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Vault Movie Review: “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Theatrical Release: 7/9/2003

Theatrical Release: 7/9/2003

Synopsis

A humble blacksmith named Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is in love with Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), the daughter of the Governor (Jonathan Pryce). He savors every opportunity to visit the Governor, as it means he gets to see Elizabeth. However, she soon finds herself in great danger. A pirate ship known as the Black Pearl has made its way to the city.

The pirates invade the city and capture Elizabeth. These are no ordinary pirates, however. Moonlight shows their true appearance, as they are a crew of immortal skeleton pirates. During the invasion, the pirates inadvertently release a prisoner, a drunken pirate named Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). He was once the captain of the Black Pearl, and he wants to regain control of his ship. Will wants to find that ship and save Elizabeth. Thus, while the two do not trust each other, they form an unlikely alliance in order to get what they both want.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

Jack Sparrow (+10pts)

Norrington (-2pts)

Barbossa & The Black Pearl (+8pts)

Long (-2pts)

Will Turner & Elizabeth Swann (+3pts)

The Plot & The Silliness (-4pts)

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Pro: Jack Sparrow (+10pts)

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow was a joy to watch. This was one of those actor-character combinations that elevated the entire movie. I am not saying the movie would have been entirely bad without him, as there were certainly other redeeming qualities, but Johnny Depp's performance as Jack Sparrow was perfect and absolutely entertaining. The first shots of this movie showed a confident Jack Sparrow standing on the mast of a ship, approaching the city, with a triumphant score to set the scene. Then the camera panned out to reveal the ship was in fact sinking, barely giving Jack time to step onto the dock of the city's port. It was a perfect moment that was made even better once we learned who Jack Sparrow was.

We quickly learned that Jack Sparrow was a drunken pirate. He was drunk and seemingly incompetent, but he frequently got things done in a spectacular, Mr. Magoo fashion. In a live-action Disney movie about immortal skeleton pirates, Jack Sparrow effectively broke up the intense moments. Johnny Depp played this part flawlessly, and he was incredibly entertaining to watch. He was panicked while he was Mr. Magoo-ing his way around, but he instantly became cocky once he realized that things worked out for him. His personality was funny, but he was also as sleazy as you would expect a pirate to be. He was not the only reason why this movie worked, but I truly believe that Johnny Depp's performance as Jack Sparrow was the main factor in launching this movie into a franchise.

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Con: Norrington (-2pts)

I did not hate this character, but in a long movie filled with more interesting characters, I did not see the need for him. The filmmakers did not need to give the British Navy a figurehead in this movie. The movie already had Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, Elizabeth's father, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and the main crew members of the Black Pearl. The movie was loaded with more interesting characters than Norrington (Jack Davenport), so it felt like a waste of screentime when the filmmakers were focusing on him and his story.

On top of all that, the filmmakers did not even make him anything more than a one-dimensional antagonist. He was in love with Elizabeth Swann—because of course he was—and he hated pirates for reasons that were never really explored. Thus, in a movie filled with more interesting characters that could have been explored, the filmmakers chose to waste screentime—in an already long movie—just to focus on a one-dimensional, uninteresting, and unnecessary antagonist. They could have just as easily given him no focus at all, and just have the pirates being chased by the British Navy as a whole. If they really wanted to focus on Norrington, they should have at least made his story more interesting.

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Pro: Barbossa & The Black Pearl (+8pts)

I thought Geoffrey Rush did a great job with Barbossa. Did the performance seem over-the-top at times? Yes, but it just made the Captain feel more unpredictable. He gave this character a colorful, unpredictable, and memorable personality. Barbossa felt like a formidable antagonist for Jack Sparrow, and it was Barbossa's over-the-top personality that made the character so effective.

Then there was the Black Pearl and the curse that had been placed on it. The curse made the crew of the Black Pearl a group of immortal skeleton pirates. In sunlight, the Black Pearl and its crew looked like an intimidating vessel and a dangerous group of pirates. In moonlight, the crew's true form was shown, and it made them feel unstoppable and even more dangerous. There were some silly moments from these pirates, but the curse of the Black Pearl helped make the antagonists feel unbeatable at times, stacking the deck against the protagonists.

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Con: Long (-2pts)

The movie was never exactly boring, but I felt like it was a lot longer than it needed to be. I already mentioned that the filmmakers could have taken Norrington out of the movie, but they also could have—and probably should have—trimmed the movie down in a number of other areas. The stuff with Jack and Elizabeth on the island added nothing to the movie, and could have been taken out entirely as well, but there were a lot of other scenes that could have been trimmed down a bit. None of them were bad, but the movie was probably 30 minutes longer than it needed to be, and there was plenty that could have been trimmed down to make it a more refined movie.

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Pro: Will Turner & Elizabeth Swann (+3pts)

I did not entirely dislike these characters, but I did not think their storyline was interesting enough to get as much focus as it did. Keira Knightley was only 18 when this movie came out, and while she did a decent job with it, I did not think she brought anything special to the role. Then there was the romance between her and Will Turner, which seemed like one of those romances that only existed because there was a male character and a female character, so the filmmakers made them in love with each other. That all being said, this storyline worked to an extent, because it was the driving force behind the movie. It forced an unlikely alliance—between Jack and Will, and Jack's sleaziness toward Elizabeth gave the whole thing an almost love triangle storyline. While I would have told this story differently, and focused more on the conflict between the pirates and the navy, this romance worked well enough for what it was. On top of that, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley had decent chemistry, so I was fairly easily able to look past what otherwise felt like a forced romance.

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Con: The Plot & The Silliness (-4pts)

This movie was weird because it was like it was trying to be two different things simultaneously. It was trying to be adult, so it had a somewhat complicated, political plot, and I thought it was a bit too complicated for a kids movie. On the flip-side, the tone of this movie was dark, but the filmmakers injected a ton of silliness through its characters, so that it would be digestible for kids. However, this silliness sort of diminished the otherwise dark, serious nature of the story.

The plot was overly complicated, because truly understanding it required one to understand Norrington's motivations and goals, while also understanding Barbossa and Jack's history, while also understanding how Elizabeth Swann tied into it, and also understanding how each of these things would play into the climax of the movie. None of these things were overly complicated on their own, but there was a lot going on here, and I think a lot of it will go over the heads of younger audience members. Then there was the silliness, which made it more appealing to kids, but sort of distracted from the darker more adult tone that it seemed like this story should have had. Both of these things gave me the impression that this movie was initially aimed at an older audience, then the producers or filmmakers decided they wanted it to appeal to kids as well, so they just added as much silliness as they could. I did not think these two things mixed all that well, and I think the filmmakers should have spent more time making a simpler plot, and making humor that worked more naturally with the story—like Jack Sparrow Mr. Magoo-ing his way through the story.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: B+ (88pts)

It had been awhile since I watched this movie, and I enjoyed revisiting it. Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow was pure gold. The character was somehow an effective drunk, and an ambitious pirate, and Johnny Depp played the character so well that he managed to launch this movie into a franchise that would be carried on the back of this character over the course of multiple sequels. Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann's storyline was kind of generic, but it made for interesting alliances and it kept the plot rolling. I also really liked Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa, as he delivered a colorful, memorable performance, but he also gave the character an unpredictable personality.

Finally there was the curse of the Black Pearl itself, which made for some naturally intimidating antagonists, and gave this movie an extra supernatural layer that made the movie a lot more exciting and interesting than it would have been if it were just about ordinary pirates. Was the movie perfect? No, it was longer than it needed to be, it had some unnecessary characters, and its tone was a little confusing—as its plot was adult, but its humor was that of a kids movie. However, this was a movie where I thought the strengths far outweighed the weaknesses, making it a fun, and exciting blockbuster about pirates.