You're expecting this to suck, aren't you? You may as well admit it - - we were, too. After all, if any of this summer's big movies seemed to have `turkey' clearly stamped on its mangy, feathered butt, then Pirates Of The Caribbean was the potential Christmas dinner in question. A pirate movie? Starring Johnny Depp? With a pointy-ear-free Orlando Bloom? Adapted from a bleeding Disney funfair ride? Critics were roasting the potatoes and preparing the cranberry sauce the moment it was announced.
But, shiver me timbers, isn't it a relief to be spectacularly, magnificently surprised every once in a while? Singlehandedly dredging the splintered carcass of the buccaneer flick out of Davy Jones' locker, Pirates Of The Caribbean sets off on a roister-doistering, swashbuckling, avast-ye-me-heartying adventure that pillages the best bits from movies as diverse as The Crimson Pirate and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. It then lashes them all together with sparky dialogue, lavish stunts, some corking running gags and four core performances that munch up the scenery with pantomime abandon.
Turning the barmy-setting to 11, Depp is Captain Jack Sparrow, a mincing, gold-toothed, black-eyed, mockney-accented lunatic with Mick Jagger's wardrobe and Keith Richards' grasp of reality. It's a performance that shouldn't work - - all contradictions and ragged ends - - but Depp massages it with ballsy charisma until he's shaped one of the best buccaneers since Errol Flynn.
Up against Sparrow is Geoffrey Rush's lip-curlingly evil Captain Barbossa, leader of a crew of cursed men doomed to a half-life as skeletons (they switch from men to walking bonebags whenever moonlight hits them) until they can recover the final piece of a horde of magical gold coins. A final piece which just happens to belong to Keira Knightley's tomboyish governor's daughter, Elizabeth. One kidnapping later and the bony brethren have both her and the trinket and are ready to head off to the Isle Of The Dead for some quick and bloody curse-breaking. Can Orlando Bloom's blacksmith Will (a performance that should cement his rep as a rising star) stop them? If Sparrow agrees to help him, he just might have a chance...
With swordfights that challenge The Princess Bride, glorious sea battles and some flawless effects - - take a look at the battle set in a cavern illuminated by shafts of moonlight - - this is everything a pirate movie ought to be and a dollop more. Twenty minutes of this action-stuffed, gag-packed swashbuckler and you'll forget Cutthroat Island ever existed.
Okay, so the mean-spirited might argue that it's too long and even a touch repetitive, perhaps cramming in a fight too many before slipping into top gear for the rousing climax. But can you have too much of a thing as good as this?
Batten down the hatches - the pirate movie is back. And back with bang, bluster and balls aplenty. One of the best blockbusters of the summer by a nautical mile.