The reason that the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels fail to impress is because the original Pirates film should never have been successful or even “worked” in the first place. It was a film idea that originated from a theme park ride. It was a film about Pirates, which until this film had come along, were camp, stereotypical and silly. It starred Johnny Depp pretending to be Keith Moon pretending to be a pirate. The film shouldn’t work!
Except many of those reasons is why the film does work. Shockingly, Pirates was an original idea. It was based (loosely) on a theme park but overall, it was something new, fresh and different. It wasn’t a sequel or based on a comic book or novel or a remake of a long since cancelled tv show. It was brand new and the good thing about brand new is there are no expectations.
This helped too because nobody would have expected a perfect blend of action, humour and a great story. Pirates were no longer camp or silly, with peg legs and parrots. They were daredevil, sword-fighting and funny but overall, cool! There were plenty of the usual stereotypes involved but these were played up to, usually as a great source of humour.
Of course, the majority of the film’s success comes from its “star.” The key being that for the first Pirates film, Johnny Depp wasn’t the “star.” It wasn’t a film driven or reliant on Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp’s character was part of a much larger, very well cast ensemble and although he undoubtedly steals the film, he is never placed too far in the centre of events.
In fact, it’s very easy to forget how good Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are in this movie. They play the love-torn heroes very well and get to do some very cool stunts and have some very cool moments of their own. Looking past the heroes though, Geoffrey Rush would have easily been the best thing in this movie if it hadn’t been for Depp’s fantastic creation. You can’t believe that the man playing Barbarossa is the same guy who tried to help a royal speak in The King’s Speech.
Considering it’s based on a theme park ride, the story of the film is very good. It’s not overly complicated, there aren’t five different quests, all involving their own gaggle of characters, and it isn’t trying too hard to focus just on Captain Jack. It has the perfect mix of supernatural and swashbuckling and better yet, it delivers some great action sequences.
It’s the action in the film that becomes the icing on the cake. From Jack’s initial escape, his sword fight with Bloom, through to the very well staged finale and battle in the caves, the film is relentless with action set-pieces and its helped along ably by a fantastic theme by Klaus Badelt. The music in the film couldn’t be more suited to the action and its become one of my favourite themes from any movie.
It was while I was noticing all the positives and fantastic elements of Pirates of the Caribbean that I realised why the sequels were doomed to fail. This film was built from chance and good fortune. The Pirates could have been silly rather than fun, Johnny Depp could have come across as creepy rather than cool and the story could have been seen as childish rather than entertaining. It delivered a perfect mix which would always be difficult to reproduce well.
The following films would try and fail because they would focus too much on their hidden gem, who works best as a steady part of the ensemble. The story would no longer be fun and exciting but complicated and over-crowded and the pirates, although they would always be cool, would also begin to feel lazy and repetitive. It was film that worked best as a stand-alone and always will.
Overall, Pirates of the Caribbean is a perfect mix of fun, action, great casting, amazing characters and a story that keeps you involved from start to finish. Its silly in the right places, funny at the right moments and is full of amazing action. It probably shouldn’t work but somehow found a way to be one of the best live-action Disney films.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)