Hello everyone and welcome to the first of many movie reviews/discussions in my Movie Monday series. I am kicking off this series with a Disney movie. Today I am going to be talking about Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl. Is this an unexpected choice? Perhaps. Why did I choose it? Keep reading and find out.
I think it goes without saying that the past year has been very difficult, I won’t say why. We all know why. I spent the majority of 2021 sitting at my desk typing as I had to complete my final year of college and get my degree at home, alone in my room. The workload was heavy, deadlines were constant and at times it got very lonely so in order for me to stay on top of everything and stay self-motivated, it was crucial that I took some time for myself to recharge and relax. This is where movies come in.
One of my favourite ways to relax has always been to make a nice cup of tea, grab a treat, and sit down to watch a movie and over the past year I found myself especially thankful for Netflix and Disney+. Movies have always been called a form of escapism, and I have always agreed with that however I would say that now I have an even greater appreciation for movies and all that they can do for people.
So, that is why I have chosen to kick off my Movie Monday series with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl because what could be more of an escapism movie than watching the honest blacksmith and an iconic pirate reluctantly team up to cross the ocean in order to break a curse and confess love while fighting undead pirates and the Royal Navy along the way? It is a movie filled with action and romance and rivalry and it is wonderfully entertaining.
There are four aspects that I consider when I’m thinking about how I’m going to review a movie. Plot, characters, themes and structure, and so these are the four aspects that I will be focusing on in this review/discussion of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl.
Let’s dive in and start with the plot of this movie. I would argue it’s fairly straightforward. Our protagonist is the earnest and honest blacksmith Will Turner, and this movie follows him on his journey as he begrudgingly teams up with the morally ambiguous Captain Jack Sparrow because he wants to chase after his love Elizabeth Swann, who has been taken hostage by Captain Barbossa and his crew. Will wishes to find her and declare his love for her and Jack wants his ship back from Barbossa who betrayed him and stole it from him meaning they will both find what they want in the same place.
I would call this movie a quest narrative, in fact I even wrote a dissertation all about why I think it is a perfect example of a quest narrative, but I won’t go too much into detail about that today. To define a quest in the most simplistic way possible, a quest requires the main character (Will) to have to do something or go somewhere in order to achieve his goals, and he must face trials and learn about himself along the way. Think of that old saying about how the journey is more important than the destination. If the protagonist does not develop and mature during the quest, it’s been for nothing.
Will is going on a quest, in fact, all of the characters in this movie aside from Elizabeth are going on a quest. (Elizabeth’s quest comes in later movies however I’m only talking about the first movie today).
Will is on a quest to find Elizabeth and confess his love. Captain Jack Sparrow is on a quest to get his ship back. Barbossa and his crew are on a quest to break their curse and even the Royal Navy are on a quest, as they are questing to capture Captain Jack Sparrow and return Elizabeth safely to her father, the Governor.
Something that I love about this movie is that it takes the time to establish who these characters are and the roles they play very early on and very clearly, and I will discuss this in more detail when I talk about structure, but the fact that this movie shows us distinctly who each character is, allows us to recognise how much they’ve developed by the end of the movie, and while it may appear that these characters are very stereotypical initially, another thing I love is that despite this being a Disney movie, the characters are not simply good or bad, they are all complex and nuanced and layered, which lends itself wonderfully to the themes of this movie, which I will elaborate on in my next point.
We’ve got Governor Swann, the doting father. He wants Elizabeth to marry well and he is very protective of her.
We have the lovely Elizabeth Swann who is absolutely fascinated by pirates and has been ever since she was a young girl. Elizabeth yearns for adventure and although her arc spans over several movies in this franchise, she is not a passive female character in this first movie despite being the one who Will wants to save. She is intelligent and a quick thinker and her wits keep her safe on Barbossa’s ship and although she is the only character in this first movie who is not questing, she does find her voice and realise what she wants throughout the course of this movie.
We have Will Turner. Brave, honest, earnest and naive Will Turner. Will is a hardworking blacksmith and he is in love with Elizabeth who is above him in station, meaning at the beginning of this movie it seems unlikely that they can be together even though she seems to reciprocate his feelings. Will is the perfect underdog. He’s kind, he’s handsome, he’s hardworking and he is full of potential that just needs some polishing up. He’s endearing and therefore he is a great character to root for when watching this movie. I would argue that he is the character who changes the most throughout this movie, his arc is wonderfully portrayed onscreen, and I will touch on this more when I talk about structure.
We have Commodore James Norrington. A man who hates pirates and always abides by the law. He wishes to marry Elizabeth. He brushes off Will’s concern for her and refuses to act rashly. He is always enforcing his rank in society and reminding Will of his.
Finally, we have our pirates. Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa.
Jack Sparrow is iconic and ambiguous. He’s mysterious and curious. He has one of the most brilliant entrance scenes in any movie and I would argue that his entrance in this movie sums up his entire character. He stands majestically on the mast of his ship as it is filling with water and sinking beneath the surface. He takes off his hat and bows his head in respect to the hanging pirates as he sails into Port Royal and he bribes the dock keeper with money so he doesn’t have to give his name. In just a few moments, we’ve learned so much. This man clearly doesn’t obey the law, and he will go with the flow as chaos ensues around him as if that was his plan all along, perhaps it was, with Jack Sparrow it’s hard to tell.
Barbossa is a man who longs for freedom. He wishes to break his curse. He is ruthless, he looks out for himself. He betrayed Jack in the past and would do so again, but he has his own morals, as does Jack, he respects the pirate’s code and he does not harm Elizabeth while she is aboard his ship. He’s an intelligent man, skilled at wordplay and you should not make a deal with Barbossa unless you are prepared to be extremely specific. Barbossa has figured out a way to cheat while fighting fair and it is what makes him such a brilliant opponent to Jack Sparrow. Barbossa also delivers one of the best lines in the movie, ‘You best start believing in ghost stories Miss Turner, you’re in one.’
All of these characters are memorable and the time the movie spends establishing who they are is really valuable because the introduction sets them up, giving us a solid idea about who they are and then throughout the movie, we watch them develop, we learn more about them, they are fleshed out so in fact they are all much more than who we assumed they are and that’s brilliant. We are given so much in this film but at no point does it feel too much. I would suggest that the characters are what makes this movie great, because if they were not so interesting, it would simply be another guy sets out to save girl movie and this is so much more than that.
This movie contains some complex themes, the key ones being, in my opinion, the idea that legally right and morally right are not the same thing, names and their importance, class and self-discovery.
This movie creates a really interesting dynamic where audiences can find themselves rooting for Will and Jack even though they are breaking the law and a pirate, by default, should technically be the ‘bad’ guy and yet he is not, because Jack works by his own code and he teaches Will that legally right and morally right do not always go hand in hand and that one can be a pirate and a good man, something that Will does not believe at the start of this movie.
Let’s look at Will and Norrington. Legally speaking, we should root for Norrington. He’s in the Navy, he does not do anything rashly, he is trying to capture the pirates and he is a man who not only obeys the law, he enforces it however we do not root for him, we root for Will even though the moment he decides to team up with Jack, he is breaking the law.
So why do we root for him? We root for Will because Will is morally right. Every single thing Will does, he does because he wishes to get to Elizabeth and make sure she is safe. He always acts with noble intentions and I suppose it leads to that classic question do the ends justify the means? We also root for Will because he is simply more likeable than Norrington. He’s much closer in age to Elizabeth, he is better looking, he’s hardworking and he seems to care about her much more than Norrington does. He’s passionate, he’s ready to act, he’s furious about being dismissed simply because he’s not as rich as Norrington. Norrington may seem more sensible, he wants to make a solid plan, he does not wish to be unprepared and rash however there is no sense of urgency coming from him, so his attitude beside Will’s makes it appear that Will has much more heart than he does and that of course is a huge character trait of the underdog, they’ve got more heart and they are therefore more appealing to audiences.
Names are important because of what they lead to and what they represent. The only reason Barbossa held Elizabeth hostage in the first place is because she gave Will’s last name instead of her own. She did this thinking it would keep her safe, because she thought she was being kidnapped because she is the governor’s daughter however the name Turner turns out to be very significant and this honest blacksmith is much more significant than he knows. Will is the key to breaking the curse as his father was a pirate who Barbossa betrayed and now his blood runs through Will’s veins. If Elizabeth had not have given his name, this quest may have never occurred and Will may have never learned about his father or in fact, himself.
Names are also important because they highlight the class difference between Will and Elizabeth. At the beginning of the movie, Elizabeth keeps asking Will to use her first name but he keeps calling her ‘Miss Swann’, something that her father approves but by the end of this movie, he finally has the courage to call her ‘Elizabeth’. I will touch on this more when I talk about structure.
Class and self-discovery are so important in this film. Will feels his love for Elizabeth cannot be returned because of his station, and Elizabeth knows she must marry Norrington as he is a ‘good’ match. Norrington dismisses Will’s ideas and desires to save Elizabeth simply because he is a blacksmith and he always shuts him down by reminding him to remember his place. Will goes through a major development arc in this movie. He learns about his father, he learns how to fight, he learns about real life and how sometimes you have to do what’s right by you, he learns what he is truly capable of and he does indeed learn his place – a brilliant moment that I’ll discuss in the next section.
So, there is a lot happening in this movie and it is not ‘just’ a Disney movie. It is an entertaining and thought-provoking quest narrative that contains very layered themes and every time I watch this movie, I find something different to discuss.
Let’s talk about structure. I would argue that this movie has a perfect, full circle structure because we end exactly where we began but everything and everyone has changed.
We start at Port Royal, for an event. Norrington’s promotion. Elizabeth is fascinated by pirates and Will can only call her ‘Miss Swann’ and utter ‘I love you’ as her carriage rolls away. Will hates pirates and practices for three hours daily with swords so he can kill a pirate if he ever crosses paths with one, and he assumes a pirate will fight fairly because he himself fights fairly. The plot begins when Elizabeth is taken and after attempting to do things the ‘right’ way and getting ignored, Will decides to go to Jack Sparrow for help and off they go on their quest.
The movie ends back at Port Royal, at an event. Jack’s hanging. Elizabeth is still fascinated by pirates, in fact she’s in love with one. Will has learned it is indeed possible to be a pirate and a good man, he has learned that there are people who will never fight fairly and he has learned that sometimes morally right and legally right are not the same thing. There is a scene at the start of this movie where he delivers a sword to Elizabeth’s house and she is on the stairs. There is a scene that mirrors this at Jack’s hanging. Elizabeth is standing on the stairs with her father. Will confidently strides over and addresses her as ‘Elizabeth’ and he finally confesses his love for her. To her face, not to himself as her carriage rolls away. He interrupts the hanging and helps Jack escape, stating that Jack is a good man, something he did not believe at the beginning, he attempted to fight Jack and win and now he is saving his life because he knows it is the right thing to do, and again audiences are rooting for him here even though he is breaking the law. Will says they can hang him too for this but his conscience will be clear. Norrington attempts to shut him down again, demanding to know if he has forgotten his place. In the beginning, this comment would make Will doubt himself but now he is sure of himself. It is a brilliant moment when Will looks Norrington in the eye and tells him, ‘My place is right here, between you and Jack.’ Elizabeth joins him, making it clear that Will is the one that she wishes to be with.
Will is still kind and honest and hardworking but his skills have been polished, he is no longer naive, he has learned about himself as a person and he has become a much more confident version of himself after his journey at sea. Structurally, this movie is very satisfying because we end exactly where we began but everyone has changed and evolved due to the journey they have all been on and because the characters were so well established, all of these changes and developments can be clearly recognised. The quest feels worth it. All goals were achieved. Will and Elizabeth are together, embracing on a cliff top, Jack has his beloved ship back, Barbossa and his crew did break their curse and Norrington did capture a pirate, briefly. This is a long movie however it is intriguing and entertaining and it comes full circle so the investment of time and energy feels worth it. It is a very satisfying end to a really good movie.
I’m going to quickly touch on the supernatural elements in this movie because I believe they are an example of really good storytelling. It can be difficult to introduce the supernatural into a story and it can often get in the way of a story however in this movie, the supernatural elements actually function really well as they move the story forward, and the way the curse is introduced to the movie is very well done and it flows quite seamlessly. This is a movie about pirates and we are very quickly brought into their world. The movie does not waste time trying to make the curse seem realistic or believable, the characters are so well done that they seem realistic and believable and so as an audience, we are already suspending our disbelief. The sea is unknown territory, as is the world of pirates, so when Barbossa explains to Elizabeth in his fantastic speech about greed, and taking it all but feeling nothing before the moonlight exposes his skeletal figure, we believe him. In a sense Elizabeth can be the voice of the audience here as she tells him she does not believe in ghost stories, and he informs her that she should start believing in them because she’s in one. I feel that this line is fantastic and it can also be applied to the audience, Barbossa has explained what the curse is and how it came to be and he does not try to prove it, he just tells Elizabeth she is now part of it and the audience can also be told the same thing, start believing in ghost stories, we are in one, we are watching one. In my opinion, the supernatural elements were really well done in this movie and more narratives should operate this way.
My final thoughts are simply that this is a really entertaining movie and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it again, and I would watch it again as I’m sure I would spot something new that I love and will want to discuss at a later time. I feel that I have said a lot today but I could still say more, I could talk about the dynamic between Jack and Will, Jack and Barbossa, and of course I could decide to talk about all the movies in this franchise and do a review/discussion on each one.
I think that if you love action, then this is a great film to watch as there are some brilliant action scenes that are quite underrated in my humble opinion. If you appreciate good storytelling, then you will enjoy this movie, the set up, the motivation, the structure, it is a long movie but it is done so well that it doesn’t feel long and that is very important.
If you love Disney then this is a classic, I think it is one of the best Disney movies because it is so much fun but is also complex and layered and if you love movies the way I do, it’s a very thought-provoking watch.
Most of all though, this movie is an amazing form of escapism. For a few hours, you can be transported to the Caribbean and taken in by this rich world full of unique and well thought-out characters and it’s a movie that ticks many boxes. Romance? Got it. Action? Got it. Comedy? Got it. Heart? Got it. A really good plot? Got it. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl will always be a movie that I recommend and I hope you enjoyed my review/discussion of it.
This has been the first Movie Monday and there are many to come.
Let me know what you think of my rundown of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl. Have you seen it? What do you think of it? Has this Movie Monday made you want to watch or rewatch it? What’s your favourite movie? I’d love to know so let me know in the comments.
Hope you enjoyed Movie Monday.