Gibbs (Kevin McNally) who is a friend of Jack Sparrow’s and stands next to him as his most trusted adviser in the films. As you can see there is a lot of established characters who become staples of the film trilogy, and each need proper screen time to cement them in the mind of the audience.
Pirates of the Caribbean may have one singular goal for each of its characters, yet usually what happens in the story is that they all act in according to what they want. To put it simply, the anime equivalent to this would be Durarara and the film equivalent is Reservoir Dogs. It is characters whose fates intermingle all in an attempt to gain what they want, all while focusing on multiple points of view to the narrative and dedicating enough time to most in order to allow them to flesh out. Usually it jumps between Elizabeth, Jack and Will, yet they never truly neglect its other characters. What makes this type of story so much fun is when all of the characters are allowed to play off each other, through the fateful connections they run into. An enemy one moment, could be your saviour in the next. This is the world of pirates, one that allows each character to go on their own journey throughout the trilogy and we watch them grow and either succeed or fail in the desires.
The logic of the film often doesn’t pan out especially in key scenes involving some characters, like Pintel and Ragetti’s scene where they dress up as two women with umbrellas and dresses. This was supposed to be a comedic element that was to distract the Navy, and it surprisingly worked! Why would there be two women on a deserted island out for a stroll around pirates? It’s not particularly funny, but they do spend some time on in during the third act climax which comes off as more desperate for a laugh then anything. It’s sad since I really do enjoy the two in the later films. There is also Elizabeth’s random knowledge of the Pirate’s code which comes out of nowhere in some points especially when she seems to be quite sheltered in her life in Port Royale.
What happens in a lot of series that focuses in on many, and introduces even more in the sequels, this can cause the cast to lack development or even depth. I can’t in full honesty say in The Curse of the Black Pearl that this is the case. What we see in this first film is the start of a tapestry of intermingling characters, each with passions, goals and journeys to be discovered. And even if you don’t enjoy the trilogy as a whole, this is a fun story for everything to start off with. Most of the characters are interesting with the exception of only a few characters being a slog to get through in most moments. The biggest problem is that those characters are two out of the three main characters we follow in this film, Will and Elizabeth.
Yes I know these two have been the punching bag for a lot of people when they talk about the bad elements of this series, but they make it so easy to take a swing at them. Bloom and Knightley do not have chemistry in the slightest, it feels like two planks of wood trying to fall in love. The characters themselves are not particularly bad it’s just whenever they have a scene together, particularly a romantic one, that the film slows down to a dead stop for something that never evokes any emotion. That is not to say when the characters are interacting with other characters that they are not interesting. Will Turner has a lot of great scenes bouncing off Jack Sparrow’s untrustworthiness, Norrington’s staunch focus on justice or facing off against pirates. Elizabeth does the same when she talks with Jack Sparrow and how she sees him as the object of her desire or even against Barbossa and their barbs against one another. These characters do not work together, but with other characters it is so much fun to see them interact out of their element.
The two roles worth paying attention to in this first film are easy to see in their first few scenes. Captain Jack Sparrow is the proper anti-hero for this series, often after a singular goal of riding the seven seas with his ship and using whoever he can and whatever tricks are up his sleeve to do so. This makes for an aloof, but intelligent, protagonist who manages to make every endeavor he is a part of enjoyable and for the most part clever. Barbossa on the other hand is the best antagonist within the trilogy as he truly creates a good respectable foil to Jack Sparrow. Yes Jack is underhanded, but when you compare him to the treachery of Barbossa you can kind of gloss over his misgivings. Geoffrey Rush in the role is truly magnetic, delivering lines flawlessly that easily make you wonder why you aren’t rooting for him until you remember he is the bad guy. Barbossa is an intelligent man, always conniving for power as he sees being a pirate as more a means to an end. When compared to Sparrow’s more adventurous disposition, you see two sides of the Pirate coin. You either have the brash, power hungry kind who desire the better things in life, or you have the rogue-like and adventurous swashbuckler who bends morals whenever it suits the need. You see two sides of the same coin fight with a strange mutual respect for one another which only shows up in some small interactions, truly making this one of the better cinematic duos in a Disney film.
I have talked enough about the characters though, even though many deserve their own post and why they are good or bad. One of the main things people remember from the The Curse of the Black Pearl was the iconic theme song. You know the one, the sweeping epic music that plays whenever Captain Jack Sparrow is in a perilous fight in the third act most likely. This movie feels as if it was built around its soundtrack as each scene more than caters to its soundtrack than the soundtrack to it. You can listen to any of the pieces outside of the film and still be excited by it. That being said, a lot of the scenes would be plain if it wasn’t for how distinct the soundtrack would be. Much like how Treasure Planet had a soundtrack that never stood out, its scenes and the way they were done allowed for the action to always feel intense. The Pirates franchise, while enjoying a big set piece every now and again, the most fun had in the films are the small scenes that are dialogue focused between two characters. Barbossa’s apple scene where he reveals to Elizabeth the curse of the Aztec gold comes to mind, it doesn’t force grand sweeping angles until she is shoved into the pirates working on the moonlit deck. It builds up the tension for the reveal with simple dialogue between two characters who appreciate each other’s gusto, but soon do both realize that Barbossa was always in control of the situation.
The big fight sequences, like during the blacksmith shop showdown between Will and Jack in the beginning or Barbossa fights against jack in the end, always are what many remember from the film besides a few choice lines said by characters. Where I love the smaller moments such as the apple scene, I have to say the larger battle sequences are shot very dull and often exaggerate the action actually taking place in a more grandiose way. When two ships are firing hails of cannonballs at one another and they show the numerous reaction shots or people flying left and right, it’s never shot in an exciting way. It’s very cookie cutter, much like you need to show Jack doing something silly then switch back to Will fighting or Pintel or Ragetti doing something funny. It doesn’t feel as alive as the great sword fight sequences that have engaging shot compositions and choreography. If it wasn’t for some choppy editing, that beginning blacksmith shop fight sequence would have been a perfect showcase of how to do a fight scene correctly. It is funny when it needs to be, never stops the pace for a second, the witty dialogue keeps on coming, interesting set pieces like the cart acting like a seesaw, it just is so inventive all around.
The Curse of the Black Pearl at times is a bit of a mess all the way around. The story focuses more on individual goals rather than overall goals, which while it does make for some interesting character dialogue and depth/development, makes some sequences more moot than anything else like the whole Tortuga section which feels like it is trying to harken back too much to the theme park ride. The film does hold itself back with its attempt at grabbing a small essence of nostalgia from the theme park ride, but often that detracts from the overall film dedicating precious time that could have been spent fleshing out more of its large cast. It tries heavily to be an epic swashbuckling adventure, with its fantastic soundtrack, yet executes its smaller scenes with more gravitas thanks to its acting talent. It works as a fun adventure on the seas with a great cast of loveable characters, making a good start to what should be a solid franchise. But we all know how this is going to turn out.
And we are back to it in the wonderful year of 2017! A great start too with a solid and fun Disney film that I still think holds up for a watch today even if its effects are a tad bit dated. So what did you think about Pirates of the Caribbean? Did you enjoy the attempt at love scenes from Will and Elizabeth? Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to have yourself a great day!