Review: Dark Shadows

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, a duo who have created some amazing movies like Edward Scissorhands but also abominations like Alice in Wonderland.  Dark Shadows, their latest collaboration, is firmly in the middle as it’s not outright bad but also not particularly good.

Depp stars as Barnabas Collins, a wealthy industrialist in the 1770’s who draws the ire of a witch (Eva Green), who he scorned.  The witch casts a spell on his fiance that forces her to leap off a sea cliff and Barnabas tries to follow but finds that he’s been turned into an immortal vampire.  Angelique, the witch, the riles the townspeople to lock Barnabas in a coffin and he stays there for 200 years until the 1970’s, when he’s unearthed by a construction crew.  He returns to his mansion to find his dysfunctional descendants living there.  He vows to rebuild the family fortune, which proves more difficult because Angelique (or Angie as she’s now called) is also alive and well in the 70’s and has built a rival fishing business that has all but destroyed the Collins fishing business.

Now, that sounds like a ton of plot but the movie isn’t too worried about any of it.  The movie has this weird structure where you’ll have about 20 minutes of “Johnny Depp is a wacky vampire and he doesn’t understand the 70’s” sequences and then Eva Green will show up and reveal some sort of plot detail and then it will be another 20 minutes before the plot advances again.  Eva Green’s character also has some of the most confusing villain motivation since Gargamel couldn’t decide whether to eat the Smurfs or turn them to gold.  She curses Barnabas to be a vampire as revenge for not loving her but when he comes back, she still loves him, but also wants to destroy his family and their business?  The movie also has the terrible habit of introducing what could have been interesting, movie long sub plots but then resolves them abruptly 5 minutes later.  For instance, *SPOILERS*, it’s revealed Chloe Moretz aka Carolyn, is a werewolf.  There is not even the slightest hint that this is the case until it’s abruptly revealed during the finale.  Even worse, the movie then gives an extremely half assed explanation of how she became a werewolf.  There’s similiar things for at least 4 of the other characters.  It probably doesn’t help that last week we had The Avengers, which was a masters class in how to perfectly balance characters and giving them all their moment to shine.  Dark Shadows is mainly the Barnabas show and the attempts to flesh out the other characters falls short.

Johnny Depp is not doing anything that you haven’t seen before from his previous collaborations with Tim Burton.  His Barnabas is sort of a combination of Sweeney Todd and Jack Sparrow and he has couple of laugh worthy lines and bits but most of the jokes are about how he doesn’t understand the 70’s, which gets old after about the 10th one.  Eva Green seems to be having tons of fun as Angelique but, like I said before, her character is all over the place and you have no idea what her motiviations or plans are.  The one character that is probably the most interesting but doesn’t get any sort of explanation is Michelle Pffeifer as Elizabeth Stoddard, the matriarch of the family with a capitol M.  She feels like a mother lion or wolf, where if you touch her cubs, she will rip your throat out.  There’s the hint that there could have been a great back and forth between her and Eva Green but it doesn’t really play out.  The rest of the cast is either solid but don’t really have anything to do, like Jackie Earle Haley or Chloe Moretz, or are just straight up boring, like Bella Heathcoate as the recent arrival to Collinswood, Victoria, who might be the reincarnated finance of Barnabas but who cares?  Oh, and of course, Helena Bonham Carter is on hand as well and looks like she literally just came from the set of Alice in Wonderland with her crazy orange hair and makeup but she does have a couple of funny moments, mostly because she’s constantly hungover.  One last thing regarding the cast is that the movie blows one of it’s funner moments not only in the trailers but also the credits when they list Alice Cooper. who shows up to perform at the ball the family throws to sort of show the town they’re back in business.

If you’re burned out by Tim Burton/Johnny Depp, Dark Shadows doesn’t do anything fresh to change your opinion.  It goes right down the Burton checklist and while it looks great and has some funny jokes and bits, it gets tiresome after a while and none of the characters are interesting enough to keep you interested.  If you are a die hard Burton fan, it might be worth a watch but everyone else can probably skip it or wait to rent it on DVD.

3 out of 5

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