Five years ago, “28 Days Later” revived the career of “Trainspotting” director Danny Boyle and made a star of Cillian Murphy, who went on to a brilliant career in “Breakfast on Pluto,” “Red Eye” and “The Wind That Shakes the Barley.”
The new sequel, “28 Weeks Later,” will likely be only a blot on the careers of everyone involved. It’s a chaotic movie about chaos, full of sound and fury and signifying very little.
Whereas Alex Garland’s script for “28 Days Later” held together and made quite a bit of narrative sense — especially for a zombie movie set in modern London — the sequel can’t seem to decide who’s the hero (or villain), what the threat is, and why anyone should care about who gets blown away.
Robert Carlyle, the biggest name in the cast, has astonishingly little screen time. He has a chance to generate some power only in the early scenes, playing a survivor who guiltily watches from a distance as his wife (Catherine McCormack) is attacked and apparently devoured by raging hordes of the undead.
When he’s reunited with the couple’s foolish children (do these kids have no sense of the danger they’re courting?), and the wife mysteriously turns up looking very much alive, logic is the No. 1 casualty. We’re told that all the zombies from the previous movie have starved to death, and that the infection has run its course, but of course there would be no sequel if this were strictly true.
Mayhem is the goal here, and mayhem is quickly achieved. Whether the zombies are attacking their victims in the country or the city, we are given little sense of where the central characters have fled or what their safety zones might be. Overhead shots of London are plentiful, yet they don’t succeed in suggesting where anyone is headed or what might function as an escape route.
While Boyle is listed as an executive producer on the sequel, there’s no sign that he had anything to do with shaping it or setting its creators off in the right direction. There’s a mostly fresh team in front of and behind the cameras.
Jeremy Renner, who played Jeffrey Dahmer in “Dahmer” (2002), comes off best as a resourceful American sniper who has doubts about shooting up “non-specific targets.” He has some effective moments when he tries to fill the void left by Carlyle, and he even provides a minute or two of welcome comic relief.
The sequel’s Spanish director, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, was nominated for an Oscar for his 1996 short, “Esposados.” Fresnadillo is also credited on the meandering script, along with three other writers who seem never to have looked up the dictionary definition of “collaboration.”
Several events have altered the sci-fi landscape since “28 Days Later” arrived in theaters. “Shaun of the Dead” (2004) spoofed it mercilessly, and last year’s “Children of Men” toyed with some of the same parallels between Baghdad and a futuristic London (which has its own Green Zone in “28 Weeks”). Still, that doesn’t negate the impact of the first movie or excuse this useless sequel.