February 17, 2013



Warm Bodies (2013)

Director: Jonathan Levine

2.5 / 5 zedheads


Let's just get the obligatory puns out of the way shall we? Warm Bodies has left me feeling cold.

As hackneyed as that sounds, it's absolutely true. Despite the work of a good cast, Warm Bodies fails to grasp and translate the heart of Isaac Marion's original story to the big screen in a big, bad way. While Marion's novel is a lively, witty, and moving romantic love story with serious post-apocalyptic zombie credentials, Jonathan Levine's adaptation is a watered-down and tepid affair with a lot less bite. Despite its title, Warm Bodies drops into theatres with the cold, dull thud of a corpse.

Blame it on the (b)rain!
Set shortly after a zombie infection has brought civilization to the brink of collapse, Warm Bodies introduces us to R (Nicholas Hoult), a flesh-eating, brain-craving zombie with a heart. Despite being dead and unable to remember anything except the first letter of his name, R clings to reminders of life, such as old records, that he finds while shuffling through the ruined urban landscape of human civilization. R is not the only zombie with lingering human qualities. He and the other undead who still cling to some semblance of life are persecuted by the Boneys, a race of powerful skeletal monsters that all zombies eventually transform into when their last remaining spark of hope and humanity finally dies. One day, while out hunting for flesh, R encounters Julie (Teresa Palmer), a vibrant young woman from a nearby walled city of survivors. In perhaps the most awkward meet-cute scene of any romantic comedy, R eats the brains of Julie's boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco). Absorbing Perry's memories and feelings, R falls in love with Julie and decides to save her from being cannibalized. Taking her back to his home, a trinket-filled 747 at an abandoned airport overrun with the undead, R shows Julie that zombies aren't really monsters -- they just want to live and feel again. Together, a romance begins between them that sparks a revolution of rebirth amongst the zombie population. Standing between them and a cure, however, are the heartless Boneys and Julie's father (John Malkovich), a man who'd rather shoot all zombies in the head than let her daughter bring one home for dinner.

New girlfriends often find it hard to fit in with their boyfriend's buddies

 The script for Warm Bodies is a clunky work of exposition and tween pandering. Is it supposed to be a comedy? The jokes are inconsequential quips with the occasional visual gag. Is it supposed to be a romance? So little time is spent fleshing out Julie's life or exploring R's borrowed memories that there's absolutely no chemistry between them. It's certainly not a horror movie; most of the gore is implied and there's only one or two Boney jump scares. While Marion's novel is a tight piece of work, the movie has had so much of its heart excised to meet budgetary restrictions and to re-brand it for the Twilight tween crowd that it has turned into a superficial and meandering romance-in-name-only.

Best Friends For (Un)Life
As much as Warm Bodies doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be, it also doesn't know how to handle its zombies. There's not a lot of consistency amongst the undead. R jokes about how slow they are, but they're seen running and fighting quite aggressively for food. They also don't look that violent. Warm Bodies makes a conscious effort to present its "good" zombies as attractively as possible, but doing so robs the story of its core philosophy.

Warm Bodies, the novel, is clearly a story about the importance of the younger generation finding love, hope, and empathy in a dark, ugly world where the older generation (represented by the Boneys and people like Julie's father) have given in to close-minded pessimism and rigid dogma. It's also a story about how ugly we get when we just give in to our materialistic and anti-social instincts. Yet, by making R and the rest of his zombie buddies already quite human (in both appearance and personality), the true scale and enormity of their journey from hunger-driven undead back to vibrant living people is severely muted in the movie. In the book, the Boneys constitute an upper-class of authority figures who maintain control of the zombie society, but in the movie they're relegated to the pithy role of CGI boogeymen. Likewise, Julie's father -- a more complex man in the book -- is reduced to a short hand of traits and loses all his edge as a man who has become as dead inside as the zombies he hates. In this way, the entirety of Warm Bodies seems scaled down in scope. There's less at stake, less humour, less social commentary, less romance, and it's certainly way less fun.

Love is messy.
I don't even think Warm Bodies was cast to suit its script as much as it was cast to replicate the Twilight franchise. Looking at Hoult and Palmer, it's hard to miss the fact they look a lot like Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. Oh, to be a lumpy-faced young man in Hollywood! Fortunately, Hoult and Palmer are much better actors (or at least have slightly better material to work with) than those in the Twilight franchise. Even funnyman Rob Corddry is able to make some pretty shitty one-liners pass muster. Take it from me: Warm Bodies has more heart, edge, and more plot in its first act than the first three Twilight movies have in their entirety. But saying Warm Bodies is more substantial than Twilight is also like saying Kim Kardashian is more talented than Paris Hilton. Neither are very good.

My hope is that whatever success Warm Bodies finds at the box office will drive new fans to the much superior novel by Isacc Marion. If this review has put bad taste in your mouth about Warm Bodies the movie, I urge you to pick up the original novel instead (read our 5/5 zedhead review). The novel offers all the poignancy, heart, wit, and excitement that Warm Bodies promised but failed to bring to theatres.