Series Retrospective: Pirates of the Caribbean

still-of-johnny-depp-and-orlando-bloom-in-pirates-of-the-caribbean -svarta-pärlans-förbannelse-(2003)-large-picture

I haven’t done one of these for a while, I don’t think since the first year of this blog. This is the segment where I pick apart a film series and see how well it’s aged, and how well it hasn’t. Since I’ve re-watched them all again pretty recently, I thought this time I’d take a look at the Disney juggernaut that is PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. There’s honestly not an instalment of the franchise so far that I actually dislike, but there’s certainly superior and inferior movies within it, certainly a couple stumble more than others. I can’t say anyone really needs another instalment either, but without further ado…

THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003) Back when it was merely an experiment in swashbuckling, testing the waters for if there was still an audience appetite for this sort of fare, Pirates of the Caribbean was an exciting prospect. Who honestly expected a movie (however loosely) based on a theme park ride to be so satisfying? Disney knew, and boy, have they milked this cow for all she’s worth. CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL had momentum, great action and an endearingly cheeky tone all steered by Johnny Depp’s Keith Richards impression and Geoffrey Rush’s boo-hiss villain. Even Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, blandly written or not were (just about) more sweet than annoying at this stage. It was an old-fashioned romp with a supernatural twist, and different to almost every other summer movie. Sadly it’s spawned many a poor imitation since.

DEAD MAN’S CHEST (2006) It’s undoubtedly my favourite of the series. Davy Jones and his coral-infested crew of the Flying Dutchman are wonderfully realised, and Nighy’s performance as Jones married with ILM’s effects work helps to make him the most memorable and arguably the most sympathetic character of the series, the physical embodiment of heartbreak with a squid beard. The Pirates mythology is expanded just enough to keep things fresh, with a paranoid Jack trying to escape his past and cheat death at the expense of his crew (and let’s be honest, much of the supporting cast’s screentime), all before the plot fell overboard in part three. It’s an ambitious, proper fantasy blockbuster with a good twist at the climax, plenty of wit and a great setup for the concluding chapter.

AT WORLD’S END (2007) Extraneous and over-stuffed it may be, but there is still a lot to like about AT WORLD’S END. Yes, you could probably halve (at least) the time Jack pisses about in limbo (this is where Depp started to become more irritating than charming). The double-negative dialogue also becomes parodic, Chow Yun-Fat might as well not have turned up, and none of the key plot points hold up of you think about them too much. But the most expensive action scene as of 2007 is still stunning (that glorious camera sweep around Jack and Davy Jones atop the mast alone…), plus Hans Zimmer delivers one of his richest and most bombastic scores and the series’ key villains are offed in fine, poetic fashion. While the villains may go out well, but it’s criminal that Tom Hollander’s Governor Beckett, the most nuanced and interesting Pirates character so far, was given so little to do here.

ON STRANGER TIDES (2011) All of a sudden, we’re in a Hammer movie! Ian McShane is genuinely fabulous as Blackbeard, over-acting and out-acting and everyone who dares to share the screen with him. Depp’s Cap’n Jack is wearing very thin at this point, and so is Rush as a newly bewigged privateer Barbosa. The mermaids are great, contributing the best – if too brief – action scene in the film (they’re scaly shark-vampires) even if the relationship between Philip the priest (pre-HUNGER GAMES Sam Clafin) and Serena the mermaid (the brilliantly named Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) is even more dead-eyed and wet than Will and Elizabeth’s became in the previous trilogy. Though it’s still not quite a chore to sit through the movies, but there is a lot more uncomfortable shifting of your weight and a lot of filler, even here in the shortest trip to the Caribbean so far.

Who knows to what extent the next movie will be artificially inflated, but hopefully there will be something worth seeing in it too, or at least something other than Johnny Depp mugging. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Spike Jonze, Rian Johnson and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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