Wednesday 31 May 2017

Rank the Films: Pirates of the Caribbean

As any regular reader of this blog will know, lists are pretty darn nifty. I have a profound appreciation for straight-up lists. This is the thinking behind Rank the Films, a regular feature that pulls apart the pros and cons of a series of films, ranking them in order of bad to good.

Grab your cutlass, strap on a bandana and shiver some timbers - on the slate this month is the Pirates of the Caribbean series, from 2003's Curse of the Black Pearl to 2017's Dead Men Tell No Tales.

So, without further ado, let's hoist the mainsail and hit the high seas - this is the five Pirates films ranked worst to best. Did your favourite reach the top? Read on...

5th - Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

On Stranger Tides is a film in possession of two incredible accolades; firstly, its the most expensive film ever produced (with a staggering budget of $378.5 million) and secondly, its the most remarkably unremarkable film ever made in that I can't seem to remember a single significant plot detail or development despite only seeing it for the first time in the last six months.

The film does away with Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, thrusting Johnny Depp's skittish pirate Jack Sparrow to the forefront along with a host of other supporting characters that includes the likes of Penelope Cruz, Sam Claflin and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey. The only problem is, nobody watching this film could give two shits about any of these new additions and this means we have to suffer over two hours of Jack Sparrow as the sole main character instead of a quirky co-star. 

The plot is rather forgettable too; its something about Blackbeard, mermaids and the fountain of youth. Whenever you mention On Stranger Tides to anyone, I guarantee they'll say something along the lines of "oh yeah, the one with the mermaids". That's a staggering amount of mediocrity for a film that cost nearly $400 million to make.

4th - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Dead Men Tell No Tales is something of a soft reboot for the Pirates series; it serves as an acknowledgement that audiences crave a little more than just Depp staggering around sounding drunk for more than two hours. 

It rearranges the game pieces so that new characters like Carina (Kaya Scodelario) and Henry (Brenton Thwaites) promise something greater is on the horizon - and yet, in this moment, it still isn't coming together. It's a mess of ideas and half-baked characters that is still overly reliant on Depp, and the entire third act is a jumbled CGI cacophony of noise and overly complicated curses. 

Still, it's substantially shorter than On Stranger Tides (it's the shortest film in the series) and that means it doesn't overstay its welcome that much. 

3rd - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)

Following the popularity of the first film, Disney set to work on crafting two sequels that would turn the singular success into a series. 

Filmed back-to-back with Dead Man's ChestAt World's End is the culmination of everything Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer could throw at the screen - it's a massive film that feels like an event, from the Return of the Jedi-esque opening in Singapore to the swirling vortex of ships that serves as a finale. 

However, the problem with At World's End is a lot of what goes between these two bookends; essentially, it's about a billion years long (well, it's about three hours) and the entire middle act is a lot of really convoluted crossing and double crossing. I might have seen At World's End about five or six times and still can't make sense of it all. 

I'll always remember seeing At World's End in the theatre with my friends in 2007 and having a whale of a time. The universe feels ostensibly larger this time too, with the Bretheren Court being a fun time filled with wacky characters. And Pirate King Keira is pretty badass too. The film felt like a significant event, but on reflection it's a flawed film that could be a good 45 minutes tighter. 

2nd - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)

If At World's End is Return of the Jedi-esque, Dead Man's Chest is unequivocally the Empire Strikes Back, even if that idiom is worn to the bone at this point. It splits the main ensemble up, it tears them apart and it all hinges on a big cliffhanger of an ending. The stakes are higher, the emotional stuff is trying to hit harder and the film knows what worked well the first time. In short, it's trying to go one better right out of the gates.

And it mostly succeeds. In fact, Dead Man's Chest comes within an inch of surpassing its predecessor. It brims with an insatiable eagerness to entertain, from the opening set piece with the savages who plan on cooking and eating Jack to the elongated three-way sword fight between Jack, Will and Commodore Norrington that culminates in my far and away favourite sequence in the entire series, the water wheel. The choreography, the humour, the score - it all just works so well in this scene as the madcap action escalates and gets increasingly silly.

However, what weighs it down is the overlong runtime and the same doughy middle act as the third film, which this time around sees Elizabeth starting to question her relationship with Will by becoming attracted to Jack and Will being shanghaied into working for Davy Jones and meeting his father. The middle act in Empire Strikes Back deepens the universe; here it just sort of meanders. In fact, Jones, the primary antagonist isn't introduced until nearly an hour into the film. It's a helluva an entrance - but the amount of time we have to wait starts to test the audience's patience.

1st - Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Curse of the Black Pearl is a staple of my childhood, something that is probably shared with a lot of people my age. It's one of those films that people remember and hold close to their hearts. It soars with energy and excitement like the rollercoasters and attractions on which it is based.

Even though it feels tired now, the Jack Sparrow routine character works wonders here - and was nominated for an Oscar too, don't forget. That introduction, stood atop the sinking crow's head and the banter with those two dim-witted British guards, is one of the best and most memorable character introductions of all time. Likewise, Hans Zimmer's score, heard here for the first time, is an all-timer that instantly puts a smile on your face and gets your heart racing.

Geoffrey Rush's Barbossa is menacing and iconic, the ghoulish special effects are fantastic for today (let alone 2003) and the swashbuckling choreography (like that sword fight on the blacksmith's wheel) is a lot of fun.

Simply put, Curse of the Black Pearl set the standard 14 years ago and still hasn't been surpassed. It has a unique energy that doesn't rely on Depp phoning it in or rehashing the same plots - it's a breath of fresh air and feels fun and imaginative, even when we've seen it recycled three or four times in the intervening years.

Which Pirates of the Caribbean movie is your favourite? What did you think of Dead Men Tell No Tales? Let me know in the comments section below! Thanks for reading.


  1. I never bothered with On Stranger Tides, though I will give Dead Men Tell No Tales a chance. Dead Man's Chest was always my favorite of the series. I raged over the decision to put Will on the Flying Dutchman in AWE though. Absolutely raged. lol

    1. Me neither until a few months ago - felt like I should probably 'catch up' for when Dead Men Tell No Tales came out. It was like stepping into a weird dimension where the most expensive film of all time was one that is utterly pointless and achieves nothing. It's a very odd film.

      If you weren't happy with the Dutchman decision, you might have a better time with Dead Men Tell No Tales...

  2. So basically it went downhill from movie one LOL I liked the first three movies, but I can't remember much about At World's End either, so I think I'd agree it's a too-long mess in part.

    But I think Dead Men Tell No Tales was worse than On Stranger Tides! They're both objectively bad yes, but at least in OST I laughed a few times. In Dead Men Tell No Tales I laughed *once*. I was SO bored. I tried thinking of Bardem's hotness beneath all that CGI but even that didn't work. Makes me mad just thinking about it because you can tell the writers didn't even try, every line was so cringe-worthy it was offensive.

    1. It's pretty touch and go to be honest. LIke you said, they're both pretty bad. But at least Dead Men Tell No Tales undoes some of the stuff that didn't work about OST, like Will being all crusty on the Dutchman...



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