Rage-virus sequel is infected

'28 Weeks Later' doesn't pack the punch of its predecessor

Posted: May 11, 2007

You see some weird stuff on the Internet, like the description of Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" as a "zombie romp."

The movie was anything but a romp. In fact, it was one of the first really good post-9/11 movies to imagine how terror attacks could break containment and morph into something apocalyptic (see also "Children of Men").

Boyle framed it as a genre picture, and avoided obvious commentary. He peeled away politics and boiled everything down to seething anger - his "zombies" were actually living people infected with a "rage virus," a disease (like hate itself) that spreads quickly and with distressing ease. I've always thought his choice of the word "virus" was shrewd, calling to mind the mutations of the Internet, where chat rooms spread rage faster than reason.

Boyle is only peripherally involved in the sequel, "28 Weeks Later," which has the same stylishness and pulp energy, but none of Boyle's desire to avoid the polemical.

The sequel begins in what one might call the last throes of the zombie insurgency. The ravenous infected attack a small band of refugees, forcing a man (Robert Carlyle) to make the kind of horrific choice that's sometimes made at the intersection of catastrophe and self-preservation.

The sequel quickly flashes forward to a post-infection London, where NATO troops (entirely U.S.) are carefully repatriating Britons after the virus has been eradicated. Among the resettled is Carlyle, reunited with his children.

Why is this job given to U.S. troops instead of British? Have all British soldiers succumbed to the virus? Are they all in Iranian custody? The reason isn't specified, but it soon becomes clear that the presence of U.S. troops serves a purpose.

Pointed language like the "green zone" of safety for soldiers and civilians make this an obvious model for the occupation of Baghdad, and of course assertions that the virus is under control are as premature as "Mission accomplished."

The inevitable breakout occurs, forcing Carlyle's character to reveal to his children the truth about how he survived the invasion. More urgently, though, it transforms "Weeks" into a spectacle of military massacre.

The breakout quickly grows out of control. The infected mingle with uninfected. U.S. troops, under orders to maintain control over the virus at all costs, begin to kill indiscriminately.

And so we are subjected to provocative footage of Yanks machine-gunning terrified English citizens, gassing them, setting them afire with flame-throwers, calling in airstrikes and dropping incendiary bombs. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo is careful to brand the slaughter, planting an American flag prominently in the middle of the carnage. (The movie is very pro-Swede, though, judging by its awesome Volvo product placement.)

OK, we get it. Occupation, hubris, all hell breaking loose - it's Iraq in metaphor. But at the risk of sounding literal-minded, if "28 Weeks Later" is indeed an allegory about Iraq, it does not seem entirely fair on the issue of who is being massacred there, and by whom.

Also, the movie avoids an accounting of who actually wants to murder Londoners (to say nothing of those in Madrid or Mumbai or Bali or Fort Dix, N.J.) in a non-metaphorical way.

Some Britons complained bitterly when German director Roland Emmerich took a World War II Nazi atrocity and, in "The Patriot," reassigned it to British soldiers fighting in the American Revolution.

You'll know just how they feel watching "28 Weeks Later," which takes the use of poison gas and the firebombing of London and wraps it in the Stars and Stripes.

The Iraq war makes people furious, and this was bound to turn up in movies. Especially movies from England, where anger grows over the detention (in Afghanistan and Guantanamo) of British citizens caught up in the mass arrest/detention of suspected terrorists. Maybe "28 Weeks Later," with its theme of military power run amok, is an outlet for that rage. Maybe it's a perverse commentary on the Blair government's acquiescence to U.S. power.

It's technically very well-done, and Fresnadillo ("Intacto") is a talent. But his "28 Weeks Later" is not just a movie about the rage virus. It's also infected. *

Produced by Enrique Lopez Lavigne, Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich, directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, written by Rowan Joffe, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Enrique Lopez Lavigne and Jesus Olmo, music by John Murphy, distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

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