Familiar style. Familiar faces. Familiar themes. Times change, Tim Burton's films don't. Based on the cult TV show from the 60s of the same name, Tim Burton's latest film Dark Shadows is everything you probably expect from it: black humour, Johnny Depp, ghosts, Helena Bonham Carter, vampires, witches, hippies.
There is that peculiar vigour one can sense while watching a film made by people that had a great time doing it. Dark Shadows has some good gags, lots of cool references, some very clever shots and snappy lines all the time. Really, there is some hilarious stuff in there. Especially some scenes involving synthesizers, hippies, vampires and McDonald's. The period atmosphere is well done. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel does a good job. His excessive diffusion works well for the ghostly setting, removing texture from faces and making them ephemeral. The soundtrack adds some extra believability through the period's hit selection.
The cast ensemble is properly selected and does a pretty decent job. Which is even more notable, considering there isn't actually a real movie in Dark Shadows. Johnny Depp is his usual mannerism infested self. Eva Green is stunning as the steamy witch. Chloe Moretz has grown from an ass-kicking superhero kid to a kick-ass sour and grumpy Michelle Pfeiffer supernatural daughter (whoops, that was a spoiler). Jackie Earle Haley is quite funny as the only family servant. Bella Heathcote almost tricks you to think that she is the protagonist in the first 10 minutes after the starting credits. Christopher Lee appears as a random boat captain leader in a random scene and radiates "What-the-f*ck-am-I-doing-here?!" waves.
The story in Dark Shadows is basic, scenes are disjointed and sketchy, the end confrontation is cheap and uninspired, the dialogue is often abysmal and even its deliberate over-the-top self-awareness can't save it. Characters come to manifest some totally random traits. The characters themselves form the typical Tim Burton freak show, this time even employing Alice Cooper (in the role of Alice Cooper from the 70's) to seal that. There is no character development whatsoever (which isn't really a bad thing in this case).
Dark Shadows is really quite enjoyable, and it is hard to comprehend how something can go wrong. A two-century-old vampire, hippies, the 70's... Sounds like a win recipe. For a lot of people it will be good enough, indeed. Others may be unimpressed if the mood doesn't click with them. Precisely because there isn't any actual movie behind the stylish visuals and the lines exchanges. It looks like the filmmakers have had to include characters just because they exist in the original, which often renders them useless. Together with the above faults this results in a sense of wasted potential. Nevertheless, Tim Burton fans should give this a try. They most likely won't be disappointed.