Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (review)

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Pirate’s Life for Me

(Best of 2003)

Yo ho ho ho my goodness: a scoundrel Johnny Depp in sea-dog duds and kohled Rudolph Valentino eyes and a nobly upstanding Orlando Bloom denying his pirate heritage and a fiery Keira Knightley who really, really hates corsets and dares to look pirate captains defiantly in the eye and the thrilling clang of swords on deck and the black skull-and-crossbones flapping in the breeze and buccaneering on the high seas and a damned pirate crew and a cursed secret treasure and an evil little monkey and crystal-blue ocean waters and revenge and brave escapades and true love.

Forget that this is based on a ride at Disney World, and a pretty sorry one, at that — know that it’s a wonderfully exhausting, refreshingly unironic, delightfully old-fashioned swashbuckler. And it’s funny as hell, the funniest movie so far this year. And it’s scary, and exciting, and prankish, with a seemingly never-ending capacity to surprise. It may even be — much as it pains me to have to admit this about a Jerry Bruckheimer production — the hands-down best flat-out, full-blooded, guns-ablazin’ adventure movie to come out of Hollywood since… since… since, she sputtered, grasping for a comparison to do the film justice… since Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl isn’t just the biggest colon-ated mouthful in a summer of movies with colon-ated mouthfuls of titles. It’s everything we go to The Movies for… Okay, it’s everything I go to The Movies for: To escape, to vicariously live some other life that’s more interesting and more dangerous (if also more absurd) than my own, to meet people I didn’t know I wanted as friends. It’s big and bold and loud but never dumb; it’s smart enough, for all its thrills and edge-of-your-seatness, to be laid back, to be unconcerned with any Deep Meaning, and smart enough to know that a lack of Deep Meaning is not the same thing as vacuousness. It’s got heart and soul and personality and character to spare. It so wraps you — okay, me — up in its aching yearning for the rash and the adventurous and the romantic that you — okay, I — let out a little gasp of frustration every time Orlando Bloom fails to kiss Keira Knightly, or Johnny Depp fails to kiss Keira Knightley, or Johnny Depp fails to kiss Orlando Bloom. God, somebody kiss anybody, I just can’t stand the anticipation anymore.


The tale is a fine and charming one, about the adorably honorable-but-poor blacksmith Will Turner (Bloom: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) whose eyes are full of love for the ripely luscious Elizabeth Swann (Knightley: Bend It Like Beckham, The Phantom Menace), but she’s far above his station, being the daughter of the island’s colonial governor (Jonathan Pryce: What a Girl Wants, The Affair of the Necklace), plus she’s kinda been promised to Norrington (Jack Davenport: The Talented Mr. Ripley), a solider and a real square who still wears a powdered wig. Fortunately Elizabeth is rescued from a life of sheer nonadventure and nothing-to-do-ness, in her tropical paradise, by the arrival of pirate captain Jack Sparrow (Depp: From Hell, Blow) and his nemesis, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush: Finding Nemo, The Banger Sisters), who, in last week’s episode, had shanghaied Sparrow’s ship, the Black Pearl, and gotten himself and his crew cursed for all eternity, but that’s really way too much to go into here. Suffice to say that Elizabeth and Will will be swept up into the fun and the swordfighting and the walking the plank and the cannons thundering and the shenanigans of the aforementioned evil monkey what belongs to Barbossa.

And none of it — okay, some of it — okay, a lot of it — would be worth a damn without Johnny Depp, who, with a career chock-ablock with performances- of- a- lifetime, gives the performance of a lifetime, stealing a film that you’d think would be damn near unstealable, there’s so much cool other stuff here. Depp is so outrageously outrageous that it was either sheer genius or sheer madness that inspired director Gore Verbinski (The Ring, The Mexican) to let him get away with it, so over the top that he launches himself into orbit, and it couldn’t have been any other way. Staggering around drunkenly yet thoroughly in control, with a wry grin for every twist of fate and brush with death, his Sparrow is a rogue and a thief and a scoundrel and a liar, and oh, that’s why we like him — he’s the kind of man who leads a girl to suspect that there aren’t enough scoundrels in her life.

For all of Sparrow’s smirking, though, the movie never smirks at itself, is never postironically cocky, never invites us to see it as a big joke we’re all in on. I swear that not once did Pirates invite me to supply my own ready-made line from The Princess Bride. Okay, once. Twice. But they were both early on in the film, and after that I got so caught up in the dueling and the not-kissing and how amazing Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom look in those boots that I forgot to be snarky.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being snarky. I like being snarky, and I like movies that smirk and are postironically cocky and are a big joke that we’re all in on. But I also forgot that to really get swept away by a film, I have to stop being so clever and rewind to a point when all movies were fresh and new and something I’d never seen before. Who’da thunk a Bruckheimer movie based on a theme-park attraction would be the movie to remind me of that?

see also:
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (review)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (review)
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (review)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (aka Dead Men Tell No Tales) movie review: yo ho no

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Chris Diver
Chris Diver
Sat, May 15, 2021 12:06pm

MaryAnn, yes, absolutely! Perhaps the greatest adventure film ever made! And Johnny D created a character who was instantly immortal! The film is simultaneously wonderful fun, technically simply masterful, and has a plot with a serious undercurrent which gives it a gravitas I hadn’t expected, yet the humor throughout is charming, affectionately self-satirizing, and subtle. Finally, the pirates utterly vanquish the stuffy British class structure with their wit and verve. This is a revolutionary film.