...doesn't Captain Rhodes beat the piss outta Major West in the asshole-military-commandeer-in-an-undead-apocalypse sweepstakes?
Ran into the old pain last night while watching 28 Days Later.... Danny Boyle's film has some of the most affecting imagery in a British post-apocalyptic funeral dirge since Mick Jackson's Threads. The immensity of waking up to completely desolate, human-refuse littered streets in the shadow of Big Ben and the London Eye. The missing persons-plastered billboard around the memorial foundation in Piccadilly Circus. When Jim reads the "don't wake up..." note left by his deceased parents. Mark's recollection of losing his family in a crowd and having no recourse but to climb over the dead to escape the infected. The reflections in the taxi's window of piles of ashen bodies accompanied by an abandoned bulldozer. The simple joy of seeing a family of horses running free amidst mankind's darkest hour. Irradiated apples. Just amazing stuff. The kind of incidental stuff long imagined being great if ever filmed in the heads of I Am Legend fans.
Then they reach the blockade, eventually the mansion compound, and the story dissolves into a forced clusterfuck of "military = bad" scenarios. This is also where comparisons can be made (and have definitely been made) with the pigheaded military men of Romero's Day of the Dead. Both films tackle many of the same questions concerning armed forces in globally dire circumstances. What's the worth of having a command hierarchy when there's nothing to left to defend? Wouldn't the remaining military essentially become people that know how to fire a weapon with an all-encompassing enemy in the billions? How much or little logic could piss the wrong person off? How real are the allusions to rape from fighting men who still believe their macho bullshit impresses? All questions ripe for interpretation and Romero scribbles in the essay with better answers.
Christopher Eccleston's performance as Major West in 28 Days Later is as stale as the rotting bread in the supermarket stop on the way to the Manchester blockade. The sell is on his shoulders and Eccleston fumbles the keys with no sense of leadership and not even a hint of messianic Charlie Manson flare with his vaguely God-like position over the armed frat boys in camo. West promises his men women to end their "no future" woes. So why does the arrival of Selena and Hanna herald the coming of these "women"? Are the soldiers that easily swayed and devoid of common human decency? Of course, the Sergeant that protests West's command is walked out along with Jim for a woodland execution.
I personally find this portrayal of extreme loss of professional tact and basic morality within the unit insulting. Boyle and Garland paint with too broad of a stroke in casting nearly every solider some loathsome ogre in a pact driven by bloodlust and self-gratifying degradation from a mere "promise." Seriously? Doesn't it seem odd West's men don't just off Jim on sight along with Hannah's infected father if all they were interested in were Selena and Hannah's naughty bits? It also spits in the face of womanhood as we see the once fiercely independent and resourceful Selena almost willingly become a pawn to the whims of West's boys before her timely rescue by a man. This exercise in the last half of the film reeks of a trite knee-jerk political shot from-the-hip and sours the entire body of work.
Romero's Day of the Dead isn't fixated on the rape question besides several one-off remarks, but Joe Pilato's turn as Captain Rhodes makes Eccleston's West look like a little boy playing army. The actor plays Rhodes incredibly over-the-top and gloriously sells the domineering military leader role out of sheer bullish fortitude. Rhodes is a screaming hardline thug with a six-shooter that still believes in his own shit despite the six billion strong walking dead population above his head. Rhodes' men follow him out of a mix of fear and the sense of empowerment his overwhelming never say die personality exudes over the pissant scientists. The men also exhibit an awareness of right and wrong regardless of command when Rhodes demands Private Steel at gunpoint to execute Sarah for not sitting down unlike the faceless soldiers of the other film this entry concerns. In the end, Rhodes and crew get their proper comeupins for their ignorance and abhorrence toward their fellow man. The same fate befalls West and men in 28 Days Later, but did you really give a damn at that point?
Ultimately, Eccleston's West and his men possess none of these traits making 28 Day Later's point of conflict seem meaningless and everything the film tries to say collapses to its half baked conclusion. Except for environmentalists being the cause of the near downfall of the human race. That was heard loud and clear. At least Boyle's misfired effort makes my appreciation for Romero's once maligned third Dead entry only deepen. This is how it's done no matter how many artsy shots a director crams in.