You haven't heard the last of me complaining about blockbuster action films: their complete lack of good direction, acting, writing, adrenaline, and anything of any entertainment value. But before you think all I do is complain, take a look at "Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl". This is, finally, everything anyone could want in a summer action movie. It's lighthearted, quick on its feet; it provides one of the best entertainments your local chain multiplex will screen this year.
We learn first of young Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), daughter of Govenor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce). As a child, she witnessed a pillaging of a ship by pirates, and has been fascinated by the subject ever since. At the same time, she met Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who since then has been her best friend. She has reluctantly agreed to marry a soldier, Norrington (Jack Davenport), although her heart truly belongs to Turner.
Cut to Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), pirate captain of a rapidly sinking ship. As it sinks, he fast-talks his way through government officials, but he is not keen enough to avoid Norrington. A chase ensues, and Sparrow is eventually caught and jailed. But something strange happens that night: another pirate ship attacks the shores of the island. Elizabeth is captured and Will Turner is furious, but that isn't all. The destruction is said to be of a legendary ship known as the Black Pearl, lead by the infamous Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Seeing as Jack Sparrow seems to be the only one who know anything about the ship, Will agrees to free him and let him lead the way to it in an attempt to save Elizabeth.
This stuff is pure pirate lore, so imagine my surprise when it actually worked. The pirate genre died long ago, and I would've expected this to be all but D.O.A. Not so; "Pirates" successfully resuscitates a style of filmmaking no one cares for these days. But if no one cared for swashbucklers before, they sure will now.
"Pirates of the Carribean" splashes into just the right water. It has a pitch-perfect, self-reverent sense of humor that is central to keeping everything afloat (I promise, that's the last water pun). The screenplay is well written enough that it always has something to offer. It always feels fresh, and the characters are consistently interesting (and those who aren't are played well enough to keep us compelled). But even though it never takes itself too seriously, benefits from buying completely into the genre with no reservations, providing a sense of adventure that gives the action extra oomph.
But no one who saw "Pirates" can doubt: the true soul of the film comes from Johnny Depp, who gives in such an inspired turn that one might almost be ready to call it brilliant. His Jack Sparrow has been described many ways by many people, but one of the things that makes it so enjoyable to watch is that you never quite grasp what the hell Depp is doing. With hands of helium and enough makeup to impress John Cameron Mitchell, this is actually one of the better performances all year.
But grossly under mentioned in many accounts of the movie is Geoffrey Rush. His slightly manic villain is so loony that it works. He sells Barbossa so well that he can stare anyone in the film down and even stand up to Johnny Depp. In fact, as soon as Barbossa and Sparrow come into contact, Depp and Rush work on constantly trying to upstage the other. This leads to a thrilling swordfight that lets the audience reap the benefits of the two trying to hog the spotlight.
"Pirates of the Carrbiean"'s only real downfall (it seems) is its title, but even that fits in perfectly with the rest of the film's ballyhoo. "Pirates" has all the elements snuggly into place, making it almost the ideal summer movie. This is the standard that Hollywood should be setting for itself; this is what I can compare other action bonanzas to in the future. Finally, someone raises the bar just that much higher.