Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl ★★★★½

This was such a breath of fresh air when I first saw it in the summer of 2003, and with the air of "darkness" that has pervaded summer blockbusters since the runaway success of "The Dark Knight" (none of those allegedly "dark" films are nearly as good, nor as dark as they seem to think they are) it remains a breath of fresh air. It's a return to the swashbucklers of old, the sort of films that Douglas Fairbanks invented and Errol Flynn re-invented, and it contains the same rousing, full-blooded, boisterous spirit that made those films such a blast, only outfitted with the supernatural elements and CGI effects that were popular at this time. The two elements are married perfectly here, and carried along by a simple, lightweight plot with just enough heft to keep everything moving briskly along with the perfect amount of weight and none of the unnecessary mythology and convoluted plotting that made its sequels such a chore. The whole affair is wafer thin, but it really is boisterous, comedic, exciting and inventive enough to keep a smile constantly affixed to a viewer's face. I've seen this probably a dozen times, but it still managed to surprise me in its sheer determination to entertain. It does nothing more, but it never sets out to and that is its gift.

The elements that distinguish it and make it so memorable, aside from its breezy air and rousing action sequences are as follows: surprisingly strong romantic chemistry between Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, ornate and inventive dialogue, some creatively engineered and elaborate action set pieces (the sword play and sea battles are exquisite, orchestrated using techniques that Errol Flynn's crew would have killed for) and a quirky performance for the ages by the incomparable Johnny Depp. Depp is a revelation here. He's always been good, but he had never quite modulated his quirky gifts for Hollywood blockbuster territory before. His Captain Jack Sparrow is an inspired, utterly unique creation, and it is the element that truly drives the whole film. Depp had always been something of an abstract artist when it came to acting, but this is arguably his most out-of-left-field creation, a funky, insane dispatch from another dimension that has wandered into what would otherwise have been nothing more than a sea-bound "Mummy" clone with a Jimmy Buffet flair and elevated it to a level of insanity that really connected with audiences and gave them something they'd never quite seen before. Depp has tried to mine this territory before, but he's never equaled the giddy heights of this initial performance, which really is a marvel. He's been better, but rarely, and this is to his career as "The Godfather" was to Brando's. It's the iconic role for which he will always be remembered, and what a wonder it is.

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