With all the uninspired movies reading “based on a video game,” who could have foreseen that a series of swashbuckling greatness could be derived from a theme park ride? Pirates of the Caribbean was certainly a surprise when The Curse of the Black Pearl came out over a decade ago, but subsequent viewings have only raised my opinion of this action-packed, often convoluted franchise. Don’t bother with On Stranger Tides, though; it’s just not the same.
The Curse of the Black Pearl is the one that started it all, one of the few modern films to effectively introduce an instantly iconic character, Captain Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp has always been drawn to the weird and eccentric, and his career has fluctuated wildly because of it; but here he hit his ideal stride and earned a Best Actor nomination for it. Sparrow is dashing, cunning, a bit creepy and disgusting, yet strangely alluring in a grimy sort of way, usually one step ahead of the rest, full of comic bravado and a latent good heart. He steals every scene while complementing all the other actors, like Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner and Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann, semi-iconic characters in their own right. Their love story has its predictable ups and downs but also possesses that epic romantic quality that eludes many other films. A good villain always improves a film, and Geoffrey Rush is one heck of a pirate. His sneering negotiations and ruthlessness make him a memorable antagonist, and the creepy but incredible skeleton curse just augments the menace of him and his crew. Add in some powdered wigs, wondrous sword fights, clever dialogue, Oscar-nominated special effects, and one of the greatest scores of all time by Klaus Badelt (seriously, no other score captures and enhances the spirit of the film itself as this rip-roaring soundtrack, taken over by Hans Zimmer for the sequels), and Disney had a winner on their hands.
I don’t know how the filmmakers did it, but Dead Man’s Chest ups the ante in every way and remains the only Pirates film to win an Oscar, for Best Visual Effects. It introduces yet another historic villain in the form of Bill Nighy’s squid-faced Davy Jones and, to a lesser extent, Tom Hollander’s Godfather-like Lord Cutler Beckett with his obsession with “business.” This second film is the king of set pieces, varied, outlandish, and absolutely awesome! From the swinging cages on Pelegosto to the Kraken’s attacks to the astonishing three-way water-wheel duel, Dead Man’s Chest is replete with some of the best action sequences I’ve seen. As pure entertainment, it’s a twisting, crowd-pleasing thrill ride with a jaw-dropping surprise ending that left everyone in the theater clamoring for more.
When they finally got more, some may not have been entirely satisfied. Shot back-to-back with its predecessor, At World’s End has much of what made the first two great (the characterizations, breathtaking action on an even larger scale) but mixed with an unfortunate bloatedness. Even after several viewings, the film can seem like an overstuffed mess, with loads of conflicting motivations, changing allegiances, mythic plot devices, and ship-hopping. It all evens out by the finale, but the middle of the film is unnecessarily confusing. Plus, Jack’s eccentricities are morphed into full-fledged bizarreness, with strange visions of the afterlife adding nothing to the plot and scenes of multiple Jack Sparrows thrown in seemingly just for the sake of spending the film’s colossal budget. In addition, the expansion of Tia Dalma’s role brought out the fact that her Jamaican accent is incomprehensible at times; as with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, my VC couldn’t understand her the first time out. All that being said, ongoing viewings have increased my overall opinion of the film, including its bittersweet ending. The most impressive scene is easily the long final battle amidst a raging whirlpool that would put Charybdis to shame. As a stand-alone film, At World’s End is rather weak, but as an epic conclusion to the trilogy, it’s better than it seemed at first.
Though Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is being shot now for a 2017 release, I doubt that Jerry Bruckheimer’s lightning will strike again, as it did with the original films, especially the first and second. Rarely have action, characters, music, and romance been combined into such an entertaining package. This year’s Tomorrowland seems to be Disney’s next shot at adapting one of their attractions, but it’s unlikely to compare to one of Disney’s most surprisingly successful franchises.
Best line from The Curse of the Black Pearl: (Captain Barbossa) “You best start believing in ghost stories, Miss Turner. You’re in one!”
Best line from Dead Man’s Chest: (Elizabeth) “There will come a time when you have a chance to do the right thing.” (Jack) “I love those moments. I like to wave at them as they pass by.”
Best line from At World’s End: (Barbossa) “Aye… we’re good and lost now.” (Elizabeth) “Lost?” (Barbossa) “For sure, you have to be lost to find a place that can’t be found, elseways everyone would know where it was.”Rank: 59 out of 60
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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