Leave it to Disney, a company that’s never passed up the chance to squeeze every single dollar out of a property, to make a movie out of an amusement park ride. Normally it’s the other way around. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl”, besides having the most unnecessarily long title since “Star Wars, Episode One: The Phantom Menace”, is also a throwaway movie. Mostly amusing, sometimes irritating, and stupidly convoluted at times. Of course all those things don’t seem to prevent “Pirates” from being an entertaining summer fare.
Johnny Depp (“From Hell”) headlines as Jack Sparrow, a (supposedly) legendary pirate who used to be the captain of the titular Black Pearl pirate ship. That is, until his second mate mutinied and dumped him on an island for dead. Now having escaped from the island, Sparrow is suddenly captured for piracy and sentenced to hang by uptight English Officer Norrington (Jack Davenport). Luckily for Sparrow, stable boy and secret swordsmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) springs him so he can be lead to the Black Pearl, currently being crewed by ghosts and led by their leader Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), the very same second mate who took over Sparrow’s ship.
It seems that during the night Barbossa’s ghosts had raided the English colony. The ghosts are currently on a 10-year quest to seek out every piece of Aztec gold that has cursed them to a life as ghosts, unable to feel or eat or die. Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), the colony Governor’s daughter as well as Turner’s secret crush, is currently in possession of said piece of Aztec gold. One thing leads to another and she ends up onboard the ghost ship, and it’s up to Turner to save her. But the stable boy needs Sparrow’s help, since being all English and whatnot, Norrington is forbidden by Movie Law from being anything other than a clich’d hindrance. And oh yeah, stuffy. Did I mention he’s stuffy?
“Pirates of the Caribbean” is an enjoyable little jaunt through the History of the World According to Disney — or in other words, it’s basically everything you’re used to about contemporary society shoved down the throats of whatever historical period Disney is currently pillaging for profit at the moment. Needless to say, English lass Elizabeth is more comfortable battling ghost pirates than wearing a corset and the screenwriters even throw in a superfluous Sassy Black Woman for no apparent reason. Couldn’t they have at least given her a reason for existing?
The unquestionable star of “Pirates” is Johnny Depp, who seems to be channeling a gay cross dresser and an inebriated gay cross dresser. The guy lights up the screen with charm and panache, which is a good thing because Orlando Bloom (“The Two Towers”), sans Elfen ears, proves to be a terrible bore. It doesn’t help that his character is written as somewhat shallow and, on many occasions, rather unlikable. (Why did he double-cross poor Sparrow and left him in the midst of the pirates again?) And Keira Knightley (“Bend it Like Beckham”), despite being the loveliest English import since Kate Beckinsale turned on American men everywhere with “Pearl Harbor”, needs to get those lips of hers under control. Knightley has basically one acting style — feisty and feistier. And when she gets really feisty, her lips start moving around like worms trying to escape her face. I kid you not. It’s sort of scary, really.
“Pirates of the Caribbean” is already a big hit in a summer filled with big-budget letdowns. Director Gore Verbinski, last seen remaking “Ring” for American audiences, obviously is going for an amusement ride-like atmosphere here, which seems appropriate considering the movie’s pedigree. “Pirates” is constantly moving, things and places are constantly exploding, and even the CGI, despite looking quite good, also looks a tad obvious (which was probably the intent). Then there’s the violence. Despite its generous rating, “Pirates” has a number of violent swordfights and battle scenes, and although they’re not bloody, people do die. Actually, a lot of people die. I do not recommend the film for younger viewers. The ghosts aren’t scary at all, but seeing them slaughter their way through a ship full of soldiers might be a bit disconcerting.
“Pirates” is the perfect movie for summer. It’s loud, violent, mindless, and has all the cliché that Hollywood can muster. Johnny Depp is engaging and excellent, and everyone else is just along for the ride. Without Depp’s insane performance, it’s hard to see how the film could have succeeded. Certainly Turner and Elizabeth’s romance isn’t involving; both of them are rather grating on the nerves, actually. Thank God for Depp, who put a smile on my face the first time he showed up onscreen, and left it there until the closing credits appeared.
Gore Verbinski (director) / Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio (screenplay)
CAST: Johnny Depp …. Jack Sparrow
Geoffrey Rush …. Barbossa
Orlando Bloom …. Will Turner
Keira Knightley …. Elizabeth Swann
Jack Davenport …. Norrington
Jonathan Pryce …. Governor Weatherby Swann