moviebuff801: Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy Review

Posted: February 22, 2013 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Retrospectives, Time Capsule Reviews

What can you say about the Pirates of the Caribbean movies?  Well, no offense, but I imagine if it was pretty much anyone else writing this review, it would mainly be negative things.  But me being me, an outspoken fan of the series, that’s not going to be happening here today.  That’s right.  I’ve decided to do an all-in-one Trilogy Review of Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, and let me warn you right now: be prepared for a different opinion on the sequels.  Okay, so is the Pirates series fine art? No.  But, what they are, are three extremely entertaining, swashbuckling blockbusters that are just a blast to watch.

So, let’s get started, shall we?

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Release Date: July 9th, 2003

Running Time: 2 hours and 23 minutes

Written by: Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio

Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley

In the first of the trilogy, the wily and eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) arrives in the coastal town of Port Royal, looking for a ship to commandeer, and trouble soon follows after him.  After rescuing Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), daughter of Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce) from drowning, Cap’n Jack is soon caught up in a conflict involving his mutinous former First Mate, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who’s now commander of Sparrow’s former vessel, The Black Pearl.  Barbossa and his crew come storming into town, searching for a lost gold medallion, the same medallion which Elizabeth took off a rescued boy from a shipwreck many years ago.  That boy has grown into Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), the local blacksmith with a crush on Elizabeth.  After Elizabeth is kidnapped by the vicious pirates, Will immediately enlists the help of Jack to find Elizabeth and return her home safely.  But what Will, who’s almost the definition of the word “noble,” underestimates is Jack’s natural pension for self-preservation by way of manipulating everyone and everything he can to better suit his own purposes, i.e. a pirate.  Along the way, Jack and Will stumble into the middle of a supernatural curse wrought upon Barbossa and his crew, a curse which requires blood in order to be broken.  And it ain’t gonna be the blood of any of that undead crew.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that Curse of the Black Pearl has any deep, underlying themes or that there’s any type of insightful commentary it has to offer on anything.  It’s just a simple, straightforward adventure story – but one that’s done with a great amount of effort, skill and heart.  This movie has no pretentions about itself; it just takes all the story elements and characters it has and works them into something that’s a fun and exhilarating ride from beginning to end.  Actually, this movie is kind of like a delicately-stacked deck of cards.  There are so many carefully handled nuances about the performances, the line deliveries, and the ways that certain scenes play out, that if you were to remove just one small thing, the whole structure would come crashing down.  Building off that, I find that every time I watch this movie, it’s the more subtle touches that I get a kick out of the most, the kind of subtle touches of humor and character actions/reactions that are just as effective, if not more so, than the more obvious jokes and whatnot.  For example, the way that Jack sarcastically offers Barbossa an apple, which Jack knows Barbossa won’t even be able to taste.  Or the way that Barbossa rolls his eyes after futilely getting stabbed in the chest.  Or the way Jack scolds Will under his breath when Will threatens to shoot himself at a key moment in the film.  Moments like those are awesome, as are the bigger ones (WHY IS THE RUM GONE???), which work just as well.

The performances also help elevate everything to a higher level.  Following from Johnny Depp’s  fantastic lead, most of the other cast members manage to inject just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek acting to their performances, while still managing to anchor the film with a more straight-arrow quality to compliment Depp’s eccentricities.  The action incites that wonderful reaction of joy and excitement in us, because the swordfights are blocked and executed with tremendous energy, and the score goes along with every jab, parry and lunge perfectly.  Not to mention I LOVE the central musical theme of these movies.

The Curse of the Black Pearl actually reminds me somewhat of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Both movies take a simple plot driven by a quest and breathe incredible life into them, both have memorable main characters, the action in both is exciting and the humor deftly handled.  So many summer blockbusters seem to forget that a little simplicity can go a long way when handled well.  This movie, thankfully, is a reminder of that method.  For what it is, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is terrific entertainment of the highest caliber, a B movie elevated to the A level due to the execution.

****/****

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Release Date: July 7th, 2006

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes

Written by: Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio

Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Stellan Skarsgard

Picking up a year after the events of Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest opens with the wedding of Will and Elizabeth being rudely interrupted by the scheming Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander).  Beckett arrests the couple for aiding and abetting the escape of Captain Jack Sparrow at the end of the first film, and thus offers them immunity if they can track down the elusive Jack and return to Beckett with the compass that Jack possesses, a compass with the ability to point to whatever a particular person wants the most.  And what Beckett wants the most is the heart of the nefarious Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), which is contained inside the Dead Man’s Chest.  But as Will and Elizabeth track down Jack and attempt to coax him into handing over his compass, it brings them face to face with the monstrous (literally) Jones and his barnacle-encrusted crew, as well as the disgraced former Commodore James Norrington (Jack Davenport), whose own self-interests may also lie in getting his hands on Davy Jones’ heart.  As if that weren’t enough, it turns out that Will’s father, Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard), has become part of Davy Jones’ accursed undead crew, and Will finds that his desire to free his father from such a fate is gradually outweighing any other motivations of his … including those related to his friends.

With Dead Man’s Chest, it’s safe to say that any simplicity this series once had has now gone right out the window.  But … that’s one of the things I really like about this movie.  Whereas most people seemed to have been turned off by the film’s more complex plot, it actually helped serve to draw me into the movie more.  Usually, with sequels to big blockbusters, the story seems to become less of a high priority, but what I admire about Dead Man’s Chest is that it takes the time to construct a story that’s interesting, twisty and compelling.  As a result, this movie never feels like it’s on autopilot just so it can get from one set piece to the next as quickly as possible.  Instead, it creates a pretty elaborate story and has fun with it; a story so elaborate, that it would have to span two films.  I still don’t get how people can say this movie has no plot.

Let’s talk about this plot for a minute, and all the refreshing and interesting things that it does.  First, beginning with this movie, and continuing through At World’s End, there’s the theme of oppression in how the East India Trading Company is starting to squash the idea of personal freedom represented here by piracy itself.  It lends the movie an intriguing background atmosphere that provides a subtle, yet growing, sense of tension.  Then, there’s how the script begins to toy with the Will/Elizabeth relationship in a very non-Disney way, which makes it more intriguing and conflict-filled.  And finally, there’s how the story pretty much keeps all three of the main heroes apart for most of the runtime as each of them has to pursue specific interests, which sometimes run counter to their relationships – but I’ll get more into that with At World’s End.

Bill Nighy is excellent as Davy Jones, and is more than able to compete with Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa.  Plus, the special effects used on him and his crew are fantastic.

Also, I really like the father-son relationship between Will and Bootstrap.  It’s one of the strongest aspects of the film, actually, with a number of strong character moments between the two of them, such as when Bootstrap helps Will escape The Flying Dutchman.  I also really like what the writers do with Norrington’s character in this one.

But there are things in this one I’m not too crazy about.  Such as a lot of the first hour being devoted to all that stuff on the Cannibal Island.  It’s a fun diversion, sure, but all it really contributes to the movie, apart from getting Jack and Will together on the quest, is just an extended chase sequence and it feels like it’s there mainly to help fill up 2 ½ hours.  Also, I find Keira Knightley to be underused in this film.  Her role doesn’t really kick in until halfway through the Second Act, and even then, the biggest thing she does occurs fifteen minutes before the ending.  Plus, it feels like the writers were trying a little too hard in some instances to indulge Jack Sparrow’s craziness.

Dead Man’s Chest may be my least favorite of the first three, but I still think it’s very good, even then.  It introduces A LOT of very interesting story threads, has some great villains, sports more great action and music, and retains that fun style introduced in the first film.

***1/2 /****

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Release Date: May 25th, 2007

Running Time: 2 hours and 48 minutes

Written by: Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio

Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy

The third and final chapter of the initial trilogy, At World’s End begins not long after the cliffhanger ending of Dead Man’s Chest.  Lord Cutler Beckett now has command of both Davy Jones and The Flying Dutchman, and is using them as his weapons to exterminate piracy from the high seas once and for all.  Meanwhile, Will, Elizabeth, the resurrected Barbossa and the rest of the Black Pearl crew are in search of a way into Davy Jones’ Locker, where Jack Sparrow currently is after being swallowed whole by The Kraken.  Their journey has them cross paths with the vengeful Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) before they can pull Jack out of purgatory.  But once Jack is back, he finds that it’s not for the purposes he would’ve hoped.  Will just wants Jack’s ship so that he can use it to rescue his father from the clutches of Davy Jones, Elizabeth is looking to own up for the double-handed way she betrayed Jack, and Barbossa is only interested in returning Jack to the land of the living because it means that the legendary Brethren Court of Pirates can convene to formulate a plan of action; both Jack and Barbossa are Pirate Lords.  However, it seems neither side can avoid the war that is brewing on the horizon as all the alliances between these characters grow shakier by the minute.

Okay, so that’s the most basic plot description of this movie I can write.  If I were to go into any more detail, then we’d be here all day.  The plot of this film is A LOT more complex than you’d expect in a pirate action-adventure movie, but that’s what I love about it.  Yes, you read right: love.  So, let’s get into this story, shall we?

As I pointed out with Dead Man’s Chest, the more intricate plotting winds up making the movie all the more interesting.  There is so much going on here, that this movie doesn’t merely ask for your attention, it DEMANDS it.  And when talking about a big-budget, effects-driven blockbuster, that is something I both admire and respect a great deal.  To answer the question that’s probably on everyone’s mind right now: no, I didn’t find it confusing at all.  It’s an extremely easy movie to follow, really, and I appreciate how it doesn’t feel the need to spoonfeed the audience every single, miniature detail.  Plus, it has so much plot going on, that for a nearly 3-hour movie, At World’s End rarely (if ever) feels like it’s wasting time.  Not only that, but the story moves along at a very nice pace and the movie never feels overlong.

Though, I admit, your overall investment in this movie is determinate on how much you’re invested in the characters and everything they’re doing.  Well, suffice it to say I love these characters, and find myself involved in every aspect of this movie every time I watch it.  I care about Will and Elizabeth’s troubled romance, I care about Will’s burgeoning desire to free his father from Davy Jones, I care about the Pirate Council desperately fighting to maintain their way of life, and ultimately, I care about the fates of all the characters.  Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio’s script gives nearly everyone something to do in the story, so nobody ever feels wasted, but more importantly, the script creates very interesting dynamics between all of them.

Those dynamics are another part of what makes this movie so cool.  Basically, everyone here is behaving exactly like what they are: pirates.  And that’s something that feels so natural, given the high stakes of the story.  Survival is the predominant idea on every character’s mind, and it’s an idea that would make anyone in situations like these do what they have to in order to achieve it.  Even if it involves unflattering betrayals (again, they’re pirates; betrayal is as easy as breathing for them).  This is most evident with Jack and Will, whose evolution in this movie I also love.  So, call me crazy all you want, but I love this script.  I also think it sports some great dialogue, as well as an effective opening scene.

Getting back to the high stakes for a moment, this brings me to another point: just how BIG and EPIC this movie is.  With a budget of $300 million, there’s seldom a moment where you can’t see the money on the screen.  And that big, epic feeling is something I get wrapped up in all the time.  At World’s End has some fantastic set pieces and action sequences, but they’re not there just for the hell of it; they’re there because they’re born organically out of the story.  That, and they’re a load of fun.  I mean, just look at the sheer energy of that fantastic maelstrom climax.  Not just in terms of action, but story as well, this movie is just huge, and I’m sure no other movie in the franchise will ever top this in that regard.  Also, Hans Zimmer’s score for this film is equally epic and amazing.

Overall, I find Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End to be the most misunderstood and underappreciated blockbuster of the last couple of years.  People always complain how these Hollywood blockbusters are ignoring the stories less and less, and yet when a movie like this comes along that actually creates an interesting one, they just write it off anyway.  I know this is a bold statement, but I stand firmly by it: At World’s End is my favorite of the initial trilogy.

****/****

Sidenote: I’m choosing not to cover On Stranger Tides here because, while it continues a story thread introduced at the very end of the third film, it also feels like a separate entity (and more of a spin-off) from the trilogy.

Comments
  1. ckckred says:

    I liked the original, but I didn’t like the sequels, though I don’t recall anything from them. I might give them another shot some time. Nice review.

  2. moviebuff801 says:

    Thanks. That’s certainly not an uncommon opinion about the sequels, though. But I stand by my opinion about them; they’re incredibly fun to watch every time.

  3. Great review! It’s nice to find a fellow defender of the Pirates sequels. :) I think each of the films has its strength, and I liked that the took the sequels in a fresh direction. They’re definitely not just replays of the first movie.

    • moviebuff801 says:

      Thanks. :) Yeah, they definitely don’t suffer from repeat syndrome, like a lot of other sequels. I, too, like how much effort they put into them.

  4. barronlouise says:

    Great review, but unfortunately i only liked the original and the rest pass.

  5. alysonkrier says:

    Yes! Someone else who genuinely enjoys the POTC movies. Personally, I like Black Pearl best, but Dead Man’s Chest is still great, mostly because it takes their action scenes a step higher throughout the film. They’re all such a swashbuckling good time. Great review.

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