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Directed by Jonathan Levine
Screenplay by Jonathan Levine
Teresa Palmer, Nicholas Hoult, John Malkovich
How long is Warm Bodies? 97 minutes.
What is Warm Bodies rated? PG-13 for zombie violence and some language.
An Underbaked Love Story
The latest attempt to capitalize on the zombie craze, Warm Bodies tries to provide a different spin on the genre by presenting a love story between a zombie and a human. Based on the novel by Isaac Marion and written and directed by The Wackness and 50/50‘s Jonathan Levine, this film stars Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class) as the zombie R and Teresa Palmer (I Am Number Four) as his star-crossed lover, the human Julia. R and Julia … do you get the Romeo and Juliet parallel!?
The film starts well enough with R giving a voiceover narration of his life as a zombie. A sadsack who is tired of his life, he lives in an airport, has a possible best friend in M (Rob Corddry, creator and star of the hilarious Childrens Hospital), and provides us with an overview of conventional zombies, also known as corpses; humans; and “bonies,” zombies so far gone they’re just fast-moving, unstoppable skeletons. There’s also the idea that eating the victims’ brains gives zombies the memories of the human, which provides them with a taste of the life they have long since lost. It’s an interesting opening and initially gives the film a feeling of the dark humor of a Zombieland. Neither overly serious nor campy, Warm Bodies appears as if it would give us insight into this world from the zombie’s perspective. Maybe even answer some of the more nitpicky zombie questions, such as how the softest blow can penetrate their skulls yet they can still tear a body apart limb by limb.
Unfortunately, once the love story takes center stage, all this potential goes away. Meeting Julia during a raid, he brings her home for “safety,” treats her well, and falls for her. At this point, R stops being a zombie and starts being a guy with social anxiety. He might have bad posture and sluggish movements, but he can drive a car, restrain his urges to eat people, have decent control over his facial mannerisms, and talk. That’s right, he can talk. And, as the movie proceeds, other zombies can talk too. While at first it’s just basic nouns and verbs, eventually R (and others) can form full sentences.
Although Julia is a little impressed by this development and considers R “special,” the sheer, world-changing importance of this discovery does not sink in for her. For eight years, corpses have only shown themselves to be mindless monsters who eat human beings, and she treats his ability to engage in conversation primarily as “cute.” It would be as if one of the wolves in The Grey started talking to Liam Neeson and he thinks he’s found an adorable, but otherwise irrelevant, pet.
However, this self-centered unawareness plagues Julia throughout the entire film, and to its overall detriment. She lives in a giant walled city run by her father General Grigio (a better-than-this John Malkovich), but she’s angry because they’re all fenced in. The Governor’s camp in The Walking Dead this is not. As much as I usually hate “conscience” characters such as Dale in The Walking Dead, at least they have a personal philosophy they abide by instead of just adolescent/post-adolescent whining. When R breaks into the compound, Julia is rightfully concerned about her father shooting him, but she fails to see other dangers, like the would-it-be-considered-vivisection(?) that compound scientists would probably perform on a talking zombie or, alternatively, a Terminator-esque scenario where zombies can fool humans into believing that they are one of them and then wreak havoc on their entire civilization. The only thing that matters to her is that she has a crush, and she is blind to everything else. Additionally, the relationship between Julia and her father is dreadfully underdeveloped, but one gets the sense that something more substantial might have been left on the cutting room floor, particularly with regards to Julia’s mother.
While I might be overly harsh on a movie that is meant for less discerning audiences — after all, it does have a makeover scene where Julia and her friend Nora (an Olivia Thirlby-esque Analeigh Tipton) put makeup on R to give his pale skin flesh tones — the central premise still concerns zombies, a legitimate threat in the film’s universe. Warm Bodies actually has interesting elements, but it suffers from cowardice. By making R less like a zombie and more like someone who is incredibly socially awkward, it robs the film’s concepts of their possible depth, potential dark humor, and gleeful weirdness. The filmmakers seem to believe that the idea of “Romeo and Juliet with a zombie and a human” should be enough for the audience, but they’re wrong. Once the novelty wears off, and it does quickly, the film needs more to it … such as jokes beyond ‘look, it’s a zombie, and he’s doing stuff.’ The ending montage of Shaun of the Dead does more and on more levels in two minutes than this movie does throughout its entire running time.
Although the film does make sympathetic characters out of R and his crew, one cannot help but forget, as bigoted as it sounds, that the survivors are still dealing with corpses and bonies. Boiling everything down to the Capulets v. Montagues ignores the realities of the situation and replaces complexity and humanity with a third act battle sequence and cheap gags. It’s good that the undead are evolving, but can you really fault the in-the-dark humans for wanting to put a bullet in their brains?