Warm Bodies Review
You’ll be hard pressed to find a more entertaining film than Warm Bodies this Valentine’s Day.
January is notorious for bringing out the worst in what Hollywood has to offer each year, even if there are a couple of gems released every so often. When February comes around, even more crappy films are released, including the sappy romantic comedies and dramatic dreck produced solely for making money off Valentine’s Day. However, sometimes we get a great new film that turns the romantic genre on its head, providing delightfully sweet entertainment. This year, I put my money on Warm Bodies, a Shaun of the Dead-type of zombie flick that also functions as a romantic comedy, perfect for the season. Although the concept of a zombie and a human falling in love with one another was intriguing, what truly caught my eye here was the fact that director Jonathan Levine helmed the project. He is renowned for directing the critically-acclaimed comedic drama 50/50, which also gained plenty of attention from audiences and film organizations around award season in 2011. Having also penned the screenplay, does Levine’s adaptation of Warm Bodies present a good film for couples to see this Valentine’s Day?
In Warm Bodies, the world is coming to an end. Much of mankind has fallen prey to an outbreak of zombies, and now there is only a small pocket of survivors left secluded behind an enormous man-made fortress within a city. One day, Julie Grigio (Teresa Palmer) and some of her friends – sent by Julie’s father General Grigio (John Malkovich), leader of the resistance – leave the safety of their walled-off sanctuary to search for supplies. They are then attacked by a group of zombies on a hunt for human flesh, and ultimately a zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult) kills Julie’s boyfriend and then falls in love with her at first sight. With that, he takes her away and promises to protect her as a way to ensure that she falls in love with him. Over time, both Julie and R realize that his feelings of love are warming up his heart, slowly turning him back into a human. The two then work together a plan to bring Julie back to the fortress and then convince her father of the potential cure for the zombies.
Warm Bodies really could have been an utter failure due to its risky premise. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this pleasantly surprising romantic comedy. Warm Bodies doesn’t quite reach the epic scale of zombie comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, though. The script is certainly hampered down by clichés and plot devices that plague the genre, especially with the implementation of what the story calls “bonies.” Basically, these are zombies that have wasted away to the point that they are essentially skeletons – however, their other key characteristic is that they only hunt after organisms with beating hearts. From that detail alone, it’s easy enough to pinpoint what sort of singular purpose they have in the story, which I found particularly disappointing. Still, the bonies make for some scary villains.
I also have to express some disappointment for the lack of attention placed on developing the world and backstory of the film’s version of the zombie apocalypse, but I can forgive this since Warm Bodies is otherwise strengthened by the characters, humor and thematic material. Despite the other plot shortcomings, Warm Bodies is still one of the freshest, cutest and endlessly entertaining romantic comedies to come out in recent years. This film’s success is mainly rooted in the character R, who I can easily compare to WALL-E. Both characters are previously “unfeeling” entities that learn to love and think, they become entangled in a romantic relationship, and of course both like to collect things that they ultimately share with those they become smitten with. Also, one thing I found particularly funny about R is how Jonathan Levine managed to work in inner monologues that provide for some of the most hilarious dialogue in the film. This story is told from his perspective, anyhow, and thankfully it does well to help the audience care about him- it worked on me, at least. His relationship with Julie is cheesy, but the script’s self-awareness ultimately allows their romance to unfold in a sweet and believable way. The comedy itself is generally great, for the script ranges from the dark humor of R’s inner monologue, clever slapstick and simply witty dialogue. One last thing I really appreciated about Warm Bodies is although it has its similarities with previous love stories such as Romeo & Juliet – just look at the names of the two lead characters – and that it also blends together many different genres, this film still has its own identity in themes, storyline and genre, providing for a pleasantly unique experience. Being a melting pot of many different elements of cinema, Warm Bodies is a romantic comedy unlike anything I’ve previously seen.
Although the script is impressive in its own right, what mainly holds Warm Bodies together is Nicholas Hoult’s performance. I already enjoyed his work as Beast in X-Men: First Class, but this film proved to me that this is an actor to watch out for. He is the perfect embodiment of a zombie in both his line delivery – which is often quite hilarious – and mannerisms. Zombie purists may be annoyed by some of the differences his character has with those of commonly-accepted zombie lore, but his performance is hilarious and enjoyable. Warm Bodies is also a nice turnaround for Teresa Palmer, who most people may remember from Bedtime Stories, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and I Am Number Four. I don’t care much for any of those three films so her casting in this film didn’t excite me, but to my surprise she performed decently alongside Nicholas Hoult. Quite frankly, her performance is nowhere near as deep (let alone comedic) as Hoult’s, but at least she is likeable and has good chemistry with her undead counterpart. John Malkovich is good in the scenes he is in, but sadly director Jonathan Levine didn’t leave enough space for Malkovich to develop his character or have any truly comedic moments. One wonders if he took the small part simply to get a paycheck, but he does well enough. The definite scene-stealer in Warm Bodies is Rob Corddry, who plays R’s best friend in the film. In many ways, he is almost an equal to Nicholas Hoult in terms of how many laughs and emotions he evokes out of the audience with his performance. Occasionally his lines felt slightly forced, but generally Rob Corddry’s role proved to be very beneficial to the entertainment factor of this film.
Warm Bodies also happens to have a pleasingly bleak visual aesthetic – at least, it’s impressive enough on a smaller budget. The zombies are convincing due to a suave usage of makeup and practical effects, although the computer-generated bonies could have used more polish. The great makeup work in this production compliments Nicholas Hoult’s performance, creating a memorable zombie. Also, despite my disappointment in the lack of development in the post-apocalyptic world within the story, the production design is still excellent. The editing and cinematography in this picture are also well done, even if a couple of the action sequences are disorienting. Still, what we get here are well-assembled sequences that keep the film’s pace moving along at a steady clip, while the imagery in Warm Bodies is crisp – even picturesque in some cases. I also have to commend Buck Sanders and Oscar nominee Marco Beltrami for their musical score, for there are definitely many sweet moments triggered by the music here. They compliment a range of emotions quite well, also heightening the tension when necessary. The soundtrack is perhaps more impressive, though, for the range of songs selected for various scenes lend Warm Bodies a suitable John Hughes mood.
Out of all the films that are slated to release in theaters in time for Valentine’s Day, I expect that most people will be flocking to multiplexes for the newest Die Hard film. However, for those looking for a decent romantic experience this Valentine’s Day, Warm Bodies is a good choice. Even then, Jonathan Levine’s adaptation of the novel is simply a very enjoyable romantic comedy that can be appreciated at any time of the year. Making good use of its unique premise, Warm Bodies is sweet, funny and even emotional. Comparisons to Twilight will be made, but this film does not deserve them. Warm Bodies is quality entertainment that has a unique identity of its own; even though it borrows ideas from other fictional works, this fun romantic comedy stands well enough on its own to hold its ground against other romantic films. This zombie flick will make you laugh, and perhaps warm your heart.