What if a zombie fell in love?
Surely a question we've all asked ourselves at one point or another.
It's also Warm Bodies' unique concept, introducing to the world the odd notion of a rom-zom-com. A world that's way into zombie-themed things these days, what with the likes of The Walking Dead, World War Z and Zombieland doing so well and all.
Despite the odd premise, Warm Bodies looked like a winner. After all, Fido had proven that zombie movies didn't always have to be depressing affairs and that familiar zombie lore could be toyed around with a little in order to make it fit into more off-beat settings and genres. This movie opens like a cross between Zombieland and Wall-E, following Nicholas Hoult's lumbering zombie who spends his days mindlessly walking around an airport grunting, eating the occasional brain and playing music in his abandoned private jet home. Several new zombie ideas are soon introduced to us: zombies can think and actually think quite a bit, zombies can talk if they try really hard and when zombies eat someone's brains they get that person's memories. Oh, also zombies have feelings. It's all pretty ludicrous but it's handled well enough that you buy it, for the first hour anyway. Hoult makes a good lead and a good zombie, giving his basically gross character a sort of Edward Scissorhands-esque charm to him. His airport pal is played by Rob Croddry who is slightly less convincing at being a zombie, always looking a little too... alive and self-aware. The plot sees R (Hoult) join a group of zombies to go to the city and find people's brains to eat. He finds Dave Franco's character, eats his brain, then grabs Julie (Franco's girlfriend, played by Teresa Palmer) and brings her back to his home. He keeps her safe and they develop a kind of friendship as R slowly starts talking more and more, curing himself essentially. In case you haven't figure it out yet, R and Julie are essentially Romeo and Juliet but one's a zombie and the other's human. With John Malkovitch showing up as Lord Capulet, I suppose.
So anyway, the zombies are getting better but there's a new threat in town: "bonies", zombies who ripped out their skin and somehow got faster and stronger. They're pretty creepy and unless the zombies can warn the humans and make them believe that they are, indeed, getting "warmer", big trouble lies ahead. It's a unique take on zombie lore, that's for sure, and the film, in that sense, is pretty creative. But the whole Romeo and Juliet parallel is taken too far as we realise that it doesn't really make much sense in that particular setting.
It worked for Underworld, just about, but let's not get too carried away here!
The romance between R and Julie has cute elements to it but is ultimately not even remotely believable, coming off as goofy rather than sweet. Plus, if you're going to spend this much effort staying close to Shakespeare's story then at least make the film a tragedy instead of ending on an inappropriate Berlin-wall-getting-knocked-down metaphor. The first half of the film was playful and worked but then it was almost like it started taking itself seriously and lost track of what made it fun in the first place. I mean, I'm not sure that Warm Bodies should have been this concerned about bringing people together, with zombies and humans becoming best buddies and even (yuck) making out and being in relationships with each other. So many plot holes are left open by the end that it's completely distracting: we never know how zombies cured themselves, except for the "power of love", which heals waaaay too many things in movies, frankly, humans and zombies became pals much too quickly, we don't really know why they're still zombies at the end if they're technically alive, we don't know why their scars all healed miraculously... It's all much too inconsistent and really just doesn't make any sense. The film should lose you in that last half hour, no matter how involved you were in the story and its characters prior to that. It's a shame because there really was the potential here to un-Twilight what Twilight had done but, in the end, we still get a confused Romeo and Juliet knock-off packed with necrophilia, weird morals and monsters playing baseball. Looks like Zombieland and Fido are still the modern zombie comedies to watch.
While it had a promising set-up and an involving build-up, Warm Bodies just couldn't make this outlandish tale of love and corpses work all the way through. A solid performance by Hoult aside, this is one zom-com that's just not as sharp and as funny as it could and should have been.