Plot: Fresh from escaping from an island abandonment, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has just arrived in Port Royal, with the intent to steal a new ship and head off to reclaim his pride and joy, The Black Pearl. The ship was taken by Sparrow’s bitter rival Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), but he plans to recruit some fresh crew members, boost a new ship, and sail the high seas until the score is settled. As a pirate he knows he has to keep a low profile, but he winds saving a drowning girl and soon discovers she is Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), the daughter of Port Royal’s governor. His heroic act earns him little respect however and soon, he is on the run from the city’s guards and Swann’s forbidden love, Will (Orlando Bloom). But when Barbossa rolls into Port Royal, chaos breaks loose and in the confusion, a turn of events kicks off that will take Sparrow, Swann, and Will on a hunt for The Black Pearl.
Entertainment Value: Based on the Disney theme park ride, Pirates of the Caribbean would become a box office smash and launch a series of sequels that would rake in tons of cash. The Curse of the Black Pearl kicks off the franchise in style, with big budget production values and Johnny Depp in an outlandish role that would turn Captain Jack Sparrow into a pop culture icon. Depp’s ridiculous, but fun performance and the epic scope of adventure are the main draws here and help distract from the mediocre script and sometimes glacial pace. At almost two and a half hours, this one drags on in a lot of scenes and the narrative lacks the substance for half that length, leading to a bloated feel overall. Even so, the movie is a lot of fun in short bursts when it throws out an action set piece or lets Depp take the spotlight, so while there’s a lot of filler in this one, it has some positives as well. The production values are impressive, with lavish costumes, detailed set design elements, and some rock solid visual effects that are a step above the usual blockbuster CGI. When it works, the movie is a fun ride, I just wish it was a tighter, less drawn out experience.
Even if you’ve never seen a single Pirates of the Caribbean movie, you likely know about Captain Jack Sparrow, as Depp’s performance helped turn the over the top, quirky pirate into a true fan favorite. While the series would boast some remarkable talent across the board, the franchise belongs to Depp’s Sparrow and it excels when he is put in the center of the narrative. The threads for Will seem like a waste here, as Depp’s role is where the entertainment is and while he does go way over the top, it is a wild and fun performance to watch. Keira Knightley also turns on some magic in her role as Swann, but she isn’t given as much to do in this first installment, though later films would offer her more of a chance to shine. Orlando Bloom is rather forgettable as the bland Will, while Geoffrey Rush hams it up in style as Barbossa. The cast also includes Jonathan Pryce, Mackenzie Crook, Jack Davenport, and Lee Arenberg, among others. The Curse of the Black Pearl is inconsistent and has some severe pacing issues at times, but there’s solid fun here and Depp’s Sparrow alone is worth the admission.