In 2003, in one of the most memorable character intros in recent movie history, Johnny Depp as Cap’n Jack Sparrow, stepped effortlessly off the mast of his sinking boat and onto a wooden jetty to mince off and commandeer another, better, ship whilst doing his best Keith Richards impression. Six months later and Depp was up for an Oscar.
Three sequels and over $2.5 billion later, you may have forgotten just how entertaining the first swashbuckler was. Yes, it’s half an hour too long and the plot seems to have been written by Captain Barbossa’s pet monkey, but if you’re after unnecessary sword-fights and zombie pirates aplenty then Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl is the perfect film. Let’s just pretend that the sequels never happened.
The ‘plot’, or, more aptly, the random stuff that happens in between each action set piece, hinges on Captain Jack and Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner setting sail to rescue damsel in distress, Elizabeth Swan, played (through gritted teeth) by Keira Knightley. She has been taken hostage by nefarious Captain Barbossa (a gnarled and barnacled Geoffrey Rush, obviously having a lot of fun) who believes her to be the key to setting him and his crew free from a curse that means, by moonlight, they become the walking dead. But Sparrow has a score to settle with Barbossa. Jack was left marooned by Barbossa after stealing his precious ship, the Black Pearl and he’ll lie, cheat and deceive anyone to get his boat back, or to get his hands on a spot of rum.
Part of the joy of watching this first film comes from its indebtedness to the older swashbuckling format. Although immeasurably more camp than an Errol Flynn or a Douglas Fairbanks, Depp cannily channels their characters’ charisma and free-spiritdness as he gleefully flees from capture, swinging from mast-to-mast. Rush is also excellent as the larger-than-life baddie shivering timbers as he threatens through gangrenous teeth. But then there’s Bloom and Knightley. To call their performances bland is doing a disservice to other bland performances. Thank God they’re not in the fourth one.
It’s a shame that Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End had to come along and spoil everything; two films whose plots make Curse of the Black Pearl look like Memento. On Stranger Tides is out now in cinemas and sees Sparrow and Barbossa teaming up to find the Fountain of Youth before Blackbeard (Ian McShane). The first in a planned trilogy to help reboot the franchise, it seems like Depp and the gang will be ‘yo ho hoing’ for a while yet.