Today I watched the 2005 zombie film Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis, the fourth movie in the franchise. My expectations were low. Rue Morgue called it “the worst cinematic atrocity to wound your retinas.” It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, but it was still pretty lousy.
The original Return of the Living Dead came out in 1985, and is one of the most important zombie movies ever. It was the first film to establish that zombies want to eat brains. It was scary, funny, and even sexy. The characters were quirky and cool, and the zombies looked great. A masterpiece! (It is my favorite zombie film of all time.)
ROTLD: Necropolis is set in the same “universe” as the first film, in a world where zombies are contained and studied by a mysterious corporation called Hybra Tech. The main characters are a group of teenagers who discover that Hybra Tech may be up to no good when one of their friends dies in a motorbike accident and is taken to a Hybra Tech facility. The teenagers break into the facility to rescue their friend and discover the truth. They fight many zombies (to a thumping score of late 90’s metal), and the main character learns that his parents–who disappeared mysteriously–have been turned into zombie supersoldiers with machine guns and circular saws grafted to their hands. Needless to say, it’s all a bit silly.
The main characters in the original ROTLD film were also teenagers, but they were witty, interesting, funny, and clever. You cared what happened to them. In ROTLD: Necropolis, the teenagers are wooden and boring. You don’t care about them at all. They have little high-school student “character-classes” (hacker, pretty gymnast, tough-guy) but these don’t provide much in the way of a correlating payoff.
Another subtle difference between ROTLD: Necropolis and the original is the role of older people. Many of the most memorable and likable characters in the first film were middle-aged (the mortician, the storehouse supervisor, the storehouse owner). In ROTLD: Necropolis, everyone over 30 is evil and unsympathetic.
The last thing that annoyed me about ROTLD: Necropolis was the title. The word “Necropolis” means “City of the Dead.” No such city appears within this film. Sure, there are a lot of zombies, but not any more than in a standard zombie film. There certainly isn’t a city of them. I mean, if you went to see a film called Return of the Living Dead: Beards, but every character was clean-shaven, you’d be like: “Hey, what was up with that title? There were no beards!” Well, same thing here.
There were a few things I liked in ROTLD: Necropolis. The scenes were generally well-shot and well-lit (except for the motorbike riding sequences, which were tedious and went on way, way too long). The zombies looked and sounded awesome. Their makeup was great, and their cries of “Braaaains…” were excellently executed. (If only they hadn’t been obscured by deafening Nu-Metal at every turn.)
In conclusion, I’d recommend Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis only to the hardest-core zombie fan. If you enjoy sequences of zombie killing with Limp Bizkit and Godsmack blaring loudly in the background–and can ignore a predictable plot and wooden characters–this might be an okay movie for you. But if you–as I do–need more from a zombie film, I’d advise you to take a pass.