Much like Tim Burton’s most recent films, “Sweeney Todd” looks brilliant, but beyond that you’d be hard pressed to find any material here worth taking home with you. Like Burton’s previous films, there’s not much beyond the gorgeous coating of colors and tones, it’s all hollow inside filled with one-dimensional characterization and actors so out of their element it’s astounding. While Depp is gritty as Sweeney Todd he can’t carry a single tune to save his life, so Burton and co. rely on him talking as he sings to mask the fact that he can’t truly vocalize. The same can be said for Helena Bonham Carter who is just average as a singer and nonetheless very forgettable as a character.
She aids in Todd’s journey of revenge and turns his victims in to pies for the locals to feast on, but beyond that her accessory to his journey is rather ho hum and not very compelling in the least. Her relationship with Toby leaves much to be desired and acts as a plot device that leaves the film to slow down gradually in to a conflict of interest as Todd loses his sanity in the attempt to right his wrongs as she grows a conscience. This then becomes a war of morality and it’s a misfire all the way through. While Burton’s film is no slouch in the production department, his entire film needs some compelling elements that it lacks in the form of musical numbers and drama, all of which is lackluster. The romance between Johanna and Anthony is distracting and often difficult to swallow as Burton desperately tries to convince us this is a romance we should be moved by.
Even Sweeney’s confrontation with Judge Turpin the first time out should be an amazing moment in the urge for violence, but it’s just bland and otherwise immediately forgettable. Jayne Wisener is excellent in the little screen time she’s given as a the angelic and lusted after Johanna whose own step father Judge Turpin keeps her closed from the world and preserved like a China Doll garnering a disturbing infatuation and jealousy over her. Her vocalizing paired with her wide eyed performance makes her easily the most sympathetic character in the entire film with some truly excellent heartfelt moments of reflection in her character that make her supporting role something to remember.
As for the production values, Burton is as top notch as usual with an amazing set design and some wonderful atmosphere that plays on shades of dark blues and grays keeping “Sweeney Todd” an immediately eye catching and grim little revenge story. Meanwhile Johnny Depp is pretty menacing as the utterly enraged Sweeney Todd who is out for vengeance and uses cannibalism and his life as a barber to wreak utter havoc on all of his enemies who sent him to jail. But, folks like Alan Rickman and Sascha Baron Cohen are easily missed and often times they’re not fully allowed to reach beyond their characters and flex their abilities to perform for the audience. This is left for Depp and Carter, both of whom have chemistry but aren’t very interesting.
While Depp looks absolutely mad, his portrayal of Todd is mediocre at best and I never quite felt his rage even when howling and fiercely stabbing at his victims. I really wish I could have loved “Sweeney Todd,” but after I was done I moved on to something much more worthy of my time and tried to remember when Burton wasn’t just on auto-drive relying on his fan base to get him to his next picture without trouble. Like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” it’s all so unnecessarily gaudy with zero heart and little dramatic tension, which stinks because I love a good revenge story. Alas, like much of Burton’s recent film repertoire, “Sweeney Todd” looks incredible, like a moving painting, but it’s absolutely mediocre and rather tedious to sit through. Some audiences may appreciate the theatrics and bloodshed, but overall the story of Sweeney Todd as told by Burton and his dream team is easily forgotten and utterly under whelming.