Zombies are the new craze, apparently, so here we have Warm Bodies, which hopes to make them sexy. The film is a love story and comedy about how true love — or, love falsified by eating the brains of someone who loved another person — can restart the heart and turn someone who used to a corpse back into a living person. Either accept that premise right now or walk out now and never think about Warm Bodies again; you need to accept it to even come close to enjoying this movie.
The film begins with R (Nicholas Hoult), a corpse — the word “zombie” is never used, I don’t think, to describe his kind; at least, it isn’t by them — who spends his days wandering around an airport. He’s not sure why. The world has basically ended, with most humans either dead for real or dead as a corpse. The corpses keep a shred of their humanity for some amount of time before eventually giving up, losing all of their skin, and becoming “Boneys,” which are completely animalistic. Both groups need to eat humans in order to survive. If corpses eat a brain, they are able to gain its knowledge and memories.
On a hunting trip one day, a group of corpses encounter a group of humans. R winds up eating the brain of a guy named Perry (Dave Franco), who is the boyfriend of Julie (Teresa Palmer). Instantly, R falls in love with Julie. He saves her from the other corpses, takes her back to his “home” — an airplane on the runway of the airport — and keeps her safe. She doesn’t know he ate her boyfriend, and while she’s a little repulsed, especially because her father (John Malkovich) is the leader of the corpse-killers, she’s grateful she was able to live.
R’s heart begins beating. He starts to be able to speak with a greater proficiency. He even starts sleeping and dreaming. Julie sees this and while she doesn’t share the same feelings of love that R does — not right away, anyway, spoiler alert. Other corpses see them and begin changing, too. Together, they realize that love is the cure and that Julie’s father needs to know.
I’ll leave the plot here because, yes, it’s basically going where you expect. This is a movie with a simple story and a simple goal. It’s essentially a Romeo & Juliet adaptation — R and Julie, come on — but with zombies. There’s even a balcony scene in Warm Bodies, in case you didn’t quite “get” it before. R has a friend named “Marcus,” even. It’s not going for subtlety. There is little doubt that true love is going to cure the corpses — the only question is whether or not the Boneys are going to be able to ruin the party.
My guess is that the target audience for this type of film is the teenage girls who made up a bulk of the Twilight crowd. That’s fine. That would explain how a big battle involving corpses, Boneys, and humans winds up as less of a fight and more of a “let’s get this action over with” scene. We see more running than fighting. I don’t really have a problem with that. The focus is on the love, and how it can bring people out of the darkness and into the light — even if they’re a corpse, I guess.
The problem I have is that the film is barely romantic even if its focus is on the love. It makes little sense for Julie to have had her boyfriend die and then fall for someone who can barely even speak. R is sweet, but the film doesn’t delve deep enough into Julie’s mind to explain to us why se likes him at all. The comedy is lacking, with the only real laughs coming from the slightly satirical inner monologues from R. The other drama doesn’t work and the scares will only make very young viewers jump.
It’s just all so middle-of-the-road, I found. It’s cute, sweet, and well-meaning, but it doesn’t do anything particularly well. It’s not bad, either, I’d like to stress; it’s just incredibly mediocre. It’s watchable and it’s not going to bore but it’s also not going to make you feel much of anything. Its primary point can’t connect because it’s love doesn’t feel true. This might be a fun world to explore but its focus is so narrow, by design, that we never get to explore it.
Nicholas Hoult gets to go through a progression as the lead, R. He starts off barely able to say a word, and eventually, well, you’ll see. His transformation is fun to watch and Hoult does a good job at portraying all the stages of coming back to life. Teresa Palmer, as the love interest, does nothing much but be there and sometimes run to other places. The two have no chemistry, although that might have (mostly) been on purpose. Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, Analeigh Tipton, and John Malkovich each show up for a few scenes and a paycheck.
Warm Bodies is sweet and kind-hearted but it’s also terribly mediocre and has a narrow focus which means we don’t get to see much of the world the filmmakers have created. It’s all about the love story, and because the only kind of works — there is no chemistry between the two leads and the film never explores why the female would fall for the corpse — it all falls apart. This isn’t going to offend anyone and it remains watchable throughout, but it’s not something that’s worth seeking out. It’s Romeo & Juliet with zombies substituting for passion.