Tag Archives: 2016 movies

Movie Review – Star Trek: Beyond

Star Trek: Beyond is an interesting addition to the Star Trek universe. Of the new alternate timeline films, it’s certainly the most Trek-feeling of the bunch, and it’s the best at making use of its ensemble cast. Unfortunately, it’s still just not that great a movie, in spite of being great fun to watch.

Somewhat, but not totally, spoiler-y review ahead.

Beyond opens with the Enterprise already three and a half years into their famous five-year mission, which is somewhat disappointing to begin with. We get to see just the last bit of the crew’s most recent adventure before the movie dives right into James Kirk’s (Chris Pine) existential crisis. Apparently, after several years of being captain of a state-of-the-art spaceship where he’s responsible for a crew of hundreds, he’s now questioning whether he wants to be there at all, and the rest of the movie is basically about how Kirk gets his groove back. While the rest of the cast has a bit more to do in Beyond than in the last two Trek movies, Kirk’s dilemma—which isn’t whether or not to stay in Starfleet, but whether or not to take a promotion to admiral, which it’s frankly unclear how exactly he’s earned—makes up the central emotional arc of the film.

Sure, this is a thin and rather boring basis for getting the audience invested in the story, but it would have been fine if equal attention had been paid to some of the other characters who are also dealing with some life stuff. Spock (Zachary Quinto), in a touching tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy, is dealing with the in-universe death of his mentor, Ambassador Spock, and his relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is on the rocks, but most of this is explored through Spock’s conversations with McCoy (Karl Urban) and several short shots of Zachary Quinto looking sad. Yes, I cried more than once, because I’m not a monster, but those tears were only partly earned (I really loved Leonard Nimoy, okay?). Spock and Kirk barely interact at all in this film, and their lack of communication could indicate problems in their relationship as well, but their whole inability to be truly emotionally intimate with each other is hand-waved at the end of the film with what feels like a wink to the audience. Kirk and Spock might spend a whole movie with hardly a word to say to each other, and their lack of communication can be explicitly pointed out in conversations with other characters, but really we all know that there could never be any real trouble in that paradise. It’s a missed opportunity to add some depth and nuance to the Kirk/Spock friendship. Instead of examining these ideas further, they instead play the situation almost for laughs.

Much was made in the week or two before the film’s release of the revelation that Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) is gay in the reboot’s alternate universe, but it turns out to be much ado about, well, not nothing, but still not much. Ostensibly, the filmmakers were trying to raise the stakes by having Sulu’s husband and daughter on the Yorktown space station that the Enterprise crew spends most of the movie saving, but the revelation of Sulu’s partner and child happens quickly and without remark. There’s no scene to properly introduce us to Sulu’s family, and between our first sight of them and their reappearance at the end of the movie they are never once mentioned. I suppose the audience ought to be able to infer the personal significance the threat to Yorktown has for Sulu, but he gets a good amount to do in this movie. Would it have killed them to include some line, clichéd as it would be, to the effect of “My family is on that station!”? In a relatively high-paced action flick, it’s easy to lose these kind of subtler character beats in the shuffle of other things going on, and I’d rather have a slightly cliché line to highlight the point than see it get lost as I think Sulu’s story, tertiary as it is, does here.

One relationship that did work well in Beyond was the one between McCoy and Spock, but even that is somewhat overshadowed by the movie’s larger events. Still, there’s real humor and a friendly chemistry on display in the scenes shared by Urban and Quinto. Their adversarial affection is perfectly pitched and cleverly written, and both actors turn in nice performances. I wish the same could be said of Saldana and Cho as the similarly paired-off Uhura and Sulu. While that pair gets to participate in some theoretically important plot material, neither actor seems to really have their heart in it, and Cho’s performance in particular feels at times very wooden. The late Anton Yelchin’s performance as Chekov is little more than workmanlike, but it’s enough for the material he’s given. He’s paired off with Kirk for the parts of the movie that he’s actually visible in, and it’s not bad. It feels as if this movie was written very intentionally to shake up some of the character pairings in order to set it apart from the previous two movies and perhaps to give each character more time to shine, but I’d say this was done with mixed success at best.

Co-writer Simon Pegg reprises his role as Scotty, and he finds himself paired with relative newcomer Sofia Boutella, who plays the cringeworthily named Jaylah, a young woman trying to escape from the planet the Enterprise crew finds themselves trapped on. I think the intent of all of Jaylah’s scenes with Scotty (and, later, Kirk) is to be sweet, but I found the overall effect to be creepily condescending, and Jaylah to be unusually and selectively naïve and childlike in a way that was consistently unpleasant. She does get a few badass moments, and the struggle to get Jaylah’s crashed ship “house” up and flying sets her up as a sort of engineering savant while also offering some moments of genuine comedy. On the bright side, Jaylah gets something like a character arc as the Enterprise crew hijacks her escape plan and forces her to help them get off the planet and stop the villain, and she even gets a truly happy ending, which was surprising. After the senseless killing of a couple of other new-to-this-installment female characters, I was fully expecting Jaylah to die tragically, so it was a pleasant surprise that by the end of the film her future is actually looking pretty bright.

Let’s talk about this villain, though. I love Idris Elba as much as the next red-blooded woman, but he’s a bit wasted in the role of Krall, who is one of the movie’s biggest problems. It’s not that Elba is a bad actor, and Krall definitely looks the part of a menacing Trek villain, but it’s never really clear exactly what Krall’s motivation is for wanting to commit such an enormous atrocity as killing a space station on the scale of Yorktown. Even when his supposed reasoning is revealed near the end of the movie, it’s not clear what his actual goal is. He’s an old soldier, and he misses war so he thinks a massive act of terrorism is going to turn back the clock on progress? Okay, but that doesn’t actually make much sense, and it doesn’t help that the revelation of Krall’s identity comes seemingly out of nowhere. In hindsight, I think I remember some hints at it throughout the movie, but the pacing is so frantic throughout that the eventual reveal feels blindsiding. It’s obvious that Krall is supposed to work as a sort of foil for Kirk, with both men experiencing doubt, unrest and disillusionment after years in Starfleet, but this isn’t explored enough to make one really care that much about it, and it’s resolved in the same pat fashion as every other conflict of the film.

On a more personal level, though, the biggest problem that I have with Beyond is that, though it does a much better job than the last couple of Trek efforts did at incorporating women characters into the story, women’s representation still kind of sucks. I already mentioned a couple of the issues I had with Jaylah, but to cap it all off she ends up damselled and has to be rescued by Kirk before they leave the planet, after which she is mostly absent until she shows up right at the end to be written out of the narrative. She does get a happy ending, as I stated earlier, but it feels much more like the tying up of a loose end than anything else—so they don’t have a repeat of uncomfortable questions like “Whatever happened to Carol Marcus?” Uhura doesn’t have to be rescued, but I loathe any time when a male character shows up unnecessarily to rescue a woman and it’s called out in the text. It’s not cute or funny, and it’s a simple aversion of the trope that is old and tired enough that it’s become its own trope. It’s 2016, and this is boring and lazy writing.

Also, and this is just sad, for all that Beyond has plenty of women, theoretically doing lots of stuff, it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. And I get it; the Bechdel test isn’t the be all and end all of measuring the representation of women in film, but it’s honestly kind of impressive just how many women appear in Star Trek: Beyond without any of them actually interacting with each other. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I don’t recall any two female characters exchanging even one word together about anything. Even when Uhura is forced to watch another woman member of the crew get killed, I don’t think they talk to each other. Instead, Uhura only talks with Krall and watches helplessly as he murders the other woman.

This general lack of presence of women in the film is made worse by nearly all of the women characters being completely useless. They get a decent amount of screen time, and they’re all doing things, but none of the things they do seem to actually matter very much. Minor villainess Kalara manages to lure the Enterprise to Altamid, but she’s quickly disposed of. Uhura is desperately working with Sulu to escape their captivity or something, but I’m still not certain I really understand what she actually accomplishes. In the end, all of the captured crew members have to be rescued by Kirk and company. Jaylah has managed to survive alone on Altamid for years, and she’s gotten the radio working in her ship, but it takes Scotty to actually get the thing in the air and off the planet. And, ultimately, Krall is defeated by Kirk in true Trek tradition—in a bout of manly fisticuffs, just two men fighting a symbolic battle between good and evil, chaos and order, civilization and barbarism, progressive values and old hatreds—without a woman in sight.

Here’s the thing, though. I still kind of loved this movie. It was highly enjoyable and had some really excellent action sequences that made me happy to have shelled out for 3D. I was happy to see Shohreh Aghdashloo being typecast as a sci-fi woman of authority; she should be in everything ever, really. I adored the tribute paid to Leonard Nimoy, and I was never bored even when the film was at its most predictable. Of the new Trek films, this one certainly feels the most Trek-like, and that counts for a lot in my book as well. Realistically, I don’t think this (or any of the new Trek movies) will be something I want to watch again anytime soon, but I’m happy to have seen it once, and I recommend it equally for lovers of Star Trek and lovers of high-energy action adventure flicks. And do see it in 3D; Yorktown is worth it.

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

I loved Ghostbusters.

I rather expected to, to be honest, and I went prepared to enjoy it in spite of its flaws after the trailers for it were so widely criticized and there was so much negativity surrounding its mere existence. Still, when there is so much negativity and outright hatred surrounding a movie, it’s easy to lower one’s expectations.

Ghostbusters is really, really good.

That’s not to say that it’s a flawless film. Some of the humor misses its mark; Chris Hemsworth’s inept receptionist, Kevin, is very one-note; the villain (Neil Casey) is underdeveloped; and there are at least a couple of scenes that seem to have been included literally just because Kate McKinnon is hilarious. I mean, yeah, Kate McKinnon is a riot, but one oughtn’t to let her hijinks take over to the point where they cause pacing problems—and they do, a little. Still, Ghostbusters is exactly what it ought to be: a delightfully funny low-middle brow summer movie whose flaws are far outweighed by its positive aspects, which are practically legion.

By far my favorite thing about Ghostbusters is how it showcases the friendships between its four main characters. It’s refreshingly naturalistic the way these women come into each other’s lives, and it’s great to see a healthy, functional female friend group take center stage in a major summer movie. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones have an easy chemistry together that really sells the evolution of the group as friends and colleagues and makes their interactions a pleasure to watch. Each woman has a distinct role to play, and all of them contribute significantly to the group. Best of all their group dynamic is totally free of anything resembling cattiness or jealousy. Sure, Abby (McCarthy) and Erin (Wiig) have a history that has to be resolved, but Erin and Jillian (McKinnon) are never competitive for Abby’s attention and when new friend Patty (Jones) joins the team she’s accepted quickly and immediately settles into the group as if she’s always been there.

Speaking of Patty, I was very concerned when the first trailer came out that she was going to be a sassy, street smart stereotype. Leslie Jones herself took to Twitter at the time to assure fans that this wasn’t the case, and she was right. Patty Tolan isn’t street smart; she’s book smart, a local historian whose vast knowledge of New York and excellent deductive skills are key to saving the city. That said, criticisms that a black woman is the only non-scientist in the group are reasonable, and while the racial makeup of the cast mirrors that of the original Ghostbusters I’d like to think we can do better than that over thirty years later. If anything, New York City has only gotten more diverse in that time, and with all the ongoing conversations about representation in media—Ghostbusters has itself been at the center of that because of the choice to reboot the franchise with an all-female cast—there are fewer excuses than ever to have a cast as white as this one. Do better, casting directors.

The actual story in Ghostbusters is pretty thin, which is firmly in the tradition of the franchise, but villain Rowan is an interesting choice. For most women and anyone tuned into feminist discourse, Rowan’s misogyny, pathological aggrievement, delusions of grandeur, and his simmering, rage-fueled sense of entitlement will all feel familiar. We have almost all met this man, and if we have we’ve definitely fantasized about how to vanquish him. Ghostbusters taps into that fantasy and provides a pleasant catharsis at the end, in spite of its very silly plot.

Fortunately, what the movie lacks in the storytelling department it more than makes up for in the sheer unadulterated fun department. All four leads fulfill their roles with joy and gusto. Kate McKinnon in particular brings a manic energy to the screen that is downright infectious. Cameos by most of the original cast are for the most part well-integrated, and there are some nicely done visual jokes and references to both the first and second Ghostbusters, though younger children and those unfamiliar with the older films may not catch all of them. While a couple of running gags in the film outstay their welcome, I (and everyone else in the theatre except for maybe one fedora-wearing dude) laughed constantly throughout the nearly two-hour runtime.

Ghostbusters isn’t a cinematic masterpiece by any means—though the special effects are top notch and masterfully walk the line between cartoonish and creepy; be sure to see it in 3D—but it’s a truly excellent summer movie that more than does justice to the original movie and smartly updates the material to entrance a new generation of children with its message that the power of friendship can conquer cynicism and hate. Also, ghosts.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

Charles Dance is an absolute treasure.

I wish they had made better use of the delightful Matt Walsh.

Gertrude the ghost is beautiful.

DO stay through the entire credits.

ghostbusters2016

 

Movie Review – Warcraft: The Beginning

Video game movies are, in general, never good, and Warcraft isn’t, either, if I’m honest. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by it after the numerous very negative reviews it received. It might not be a good movie, in any objective sense of the word, but Warcraft is fun, and it tries hard, tackling its complex source material with an obviously loving respect and attention to detail while also clearly having some thought put into diversity and how to address problems like the lack of women in the story. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely a movie worth seeing if you like the Warcraft games or if you aren’t too much a snob to enjoy this sort of decidedly middle-brow epic sword and sorcery.

Having only played World of Warcraft, myself, my knowledge of the Warcraft lore adapted for the film is somewhat limited, but from what I can tell, it’s brought to screen more or less faithfully. My partner’s biggest nitpick was that Dalaran isn’t supposed to be floating yet at this point in the story, but the Dalaran scenes were cool-looking enough—and the floating city is iconic enough for WoW players—that I can see why the filmmakers would make that change. The look of the film in general was definitely heavily influenced by WoW, and the orcs in particular looked much the same as they do in the game’s most recent expansion. This is actually true of pretty much everything we see on screen; much of it is lifted straight from the games and simply animated with more polygons. It’s a nice bit of visual continuity to tie the film to the games, but it would have been good to see a little more effort made to give the movie some style of its own as well.

Still, I was prepared for the heavy use of CGI to be completely overwhelming, and it wasn’t at all. Instead, everything looked good, not realistic, but enjoyably fantastical, and the magic effects in particular were excellently conceived and delivered. That said, I’d recommend skipping 3D. There’s plenty of scenery porn (Stormwind!) and some really lovely shots as Anduin Lothar rides around on his griffon, but the 3D never did feel fully immersive, and I can’t say that it added much to the viewing experience. At any rate, whatever the filmmakers thought 3D would add, it wasn’t important enough for the movie to be shot in real 3D, and it shows. It’s not terrible to look at, but you’re better off saving the extra $3-5 you’d spend for glasses.

From a storytelling perspective, the film is clearly overstuffed as it tries to squeeze two games’ worth of story into a movie of watchable length. At 123 minutes, I’d say this is done with mixed success. Another half hour of runtime would have given the story a little more space to breathe and wouldn’t have been too long. If the reportedly godawful Batman v Superman is allowed to drag on for 151 minutes, surely Warcraft could have gotten a little more time to round out its character arcs in a more satisfying fashion. Nearly every problem I have with Warcraft, from its sometimes odd tonal shifts to its clunky exposition to its far-too-rushed character work, could have been solved with just a few more minutes of movie. For all that I’ve seen Warcraft called bloated, I think it would be better described as just bursting at the seams. It’s not so much that there’s too much story; it’s that it’s stuffed into far too small a container.

Sadly, this is most evident when it comes to the treatment of the movie’s female characters. Poor Draka, charming as the very sweet opening scene of the movie is, exists only to give birth and die tragically. The always luminous Ruth Negga is utterly wasted as Queen Taria, whose name I had to google and who has little to do aside from standing around looking beautiful, though she does have a conversation with Garona that gives the movie a Bechdel test pass. Garona’s story is handled in a way that is, frankly, baffling. She’s by far the most developed of the female characters, but much of what passes as character development and arc for Garona happens in a sort of shorthand that just… doesn’t work, especially when it comes to her romance with Anduin Lothar and the friendship she’s supposed to have with Llane Wrynn, which diminishes the impact of the movie’s ending unless you’re familiar enough with Warcraft lore to fill in the blanks yourself.

The thing is, though, in spite of these failures you can tell watching the movie that the filmmakers cared about doing right by all of these women. They aren’t always successful, and sometimes fail entirely, but there’s a mindfulness in the execution of their stories that is refreshing, was even pleasantly surprising for me as I went into the film knowing that Warcraft is basically a complete sausage fest until much later in the game.

Yes, Draka literally exists to give birth and die to save her infant (who Warcraft fans will know is Thrall), but real effort is made to show us something of who Draka is and to make the viewer care about this woman for her own sake. She has a personality—she’s fierce, loyal, and loving, with a nice sense of humor—and her death is legitimately sad, and while we aren’t given much time to mourn her, we also aren’t forced to experience the loss of Draka through the eyes of a male character. Instead, we’re totally denied the reaction of her husband, Durotan, which encourages the viewer to contemplate Draka’s death without regard to whatever manpain it might have caused in some other film and prevents it from being a fridging.

Sure, Queen Taria doesn’t get a lot to do, but the fact that she’s present at all is kind of an achievement after the better part of two decades of Kings of Stormwind having no wives (or mothers) at all. I wasn’t expecting this movie to pass the Bechdel test at all, and Taria’s conversation with Garona is small, but important. Also, it’s worth pointing out that women of color don’t often get cast in the role of the good, gentle, beautiful queen, so one can even make the argument that casting Ruth Negga is quietly significant all on its own. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but you could say that she doesn’t have to do anything necessarily except exist in a space that is usually reserved for white women.

Paula Patton’s turn as Garona seems to be one of the most polarizing parts of the film, though I have to say that most opinions on her performance seem to be negative. However, I completely disagree with her detractors. It’s not Patton’s performance that is bad, though talking around tusks doesn’t help anything. Rather, most of Garona’s speeches are not very well-scripted, and her arc is harmed more than that of any other character by the missing 30 minutes or so of film. Indeed, it feels, over and over again, as if anytime a scene or line needed to be cut short for time, it’s Garona’s part that is diminished. Basically, Garona obviously ought to be the main protagonist of the film, but instead her role was scaled back to make more room for Khadgar or something. As a result, all of Garona’s relationships with other characters feel half-baked, and when it’s important that we feel something about her—the ending of the movie is seriously some Greek tragedy-level stuff—it’s hard to muster up the appropriate level of emotion.

In the end, though, my biggest complaints about women’s representation in the movie are complaints that I’ve always had about the games, particularly World of Warcraft, as well. First, I will forever hate the extreme sexual dimorphism of the non-human characters. Though Draka is definitely portrayed as tough and powerful, as an orc she’s literally less than half the size of the males of her species, who are just ridiculously massive. I’m sure that some people find the “but that’s how Warcraft orcs have always been” argument persuasive, but this is one major way in which the movie could have set itself apart visually from the games. It’s also fairly easily accomplished, since all of the orcs are CGI characters; the filmmakers aren’t limited by anything but their own imaginations (or lack thereof). Second, and most importantly, however, aside from the three named women I’ve discussed, there are almost no visible women in the movie in spite of the Warcraft world being canonically egalitarian. I think I saw one woman knight (or whatever) in Stormwind, but I can’t recall there being any other orc women aside from Draka. Relatively recent studies have found that women (51% of the population) only make up 17% of the people in crowd scenes in popular films, and Warcraft surely falls well below even that sad threshold. This is especially disappointing in a movie that otherwise shows so many marks of consciousness of gender issues.

The rest of the movie is fine, but much of it doesn’t stand out as particularly good or offensively bad. I had high hopes for Daniel Wu as Gul’dan and Clancy Brown as Blackhand, but neither of them were recognizable in their roles. Dominic Cooper was fine as Llane Wrynn, but the Good King is always one of the most boring characters in any movie. Ben Foster was almost comically inscrutable as Medivh, another character who suffers for lack of screen time. Travis Fimmel tried manfully to give Anduin Lothar some depth and gravitas, but is weighed down by awkward writing; his most important relationships—with Llane and Garona—are sadly shortchanged, and a shoehorned in plot concerning Anduin’s son serves more to distract from the character’s story than enhance it.

Finally, Ben Schnetzer’s Khadgar is a little too dull, too bumbling, and generally lacking in personality to be very likeable. He seems intended to be the character whose perspective—as a young man, as an outsider, as a beginning adventurer of sorts—the audience identifies with, but it’s hard to see this magical wunderkind as someone that I’d want to be. If I had to hazard a guess on that score, though, I’d guess that I (a 33-year-old feminist woman) am not exactly the movie’s target audience. If they really want to appeal to me, they ought to have given me sassy silver fox Khadgar from Warlords of Draenor.

Warcraft isn’t a cinematic masterpiece by any means, but it’s watchable enough that I wouldn’t mind going to see it again sans 3D and I’m looking forward to the DVD release. I’m even hoping that the popularity of the movie in China will help make a sequel or two or three happen. Mostly, though, I’m hoping that there’s going to be some kind of director’s cut made available that addresses some of the issues in the theatrical version. That’s the movie I want to see.

Movie Review: Zootopia

Zootopia is perhaps the best animated film Disney has ever made. It’s gorgeous to look at, with a great voice cast, a solid story, a lot of laughs, and a great message. It also the perfect way to capitalize on the crushes that probably millions of now-parents had on certain other cartoon foxes when we were kids. I loved it so much.

Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman are perfectly cast in the lead roles. Judy Hopps is a great protagonist—smart, creative, tough, kind, and flawed in ways far more complex than is typical of the heroes in most children’s movies. Bateman’s Nick Wilde is the first time in years that I’ve liked him in anything; he’s a perfectly lovable rogue, with enough intelligence and depth to keep him from being a stock sidekick for Goodwin’s Judy. The friendship between the two characters grows in a way that feels real and honest, and their eventual breakup and ultimate reconciliation feel earned.

The supporting cast of characters is wonderful, with Idris Elba as Judy’s gruff superior, the Cape buffalo Bogo, Nate Torrence as Clawhauser the cheetah, J.K. Simmons as Mayor Lionheart, Jenny Slate as Assistant Mayor Bellwether, and Shakira as pop star Gazelle. Tommy Chong plays a nudist Yak, Alan Tudyk is a criminal weasel, Octavia Spencer plays the wife of one of the movie’s missing mammals, and Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake are Judy’s loving, if imperfectly supportive, parents. While most of these characters do fall into standard tropes for this sort of story, the tropes utilized are well-chosen and nicely put together in a way that avoids being cliché. The buddy cop mystery plot isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s a particularly excellent story of its type, and the cast is more than up for the challenge of bringing it to life.

The greatest strength of Zootopia, though, is the way it handles its largest theme—how racism works. With a maturity and grace not usually seen in adult films, much less in a movie for kids, Zootopia manages to break down systems of oppression in a way that even a child can understand. Certainly it’s not uncommon for writers of all kinds to use fantasy worlds and fantasy races/species as stand-ins for real world people in allegorical examinations of race issues, but what is done here is something pretty special. Zootopia goes a step further and looks at the ways in which even people who are marginalized in some ways can be privileged in other ways. And more—Zootopia doesn’t stick to any cutesy situations; it’s a straight up police state situation, and protagonist Judy is at the center of the events that bring it about. To be sure, she’s also part of the solution, but only after taking a long hard look at her own actions and committing herself to being and doing better.

It’s a timely, poignant film that doesn’t have any pat answers to the contemporary problems it deals with. Instead, Zootopia’s central message is summed up in its only original song, “Try Everything,” a paean to perseverance. The world may not be perfect, and you may not always be right, but all you can do is keep trying—like Judy does—to be and do better and work to make the world a kinder place. It’s a surprisingly mature and complex message to find in a children’s movie, and it makes Zootopia something really unique and special.

Movie Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I kind of loved this stupid movie, though I think it’s more for what it could have been than for any of the things it actually was. And unfortunately, one thing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t is good. It’s not terrible, however, and it is fun, more or less. Mostly, though, P&P&Z is an overstuffed mess of mismatched tropes, frantic pacing, and bizarre tonal shifts as it tries to be far too many things at once.

As a zombie flick, well, this one is sadly hindered by a PG-13 rating. However, P&P&Z still manages to show a surprising amount of halfway decently produced gore. The prologue scene shows us some zombies right away, and I appreciate not having to wait for any big reveal on that score. There are even some interesting ideas here regarding the zombies, and the existence of sentient zombies who don’t eat humans is a potentially compelling concept that is largely squandered by having characters essentially laugh the idea off. The moral dilemma that the sentient zombies should create is pretty much ignored, although there is some kind of hand-waving excuse-making done by vaguely tying the sentient zombies to the four horsemen of the apocalypse, who exist in the narrative for just this singular purpose.

The four horseman are only one of many potentially fascinating mythological ideas that are wasted in this movie. The opening credits detail a lengthy, detailed, and highly entertaining alternate history of an England that colonized the New World and brought back a plague that eventually caused King George to go mad and build a hundred foot wall around the whole city of London. The idea of the zombie disease as a sort of cosmic punishment for the sins of imperialism is reasonably original, and tying that to religion and framing it as the end times with the four horsemen and everything would be plenty good enough to carry a Regency-era zombie film on its own. The zombie cult with their pig brain communion and the conflict between zombie fighters and zombie sympathizers adds an element of moral complexity to the story that deserved to be more fully explored. Unfortunately, there’s just no time here, with such an enormous amount of story to get through.

The reason there’s so much story to get through, of course, is because this zombie movie is also trying to be an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The thing is, there’s a reason why the gold standard adaptation of this material is a six-hour mini-series. There’s an enormous amount of story happening in Jane Austen’s novel, and even the 2005 film—which, while a solid adaptation, was widely criticized for omitting parts of the source material—clocks in at twenty-two minutes longer than P&P&Z. With all the zombie material thrown in, P&P&Z moves at a simply blazing pace, and it becomes increasingly convoluted and disjointed as it goes along.

Eventually, it just feels as if the P&P elements are simply strewn throughout the film randomly. Things keep happening that are kind of like the book, but they never seem to mean anything, and even major plot points and emotional beats feel slightly nonsensical. For example, when Lady Catherine (Lena Headey, just making Cersei Lannister faces) comes to confront Elizabeth about her relationship with Darcy, it’s just a thing that occurs that has no real effect even on Elizabeth. Later on, Darcy says something like the “it taught me to hope” line that usually refers to his having learned from Lady Catherine of Elizabeth’s refusal to promise not to marry him, but when he says it here, he’s referring to something completely different.

Similarly, early in the movie, Elizabeth’s Aunt Phillips mentions that they have to plan their trip to the north or whatever, but then the trip—which in the book is a significant event—never happens. Also, Aunt Phillips isn’t even the right aunt—Elizabeth travels to Derbyshire with the Gardiners in the novel. The whole movie just betrays a disrespect for the source material and its fans that is, frankly, infuriating. P&P&Z feels as if it was conceived and written by someone who read the Cliff’s Notes for Pride and Prejudice once, begrudgingly, in ninth grade, and didn’t understand (or care to even try to understand) any of the things that made it a great novel and have turned it into a perennially popular and beloved pop cultural artifact.

I didn’t expect P&P&Z to be a good movie, so I can’t claim to be disappointed upon learning that it isn’t, but I did expect it to deliver a bit more in the fun department than it did. Certainly there’s the enjoyment of watching something with good production values, a great cast, and pretty costumes, but the whole thing was just too gloomy and over-serious to be truly fun. Most of the humor was unintentional, and there was overall too much grit and grime and not enough gore to generate the kind of visceral pleasure a good zombie-killing flick can. P&P&Z contains a lot of the pieces to a marginally acceptable adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, an okay action flick, and dark and morally complex zombie film, but not enough to do any of those things justice.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Darcy’s grave flies were neat, but in a movie that is so overfull of things happening, there’s not really time to appreciate that kind of detail. While they appear more than once, the flies end up being just one of many superfluous flourishes that uses up screen time that could have been better spent on something else.
  • P&P&Z’s action scenes are nicely done, if a bit rushed. I was pleasantly surprised by how well Lily James did as an action heroine, having previously seen her playing waifish princess-y types on Downton Abbey and in Cinderella.
  • On one level, I like the repeated allusions made to a previous Mr. Darcy by having Sam Riley wearing billowy white shirts. Tragically, though, he never does go full Firth for us.
  • They did do a nice job of showing the sisterly relationship between Elizabeth and Jane, and I kind of loved when they got to rescue their men as a sort of bonus on their way to a totally different objective. Too bad about Charlotte, though. Lydia suffers similarly from lack of characterization, and it’s even worse in her case because there’s not much reason to be invested in Jane and Elizabeth’s rescue mission at the end since we haven’t actually gotten to know Lydia well enough to care.
  • I would love to see Matt Smith play Mr. Collins again in a more serious adaptation. I’ve always imagined Collins as a small, slightly weaselly fellow, but Matt Smith’s tall scarecrow of a Collins was a bit of a revelation. It’s only too bad that he was reduced to comic relief in a movie that otherwise took itself far too seriously.
  • I know this all reads like a laundry list of complaints, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to watch this like twenty-five times when it hits Netflix.