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"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" (2003) Was the Best Film in the Franchise


Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a 2003 fantasy film based on those creepy pirate rides at Disney theme parks. It is the first film in what has become known as the POTC franchise, and yes, I believe it is the best film in the entire franchise.

My opinion largely has to do with the fact that the many (sigh . .. many) sequels were so bad that they made the first film look good. Not to say the first film was terrible (I obviously thought it was great), but to be clear, I actually love the first three films to pieces. It's the rest that were questionable.

Anything after At World's End was pretty much "meh" and seemed like little more than a flat-out money grab to me.

At least the first three films had some heart in them, you know? The others seemed like quickly slapped together products rather than works of love.

All that being said, let's get to the reasons why I love the first film so much.

Will and Elizabeth Weren't Yet Annoying

Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) hadn't yet dissolved into a soap opera romance.

I found their romance plot much more palatable in the first film. I think because it was much more subtle.

Elizabeth also had a silly crush on Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and then there was Norrington's feelings for her (Jack Davenport), so there was always a great foundation for drama later.

As grossed out as I was by Elizabeth flirting with Jack in later sequels, I wasn't angry about it because (to me) it made sense for the characters. Elizabeth grew up reading about Jack Sparrow and thus had a silly crush on him, while Jack Sparrow seemed ready and willing to bang anything in a skirt.

Meanwhile, Norrington was in love with Elizabeth, and she was often seen to use that against him in order to help her friends and/or save her own behind. So it was a good piece of tragic writing that Norrington's feelings for Elizabeth were ultimately his undoing.

But Elizabeth's romance with Will Turner???

Like I said, in the first film it was fine. They had their little spats, but it was nothing nonsensical and over the top. In fact, it was cute how they bickered and how Will seemed to be struggling with the fact that pirate's blood was running in his veins. He hated it, but Elizabeth loved it. It was a nice little arc.

Then they got to the sequels, and it was like the writers didn't know what to do with Elizabeth and Will. Like they didn't know how to depict a happy, functioning, established couple.

So they just made up drama for the sake of drama, with Will and Elizabeth arguing over petty crap. It was all very eye-roll inducing and was probably one of the worst parts of the later films.

Especially since it was given priority over Will's feelings about his father, which should have been more important given that he actually meets the man!

I mean, I might be wrong, but I can't recall Will's arc with his father being that huge. It was nice but it could have been better after all the inner turmoil he faced in the first film with being the child of a pirate.

In fact, Will's entire arc in the second film was probably the weakest part of the film. And it was largely due to the fact that Jack Sparrow was given precedence.

Which brings me to my next point.

Jack Sparrow Wasn't Yet a Clown

In Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow is a pretty cool character. He's calm, sarcastic, laid-back, selfish, shady. He is written to be a clever, trickster-like being who goes around hilariously manipulating everyone in order to insure his own survival.

He's a scalawag but somehow still a good man.

By the end of the plot, you're happy for Jack that he has managed to escape the noose and swim back to his ship. The film closes with him looking at his infamous compass and contemplating his adventures ahead.

As the films progress, however, Jack Sparrow becomes less of a cool and laidback trickster and more of a helpless buffoon.

He is constantly swinging from ropes into walls, getting encumbered by fruit, cringing in horror from his menacing enemies, and other over-the-top behavior that clashed hard with the fearless and determined swashbuckler in the first film who didn't run from Barbossa and instead fought him head-on.

By At World's End, Jack Sparrow became such a ridiculous cartoon that I half-expected him to fall down a magically appearing hole.

The reason could be that Johnny Depp is literally a clown and that shone through in his portrayal of Jack Sparrow the longer he embodied the role.

In the film Benny and Joon, Johnny Depp plays Sam, a guy who worships silent film stars such as Charlie Chaplin. He spends a great portion of the film juggling, swinging across windows, and otherwise performing physical comedy.

It's easy to see how that would have translated into this film, though I'm not sure why. Because in the first film, Depp portrayed Jack pretty well as a calm and clever, sarcastic trickster, only to keep ramping up the camp until the character became annoying.

I'm going to go with the obvious and just assume that Depp (and the director) were responding to fan demand. Lots of people worship the Jack Sparrow character, after all, and rather than appreciating his deeper elements (which were there in the first film), they just wanted him to be a campy clown.

So Depp and Verbinski obliged.

But I Still Love the (First Two) Sequels

So those are the two main reasons why I love the first film the most. But even though I just complained and picked apart the sequels, I have to admit that I'm really grateful a character like Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) got to be in the franchise.

Tia Dalma is the only brown person who was a remotely important character (I bet you can't even remember the name of that black woman from the first film), which is insane because the entire franchise takes place in the Caribbean.

Having no brown people in leading roles was like having a film in Britain and casting no white people. So I was glad when Tia Dalma was written in. And even better? She turned out to be Calypso, the sea goddess. Pretty cool.

I remember thinking, Finally! Someone I can be at Halloween!

There were also a lot of things I really loved about the third film.

A lot of people hated Elizabeth's character, and I agree that she could be annoying. But surprisingly enough, all the best content surrounded her.

Elizabeth's guilt about Jack, her father's death, Norrington's death, becoming pirate king -- all of that was pretty interesting. In the end, she wound up being more interesting than Will! Which is pretty awesome given how female characters are usually treated.

And of course, I actually loved the ending, where Elizabeth waits on the shore for Will to return with their son at her side. I thought it was the perfect ending to a great trilogy.

It's just a shame that Hollywood can never quite seem to leave well enough alone.

© 2019 Lee

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