Get ready for The Legionnaire tackling the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise! Hooray! At least, I hope you are more thrilled about it than I am. I hate these movies. I try to avoid using that word, but there it is. Among the many stories from history that fascinated me as a youngster, tales of piracy made up a portion of them. I even had the Lego pirate sets, and was quite proud of the ship that I assembled. Still, something was not quite right. The three-masted vessel was a thing of beauty, but even my twelve-year-old brain knew that when the next kit was released, the corresponding colonial ship that would presumably be the military pursuing the outlaws, it was all wrong. Pirate ships were typically small, which is one of the reasons they seldom took on the ships-of-the-line we always imagine being sent to stop them. Yet the buccaneer one dwarfed its counterpart. It frustrated my desire for historical accuracy with toys. Years passed. In 2003, Disney made Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. As I recall, the first preview I saw of it simply had the stylistic banner with the title. My first thought was finally, my disappointment with my Lego sets will finally be avenged in the cinema! And then I saw Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his men, who turn into skeletons in the moonlight. Sigh. So much for history.
The first scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is of a destroyed merchant vessel being found by the HMS Dauntless. Drifting on a piece of flotsam is a boy named Will Turner (Dylan Smith). He is noticed by young Elizabeth Swann (Lucinda Dryzek), daughter of the soon-to-be governor of Jamaica Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce). Soon after the boy is brought aboard, Elizabeth notices a gold medallion hanging from his neck and takes it from him. And fast forward eight years. The inevitably lovely Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) is of the age that men will be coming with marriage proposals, and the primary one is the newly promoted Commodore James Norrington (Jack Davenport). Remember the gold trinket? Well, so “overcome” is Elizabeth by the expected proposal that she falls from the ramparts of the fort guarding Port Royal (which is historically ridiculous) with it around her neck. This sends out some kind of signal. The first person to notice it is Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who is trying to make it to port before his steadily sinking boat dips below the waves. His arrival at Port Royal does not go well, however. While on the run from the authorities, he tangles with the now blacksmith apprentice Will (Orlando Bloom), who is given credit for helping to capture the wanted Jack. That night, Barbossa, captain of the Black Pearl, comes to sack the city, drawn by the medallion. In the attack, Will attempts to make it to Elizabeth to protect her, since there is an unspoken thing between them, but is knocked senseless on the way. Elizabeth is captured, but she gives her last name as Turner, so we know she feels it, too. It is also revealed why Barbossa is so keen on the coin. It is part of a cursed treasure that Hernán Cortés had stolen from the Aztecs. Anyone who takes a piece of it is doomed to immortality, and I say “doomed” because in addition to having their bones revealed in the light of the moon, they cannot enjoy any of what makes life worth living, like eating apples apparently. Anyway, Will comes to and immediately goes to Governor Swann and demand they go after the Black Pearl. Will encounters reluctance on the part of her father, so instead breaks Jack out of jail to help track down Barbossa. Jack goes along with it because his ultimate goal is to get back the Black Pearl, which he used to command. They catch up with Barbossa on the island where he has hidden his pilfered valuables, intending to put the gold back with the rest of the treasure and perform the ritual to break the curse. This involves shedding blood, but when it is done they find that it does not work. That is because the coin had belonged to Will Turner’s father, and thus only the son’s essence will do. In any case, Will rescues Elizabeth, and leaves Jack to be captured by Barbossa. Barbossa then pursues Will, destroying his ship. In exchange for Elizabeth’s life, Will offers himself. Barbossa then maroons Elizabeth and Jack on a nearby island. To affect their rescue, Elizabeth builds a fire, the smoke of which is spotted by the Dauntless. Saying that he will distract Barbossa, Jack is allowed parley with the undying pirates. Instead, he tells Barbossa of the planned trap in the hopes of slipping away himself. During the fight, Jack begins dueling Barbossa, sneaking out his own coin from the Aztec treasure in order to hedge his bets on dying. In the fracas, he is able to slip his own coin and blood, and that of Will’s, into the treasure, just as Barbossa is shot with the lifting of the curse. Of course, Jack had reason to want to get away, for Commodore Norrington takes Jack into custody. Before he can be hung at Port Royal, however, Elizabeth and Will conspire to give Jack a chance to slip away, pulling off his own dive from the fort’s ramparts to swim out to the waiting crew of the Black Pearl.
It is not only the historical inaccuracy in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl that is frustrating. Actually, there is no reason to be mad about that because there is no honest attempt at being faithful to the source material, other than the rough people and times in which the film is set. What is more irksome to me is the making of Jack into a hero. Call me the square Catholic man that I am, but I prefer my protagonists to be trustworthy. Actually, I suppose the one thing that you can count on from Jack is that he is in it for himself. In turn, that is the true root of the problem. As my romance with piracy wore off when I got older, I realized that they should not be idolized because they are plundering thieves. During my graduate school studies, I read books about the period that tried to paint these outlaws of every nation as a nascent rebellion against emerging international capitalism. Regardless of your views on free trade, the Catholic in me does not support attempting to redress perceived slights to one’s station in life by pillaging the riches of another. Besides, the Bible will tell you that true treasure is that which is stored up for you in Heaven. It goes on to say that it is a kind that no one can take from you. Yet, we are supposed to get behind Jack, who cares more about the physical variety, and rum. I guess he does the right thing in the end by helping Elizabeth and Will, but it was a bit hazy in the end. This is all a long way of saying that I do not like a character that seems universally loved, and I cannot understand these positive feelings.
Apologies to those of you who may enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. I hope you will forgive me for the next four reviews as well. I gave up after the third one, so the last two will be new experiences for me. I do not have a lot of hope for them, but such is life sometimes. I will try to avoid repetitiveness with these, but I cannot make any promises. Still, maybe they will warn you away from the series?