It’s weird to think, especially after just watching Dead Men Tell No Tales, that Johnny Depp was nominated for a ‘Best Actor’ Oscar for the first POTC film. Yep, Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow was deemed so brilliant and original that it earned the actor his first Academy Award nomination. I guess it’s difficult to think about this now, particularly considering that Depp and Disney are basically just flogging a dead horse with every new outing for the pirate Captain. Sparrow no longer feels like a breath of fresh air but a pathetic attempt to cash in on families and super fans. I guess it’s not just the character either. Back I 2003 I was a huge fan of Johnny Depp. The man was the indie darling who had done so much great work with Tim Burton. His Keith Richards impression single-handedly made pirates sexy again and made it okay for men to wear eyeliner. He showed that he had what it took to be a big Hollywood star and that he could bring in the big bucks. Since then he’s gone further and further off the rails. Look at the films he’s made over the past few years. Loads of over budget passion projects, major flops that he should have passed on, and lots of other forgettable roles. Of course, there’s the accusations of domestic abuse on top of it but it’s not like that’s stopped him. He still managed to land a role in the Fantastic Beasts Franchise and is set to star in the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express even with that cloud over his head. I’m not about to make any moral assumptions about a man I’ve never met but it just sits ill with me that he got no negative feedback from it. Anyway, with this in mind, I think it’s time we go back to a time when Johnny Depp was still an actor that you could love.
Nobody ever expected Pirates of the Caribbean to be a success. I mean, let’s face it, a film based on a super old theme park ride was starting off in a bad way and then there’s the pirates. Prior to its release, there hadn’t been a decent swashbuckling adventure in forever. Then you had the fact that Johnny Depp wasn’t the bankable star back in those days. He was an indie kid who was never expected to be able to carry off a huge blockbuster. Nothing about this film was really playing it safe. Even Orlando Bloom, fresh off his LOTR popularity, was a risk in the lead role. However, as we all know now, the film became on of the highest earning films of 2003. It was loved by audiences and praised by most critics. My friends and I certainly adored it. I mean we were mostly 15 year old girls so the sight of Johnny Depp in eyeliner was something we could all get on board with. This and LOTR definitely helped me become pretty obsessed with men with facial hair.
So the film that was expected to flop ended up creating 4 sequels; most of which made an awful lot of money at the box office. However, none of those films captured the brilliance and fun of the first. The sequels tried so hard to be different but, in doing so, managed to steer away from what made the first one so good. Everything just became bigger, bolder and longer. The plots became even more of a stretch and the characters got lost in the action. Plus, Captain Jack, by then a money making machine, slowly started to edge away from the pack and become more prominent. He’s always been best as the comic relief that works alongside the lead roles. That has never been more apparent than when rewatching the first one.
After all, that film is still incredibly entertaining after 14 years. It is essentially the story of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabth Swann’s (Keira Knightley) turbulent romance, which has to overcome other suitors and a bunch of cursed pirates. When Elizabeth is kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity by the Captain of the Black Pearl (Geoffrey Rush), Will teams up with recently captured Captain Jack to track the ship and rescue her. Turns out, the crew stole a chest of Aztec gold that has left them neither alive or dead and unable to enjoy any of life’s little pleasures. In order for the curse to be lifted a blood sacrifice must be made by all of the crew. Unfortunately, the pirates sent one of their crew to the bottom of the sea before they realised. So they’ve been searching for his child ever since. That’s where our lovebirds step in.
There’s no denying that the first film in the franchise is the best and most entertaining. It may have its flaws but it is the most consistent of the 5 films. I’ll admit that it goes on too long and there is a lot of unnecessary time getting to know supporting characters. I mean I love Jack Davenport and Jonathan Pryce but really don’t think they needed as much screen time as they got. There is too much bloat in this film and the narrative could definitely have been streamlined. There is also a problem with the swashbuckling side. It’s hardly the most exciting sword fighting that we’ve ever seen on screen. It needed to be more spectacular. Instead it’s just forgettable.
Still, there are moments in this film that are just superb. Elizabeth’s first night on the Black Pearl has one of the most entertaining sequences of the entire film. It’s also lovely to go back to a time when Geoffrey Rush actually seemed to be having fun in this role. I know his Captain Barbossa has died numberous times by now but it was just sad looking at how tired he looked in Dead Men Tell No Tales. In Curse of the Black Pearl Barbossa is a terrifying villain who you love to hate. But this film is in no way too scary for its younger audience. Yes, there are a lot of skeletons and references to death but there is much more in the way of humour to keep them on board. After all, this film was all about Johnny Depp unveiling one of the greatest pirates that we had ever seen on screen. Captain Jack is charming, sneaky and hilarious. It’s a shame he’s been worn so thin by every subsequent film that he’s become a sort of parody of himself. Rewatching Curse of the Black Pearl was a bittersweet experience because it reminded me how good this franchise can be but also showed how far it had fallen. I hope Disney have the good sense to just leave it be now but, if history has taught us anything, I highly doubt it.