Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl ★★★★

Pleasantly surprised how well this holds up. Verbinski is no Spielberg but he's sure as *hell* a better blockbuster craftsman than most. Honestly my only big complaint here is that at 143 minutes, this thing is just way too long -- it gets particularly bogged down with the constant leaving of, and returning to, the same room of shiny pirate treasure where the nebulous curse must be lifted (why does it have to be Turner's blood again? I'm really unclear on that bit). But, frankly, the majority of this movie is a rollicking good time, and even the slower patches are packed with great line reads and other little moments of amusement. The film blasts through every great pirate trope you can think of with gusto and humor, turning them into freewheeling swashbuckling set-pieces that are punctuated with perfectly timed punchlines and creative uses of the environment, creating action that's dynamic both in its kinetics and tone. The film's real boon is that it's not just a great adaptation of a cliche pirate ride, but it's also a pretty darn good Haunted Mansion movie to boot. It's a family movie, but despite all the humor and the now-dated digital skeletal effects, there's still some excellent imagery, from the impressive transition effects whenever the cursed pirates jump into the moonlight, to the haunting undersea walk. I fondly remember being a bit freaked out by it as a kid in the theater, and it's a great secondary hook to the yo-ho-ing that pulls you into the world.

It's not just good action direction and visuals that make The Curse of the Black Pearl one of the better blockbusters of its era, but there's some genuinely smart writing here too. I was especially impressed with the first act of the film, which deftly weaves in character introductions (from the camera reveal of Sparrow's sinking ship, to learning about his character through the mocking of his piddly personal effects) and exposition (pretty brilliantly delivered by two amusing and bumbling guards arguing about the Black Pearl as Sparrow steals a ship in the background) all while being laced into a tremendously fun and propulsive action set-piece. And the dullness of Orlando Bloom is offset by remarkably colorful secondary characters, like a Johnny Depp who's shtick had yet to turn tiresome, and a wonderful villain turn by Geoffrey Rush.

As I said, the plotting does lag a bit in the second half, but it's still filled to the brim with clever touches and the screenwriters waste no opportunity to bring back myriad objects, lines, and character beats that have been set up earlier as punchlines to later moments. The length and baggy pacing really should drag down the score for me, as well as the unearned forgive-and-forget ending, but honestly, as a huge fan of breezy pulp adventure done right, this thing is so fun that I'm willing to overlook that stuff.

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