Johnathan Detrick’s review published on Letterboxd:
Sometimes movies become huge hits because they show us something new or are unexpected. Know one that I knew was too excited about this film before it came out; making a movie based on a theme park ride seemed a stupid idea and we expected little. Most of us were blown away by the fun, exciting adventure we got, and even if the bloom came off the rose a bit in the sequels, we all still enjoyed this one. Sometimes, however, when it's the unexpected that grabs you in the beginning, the movie doesn't hold up. This one, I think, does hold up.
While Johnny Depp had been a star before this movie, I believe this was the movie that launched him into super-stardom. His take on the role of Captain Jack Sparrow was so unusual, and I give credit to audiences for embracing it. Unfortunately, Depp now sometimes seems to be doing weird for weird's sake in many of his films, but for this movie it worked wonderfully.
Unfortunately, Depp gets so much credit for the success of this movie that I feel Geoffrey Rush's contribution is overlooked. He's an amazing villain, and entries in the series never feel complete unless he's in the movie. While menacing and truly without redeeming qualities, he's also funny, which must be a hard line on which to balance.
The rest of the cast performs admirably, and I think the plot for this movie holds together very well. There's a lot going on, with double and triple crosses everywhere, so it can get a little confusing, but rewatching it helps to sort things out, and we're still miles away from the convoluted mess coming down the road in the sequels. There's actual real menace in this movie at times; the pirates had not yet become strictly comic relief or slightly smoothed out versions of themselves. There were reasons to be scared of them, which we don't see in all the sequels.
Finally, I have to give props to the score. Klaus Badelt is not a composer with which I am familiar, but I truly enjoyed his work in this movie. There are scenes that his score truly keeps moving, heightening the tension or the sense of excitement.