Martin Carr reviews Amazon’s Utopia…
There is nothing else more topical on television right now than Utopia. No news broadcast, no change to lock down protocol and certainly no social distancing signifiers. Viruses have been part of the conversation globally for a while now, so people have inadvertently turned to television for solace. Needless to say the ironically titled Utopia offers up no indication of a respite coming any time soon.
Adapted by Gillian Flynn this sardonic leap of faith into fan boy faithful territory intentionally hits a nerve. Original author Dennis Kelly is on board as an executive producer, meaning that tone if not execution has a fighting at being authentic. Mainly directed by Todd Haynes who helmed Black Mirror’s USS Callister, this journey into comic book conspiracy theories starts strong.
Featuring Hollywood heavy hitter John Cusack in a pivotal role, Utopia offers up the intriguing proposition of graphic novels predicting our annihilation. Virtual friends gather in a hotel room being offered one opportunity to own their favourite obsession outright. Nervous conversations are had, artwork is pawed over and tentative bonds established. Socially awkward men with guns soon arrive brandishing syringes, burning questions and scant regard for public safety.
What follows is a road trip narrative with some mild torture, scientific skulduggery and indiscriminate shooting. John Cusack is clearly having fun exploring the complexities of Doctor Kevin Christie, both as family man, business man and something else entirely. Desmin Borges, Dan Byrd and Sasha Lane stand out amongst the group, while Rainn Wilson and Cory Michael Smith offer solid support.
To a certain extent Utopia poaches the best elements of viral movie making from The Andromeda Strain through to Contagion. Exceptional artwork evident throughout this series also tips a hat to Alan Moore’s Watchmen in terms of ingenuity. Needless to say it leans into theories around government manipulation, social conditioning and even obliquely references The Manhattan Project. Issues surrounding corporate profiteering and the mass production of biological agents tends to loom large as well, while events gather momentum.
Utopia also spares a moment for James Cameron and his perennial survivor Sarah Connor, as embodied by Sasha Lane’s Jessica Hyde. She is cold blooded, resource and brazen in her approach to retaining control of every situation. As the story unfolds plots thicken, stakes are raised and people die. There are moments here when life is definitely imitating art which Gillian Flynn grabs with both hands.
Public protests are prominent, unrest across a fictionalised global landscape is rife and undercover organisations unrelenting. Performances across the board are engaging while Utopia moves along swiftly. If anything Gillian Flynn could have injected a little more edge into proceedings and certain elements do feel watered down. For those who prefer there entertainment darker than pitch and devoid of humanity, might we suggest Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen as a companion piece.
Utopia is available to stream from September 25th on Amazon Prime Video.