Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Isn't it about time we saw something that wasn't a sequel? Bring on the Pirates! Disney is returning to Hollywood's most underused genre, with a gun blazing, sword swinging, adventure epic based on of all things, a theme park ride.

I'm not sure why Disney has started making movies out of their theme park rides. An origin like that makes this endeavor instantly suspect. But, "Pirates of the Caribbean" was a good ride and if Disney wants to use movies as a weird way to market it, that's fine by me as long as all the movies turn out to be as good as this one.

Director Gore Verbinski takes a playful approach to the pirate genre, mixing in all the usual scallywag elements with a sharp-witted sense of humor and fun. He anchors what could have been a movie with nothing but big effects not on his ships, but on his stars, who carry us through a film that looks to have been every bit as wild to make as it is to watch.

Nowhere is this more evident than the wonderfully drunken performance of Johnny Depp. Playing a roguish, mildly insane, piratical lead named Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp sails into the movie with what is unquestionably the most memorable movie entrance anyone has made in at least the past decade. Intent on stealing a ship, he instead ends up saving the governor's daughter (Keira Knightly) from the sea. But his reputation is still with him and thus his good deed is rewarded as the law demands, with a trip to the clink where the local commander dubs him "the worst pirate he has ever seen." But Jack Sparrow's past is catching up with him, and strange figures from his past, the crew of the Black Pearl assault the Governor's fortress, kidnapping his daughter Elizabeth.

Lucky for Jack, local blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is in love with said daughter. Turner springs Jack from prison in exchange for his aid in tracking down the crew of the Black Pearl. Said to suffer from sort of ancient curse, they look like they are being X-rayed when moonlight hits them. Oh and they can't die either. Convenient trick if you can get it.

Sound great doesn't it? But none of it would be worth a damn without the freakishly mad performance of Johnny Depp. Orlando Bloom is a nice actor, and bears an almost uncanny resemblance to the late Errol Flynn. His Will Turner, who I assume is supposed to be the main character, is interesting, and Bloom is particularly fun to watch when he's swashbuckling. He really has a flair for it, and once Lord of the Rings is done, I'd love to see him try and pick up where the great Errol Flynn left off. But his character is limited, he isn't given a lot to do, and next to Depp's Sparrow he's almost a straight man. Keira Knightly is stunningly beautiful and just devestatingly hard to watch without instantly falling in love. She has a particularly giddy scene with Jack Sparrow on a beach involving several bottles of rum which made the little freakazoid inside me fall completely in love. But it is Depp who drives this thing and it is HIS character who commands the screen, even in the face of a particularly intimidating performance from Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbosa of the Black Pearl.

I just can't say enough about how outrageously incredible Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow is. He's managed to create what is without a doubt an instantly classic cinematic character. He's a man alone in the ocean searching for his freedom. He wants his damn ship back and he's mad enough that he'll do just about any crazy old thing to get it. He walks a beautiful line between total madness and absolute genius. Playing himself off as a total fool to shape the perceptions of those around him, Jack Sparrow is one step ahead of everyone else. Even when he isn't he still seems like he is. He's a god among men, at least in his own head, and his mildly drunken stumbling is only a symptom of that marvelous certainty.

But for all of Sparrow's delightful smirking and flailing about, this movie doesn't devolve into a parody of itself. It stays smart, cocky, and fast in the face of even the most outrageous kinds of balderdash. Walking skeletons and ancient curses wrought from Aztec gold can quickly become bad horror movie fodder, but Verbinski treats it all with such easily embraced joy that even the silliest of blood sacrifices keep us fully engaged. The film's sweeping musical score is also a huge part of that, pushing and pulling, and sending us skipping along in the Yo Ho Ho glee of each and every moment. Pirate's score is without a doubt the best I've heard so far this year and signifies the first time in a long time that I actually sat through the entire credits sequence just to hear more of the music.

Verbinski is simply intent on throwing in everything that makes pirates so great in the first place, and making it work. Yo ho ho, this is what makes a pirates life so keen! Sacking towns, takin yer gold and getting debauched in the typical pirate hidey hole. Stealing ships and outwitting authority. Drinking and singing and swinging your way in freedom all across the seas. Revenge, and mutiny and every little thing that made that once popular world of Errol Flynn oh so sweet.

At some point, things do become a little redundant, with repeats of the same scenarios and sword slashing bits. Also, the specifics of the complicated curse subplot get pretty hazy with more than a cursory examination and most of what Depp's character does probably doesn't in the end make all that much sense. That weighs things down a little, though the wait is short before Verbinski gives the movie another lift.

Anyway, this is a FUN pirate movie, not one that gets bogged down in silly details, which quite honestly don't matter. OK, I really have no idea why Jack Sparrow wears so much eyeshadow, but I like it! I have no idea why a British sailor from early in the film suddenly pops up later as a pirate, but I like that too! And while we're at it, why does Jack Sparrow prance about like a cross between RuPaul and Nathan Lane? Who knows? Who cares? I love it! Curse of the Black Pearl leaps, bounds, and jumps in with an unstoppable, devil may care attitude. A pirate movie made with a pirate's sensibility for filmmaking... and just the kick in the pants the forgotten realm of pirate movies probably needs.