The only way the crew of the Black Pearl can lift the curse upon them is to return a golden Aztec coin to its treasure chest. But that coin is currently hanging around the lovely neck of British Governor's daughter, Elizabeth Swann…
Year after year, lazy poster quotes try to convince audiences that the latest blockbuster movie is "a rollercoaster ride". Pirates Of The Caribbean does, in actual fact, have its roots in a theme park attraction — a slow-moving boat trip past richly detailed tableaux of lusty buccaneers and skeletons who breathed their last grasping for forbidden treasure; not the most likely base material to turn into cinema gold. But producer Jerry Bruckheimer proves yet again that he's a big-screen alchemist where sheer entertainment is concerned. Pirates Of The Caribbean is, without a doubt, the best blockbuster of the summer.
Director Gore Verbinski steers his ship through choppy commercial waters by keeping the romance, adventure and comedy on an even keel. If there's the slightest niggle to be had, it's probably that the swashbuckling sequences don't really lay down a challenge to the Zorros or Robin Hoods. But such cares are swept aside by a rollicking tale of pirate lore, with cursed treasure, secret identities and enough acts of betrayal and loyalty to keep the final showdown as sparky as the firecrackers in Blackbeard's whiskers.
It's also very funny. Shrek writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio spice up the pirate genre as gamely as they did fairy tales; but on the comedy map it's Johnny Depp's inspired turn as Captain Jack Sparrow that really marks the spot. Depp, arguing that pirates were the rock stars of their day, models his entire performance on Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones: it's there in every slurred vowel and every drug-fried wiggle of the head. There's an endearing dignity to Sparrow's hunger for fame. "You are, without doubt, the worst pirate I've heard of," says one British officer. "Yes," replies Jack, "but you have heard of me." Gloriously over-the-top, this performance is pitched only as high as the film's fun factor itself. In terms of physical precision and verbal delivery, it's a masterclass in comedy acting.
Depp steals the show, but leaves some plunder for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, surely the sexiest young couple in British cinema — nay, the world. Orlando plays it straight but gets the girl; and if you think Keira looks good in a dress, wait until you see her running around in redcoat and breeches.
Others clearly having a ball while gigging in the rigging include Geoffrey Rush with his panto Captain Hook routine, and CG-eyed pirate Mackenzie Crook (from The Office). Without a previous formula to adhere to or franchise to maintain (the spin-off ride exists already), Pirates revels in its freedom to do its own thing. That said, its adventure style is indebted to the likes of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and The Mummy in its mix of matinée action and horror that won't send the kids shrieking from the room.
The ghostly figures on the Black Pearl are cursed to sail the seas in a state between living and dead. When they step into full moonlight, their rotting flesh and bones become visible adding a delightful shiver to proceedings. Best of all, Pirates is a film that prides itself on lively detail and top-grade craftsmanship, but doesn't take itself too seriously. That's a lesson that nearly every one of its blockbuster rivals would do well to take on board. Audiences aren't cajoled into feeling that they should be having fun; they simply are having fun because the movie is too.
Johnny, the kids and the pirates have a number-one hit on their hands. They raise the Jolly Roger and make other summer blockbusters walk the plank.
Reviewed by Alan Morrison
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