Hollywood same-itis strikes again: This weekend, two viral outbreaks hit the screens – the simian flu in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the vampirism in FX's The Strain – not to mention the one that already wiped out most of humanity on TNT's The Last Ship.
But there's no need for gas masks and quarantine zones just yet – here at The Wire, we're placing each of these new plague-happy plots into their own petri dishes for a completely subjective viewing under our pop culture microscope, using grades for the design of the virus and the strategy these projects have pursued to set their plagues apart from the rest.
we can these fictional viruses may have what it takes to destroy the world, but they're not all worth your time.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Virus: The simian flu, a viral Alzheimer's "cure" turned contagious, human race-eliminating strain, acts as the catalyst for the titular Dawn of the apes. The eighth film in the bloated franchise that began in the 1960s, Dawn stars mo-cap god Andy Serkis, various mo-cap newbies including Judy Greer, and a slew of not-in-mo-cap heavyweights like Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, and Keri Russell.
Spread: All of humanity.
Story Originality: The new Planet of the Apes franchise has done a solid job separating itself from the 1960s series, but points have to be docked for being a reboot in the first place. B+
The Plague, IRL: Dawn puts the "viral" in viral marketing (sorry) with its relentless campaign, involving a website for the flu, teasers for trailers, actual trailers, graffiti-like billboards, and even prequel short films to bring everyone up to speed. That's creativity. A
Diagnosis: We've already deemed it a must-watch.
Virus: In the novels, it's a form of vampirism delivered through a parasitic worm that enters the human host’s bloodstream. In the TV series, it's an opportunity for grotesque CGI, including, yes, worms entering in and out of bodies through eyeballs. The show features recognizable TV stars – Corey Stoll, Mia Maestro – along with music by Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi, but its main draw comes from its affiliation with Guillermo del Toro, who co-wrote the novels and executive produces the show alongside TV veteran Carlton Cuse, co-mastermind of Lost.
Spread: New York City (so far).
Story Originality: We’re thisclose to being vampire’d out, but this isn’t YA – the vampires in The Strain are terrifying, using a long proboscis to latch onto human prey, and featuring jaws with lower hinges like a snake’s, as well as talons that grow in place of the middle fingers. Their wild, sparkle-free physiology alone boosts the series’ grade. A-
The Plague, IRL: Where Dawn has succeeded in using viral marketing to give the simian flu a realistic take, Strain succeeds in veering into shock horror. The marketing campaign can be summarized with one word: gross. Every poster, teaser (many of which didn’t feature actual footage), and web ad for The Strain has been gag-worthy, and some even caused enough controversy to get taken down. (We’d prefer not to look at the images again either, but at least showrunner Carlton Cuse liked them.) C+
Diagnosis: The creature design makes this a worthy candidate in a long line of vampire-slash-outbreak stories, but we're sick (again, sorry) of the creepy promos.
The Last Ship
Virus: It's nameless, but effectively thrusts the characters into an apocalyptic world. Given that it's executive produced by Michael "This Could Use More Explosions" Bay, the series concerns itself more with pitting the ship against campy, unAmerican villains instead of looking solely at the plague and its effects. (After all, the trailer does put the word "boom" under TNT's logo.) That said, it's got TV cast cred with Eric Dane, arguably doing more as commander of the ship than he ever did as McSteamy on Grey's Anatomy, and Adam Baldwin, a.k.a. That Guy in all your favorite cult-ish shows (Firefly, Chuck, even Day Break).
Spread: 80 percent of the human population.
Story Originality: Based on the novel by William Brinkley, the TV series changes the cause of the apocalypse from a nuclear holocaust to a plague. But other than that, the concept of a ship as a safe haven is nothing new – we saw it in World War Z, for example – and the plot centered more on the anarchy of a world without governments takes the focus away from the viral outbreak itself, moving into more typical, TNT-esque drama territory. C+
The Plague, IRL: Of all things, the series launched an "art experience" in New York featuring gas masks, and papering the subway with posters warning of the pandemic. We're giving the strategy points for creativity, but the mixed messages are considerably off-course for a series tied to Michael Bay. Just give us badass explosions, TNT. B-
Diagnosis: It's less a plague story, and more a fun TV venture for Michael Bay, but we're not impressed with its marketing tactics.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.