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Utopia Review: Gillian Flynn’s Pandemic Thriller Might Be the Perfect Ad



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Becky (Ashleigh LaThrop) and Jessica Hyde (Sasha Lane) meet in Utopia on September 25th on Amazon Prime Video.

Amazon Studios

Before we dive into Utopia, Amazon’s new conspiracy thriller series from Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn, let’s get the big question out of the way: is it better than the 2013 cult British classic series it is based on?

Short answer: no.

But at least it’s not a US mass-attraction remake. Flynn writes all eight episodes of the adaptation about a pandemic conspiracy, with John Cusack and Rainn Wilson providing the marquee names. Originally appointed to direct with David Fincher in 2018, the series paused before Amazon and a trio of directors made it possible – and with the benefit of a random release time.

That’s as long as you care about pandemic television. The ridiculous conspiracy that involves a bat-based virus Power were created on purpose, will attract the occasional ironic smile. There are new and reinterpreted characters, and the further the conspiracy dissolves, the more it deviates from the original. Plus, as the creator of a synthetic meat, Cusack is strangely charismatic.

There’s a lot here. But you’re still better off finding the UK version.

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Middle: John Cusack as Dr. Christie.

Amazon Studios

The action begins the same way. Several parties are chasing a graphic novel called Utopia that predicts future viruses. There are the torturers’ secret agents known as The Harvest and the “fanboys” who believe that the prequel of Utopia, Dystopia, predicted real epidemics like Eobola and MERS.

“Why do we always feel like it’s the end of the world?”

“Because someone ends the world!”

Trapped in the middle is the mysterious Jessica Hyde (Sasha Lane), who plays a role in the graphic novel and is on the run from The Harvest. “Where’s Jessica Hyde?” is repeated a lot.

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Ian (Dan Byrd), Wilson Wilson (Desmin Borges), Sam (Jessica Rothe) and Becky (Ashleigh LaThrop).

Amazon Studios

The dizzying excitement of the “fanboys” or nerdy internet friends studying the secrets of the manuscript is fun when the epiphanies come close and fast over the episodes. There’s insurance man Ian (Dan Byrd) whose crush is harboring a secret illness, Becky (Ashleigh LaThrop), underground bunker owner Wilson Wilson (Desmin Borges), worried 11-year-old Grant (Javon Walton), and the brand new character, the Idealistic Sam (Jessica Rothe).

Her awkward naivete is worth a giggle, especially in high-tension scenes with agents like Arby (Christopher Denham), a tracksuit-wearing, raisin-popping, softly spoken psychopath. Although there aren’t any infamous school shots taken from the original, his eyeball torture scene remains horrific.

While the violence of the US adaptation is less extreme, the extreme characters are scratchy. They mainly populate the second great story after Cusack’s scientist Dr. Kevin Christie, accused of causing a new virus, and Rainn Wilson’s meek Dr. Michael Stearns examining it.

It doesn’t help that some characters, like Jessica Hyde, are very serious, which makes those like Christie’s ambitious son, who oversees a media spin team with the smile of a game show host, seem even more exaggerated.

The relatable band of misfits are gradually pushed aside if you want them to move the narrative forward. Her interactions with Jessica lack chemistry, and her cutthroat decisions often look baffled.

The absurd to serious tone rides on an electronic stream from Jeff Russo’s score, which sometimes sounds like that of The Social Network. It’s dark and ominous, but it could have benefited from a blow of madness. Hear the rooster calls and chopstick clicks texturing Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s praised score for the original.

That gritty feel finds its way into the brownish Chicago surrounds. The stunning Technicolor palette of the original is applied to the green fields and yellow decontamination tents, but it looks strangely muffled and rarely pops.

Even so, the sympathetic bonds, the driving mystery and the stains of dark and expressionless humor create a fascinating world. It may be visually more boring than the British series and can’t appreciate the imaginative brilliance, but Amazon’s Utopia isn’t a write-off. Benefiting from a timely release, it evolves into something else, with a few twists and turns fans of the original habit see from a mile away.

Utopia will be released on Amazon Prime Video on September 25th.


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