It’s never easy adapting a videogame into a movie. If the last two decades have taught us anything, it’s that success stories are few and far between. Even harder is making a zombie movie that feels new enough to be engaging, in a market inundated by the genre. When you have The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later setting the bar for quality, measuring up can prove to be difficult. Dead Rising: Watchtower has the dubious distinction of being both a videogame adaptation and a zombie flick. The basic plot per the studio:
Based on the videogame created by Capcom. When a mandatory government vaccine fails and a full-scale zombie epidemic ensues, a news reporter and three other survivors are trapped inside a quarantine zone. The team must use everything they can find to fight off the flesh-hungry mob and evade becoming part of the undead horde.
It stars a cast of recognizable talent, including Jesse Metcalf (Dallas), Meghan Ory (Once Upon a Time), Dennis Haysbert (24), and Rob Riggle (21 Jump Street). In terms of sheer entertainment value, Dead Rising is a homerun. We get some pretty great moments of duct-tape combo weapons spewing zombie gore left and right, highlighted by Ory duel-wielding chainsaws in the climactic final battle. Additionally, we have the rare zombie movie whose characters actually appear to have watched zombie movies themselves.
Where Dead Rising struggles is its focus and world-building. Most films and TV shows in the zombie genre will choose a societal issue to tackle. The Walking Dead is about maintaining humanity in a lawless future. 28 Days Later is commentary on how absolute power turns us into monsters ourselves. Watchtower though oscillates among a few themes, including: FEMA’s handling of Katrina, post-9/11 civil liberties, lawless chaos in an apocalypse landscape a la Mad Max, military corruption, and big pharma.
At times, Dead Rising would swing outside of its wheelhouse. Where it succeeded the most was in its indulging of the entertainingly hyper-violent zombie outbreak it depicted. Frequent cuts to a newscast with Rob Riggle providing comedic relief were some of the best moments of the entire film, highlighting the relative absurdity of a free-for-all undead apocalypse. These bits made for solid book-ends between the creative weapon-building and zombie-slaying scenes that make up the most exciting parts of the movie.
Another integral aspect of any good zombie move is to build a universe with well laid-out rules. On TWD, we know that a headshot kills a slow-moving, mindless “Walker.” The rules for Watchtower’s zombies are a little more unclear. At times, we see them go down with a hit the chest. Other times we see actually firing guns and using weapons. These undefined terms at times made it difficult to understand the stakes of the action, as our main characters strike down the undead utilizing a variety of methods.
If you’re looking for an entertaining 118 minutes of Sam Raimi-esque violence, creatively constructed weapons, and some solid laughs, Dead Rising: Watchtower may be the zombie videogame adaptation for you. Struggles with tone and heavy-handed themes abound throughout, but there’s no denying the eminent watchability and fun this movie specializes in. The movie releases on DVD and Digital HD October 6, and will include bonus features about the various weapons, a blooper reel with Rob Riggle, and plenty of other behind-the-scenes action.
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