Dark Shadows is a fun, pointless romp that should satisfy fans of Tim Burton’s work, while perhaps not satisfying those who need a larger helping of plot coherence in their cinema. But Burton movies are less about story than about darkly whimsical spectacle. Thus, the story tends to fall apart to such a degree that, typing this sentence four days after the screening, I will have to pause to recall how the film ended. Okay, wait, I remember now. And shrug at its irrelevance. But Burton tends to make the journey worthwhile, regardless of the destination.
The journey consists of a marvelous cast, led by frequent collaborator Johnny Depp, and a richly realized environment with all the lush colors and design flare you want from a Burton production. Depp portrays another bewildered, compelling outsider with a quirky array of stylings, and he’s supported by Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Grace Moretz and Eva Green.
Green particularly shines as Depp’s nemesis, ranging from unfathomably sexy to bizarrely monstrous at a moment’s notice. And there’s just enough awkwardness in her comic timing to underscore the offputting nature of her character. Pfeiffer is cooly arch as the matriarch of an old money family that’s out of the old money, and Carter is, as always, wonderfully weird. Moretz, a very talented young actress, should’ve been given more to do, but she affects sneering, self-absorbed teenager with gusto.
The film is a bit of a spoof of the original TV series, noted for its romantic melodrama. Here, Depp is freed from 200 years’ entombment and spends much of the film being bewildered by modern life (though he correctly recognizes the McDonald’s logo as a sign of the devil), and the rest of it facing his similarly long-lived rival, Green. The film veers through a love story that may involve reincarnation (or not, it’s hard to tell) and Green’s mad love-hate dynamic with Depp. None of which matters—you either enjoy your time in this world or you don’t, and it ends when you leave. Like a theme park.
Unfortunately, the trailers have spoiled most of the genuinely good jokes in the film, but the whole thing bubbles along nicely. In the era of the $13 movie ticket, you have to weigh your desire to see this world on the big screen, where it belongs, with its ultimately ephemeral nature.