Tim Burton is undeniably one of the great stylists of popular cinema. I don't just mean that on a purely visual level, either. When he's at his absolute best, somehow the style actually becomes the substance. If that doesn't seem to make sense, consider Ed Wood. It was Burton's decision to approach his chosen subject in the romanticized, even loving way that he did that made that film what it was. And it was glorious.
But... There are times when something more fundamental is called for, and this was one of them. And to be brutally honest, that more fundamental something just wasn't there in this particular movie.
If you're going to remake a film that's one of the standing icons of its genre, that's a pretty tough gig. Most especially so when the film you've chosen to remake is so well known for its moments: moments that come to define the film in our imaginations and to make it what it is. If you just copy those moments verbatim, then your film is in turn just a copy, and a pale one at that. Mere repetition is never going to have the same impact as the original. On the other hand, once you've taken those moments away, if you can't replace them with something equally staggering, or at least repackage and reinterpret the original material in a genuinely surprising way, then once again, there's really very little point in bothering with the remake at all.
Unfortunately, there really was very little point in bothering with this particular remake at all. That's about as much as I can say without letting loose with the spoilers.
There are positive things to say about this movie. Visually it was every bit the feast one would expect from a Tim Burton film - simultaneously cartoonish and intensely hyper-real. It also contains two truly exceptional performances. Tim Roth takes a character of absolute, pitch-black villainy, and somehow infuses him with so much feeling that he comes across as more like a real-life psychopath than a two-dimensional bad guy. Burton's wife, Helena Bonham Carter, also most definitely delivers the goods. On a purely physical level, the way she moved brought a true chimpanzee-ness to her character that (in this one respect at least) put the original generation of films to shame. She's also somehow surprisingly attractive; and not just because she has the looks of Helena Bonham Carter somewhere beneath all that makeup. Her character comes across as an intelligent and genuinely interesting woman of the kind you really wish would take an interest in _you_. And this is coming from a man who's not normally attracted to chimpanzees, okay? Or at least, not very often.
But... all that said, what's good about this movie isn't even close to being enough to carry the day. To be fair, taken simply as an action adventure flick, the film is quite watchable. Even enjoyable. It's because I'm willing to accept it on this relatively modest level (which frankly, when judged solely on its own merits is where this film actually belongs) that I'm willing to give it four stars. According to Amazon, four stars simply means "I like it". And to once again be completely fair about all this, this is an entertaining movie.
But judged as a remake of one of the defining films of its genre?