‘DMZ’ Review: A Comic Book Adaptation That Lacks Punch
Comic book adaptations have been on the rise for the past decade and a half. The genre has become the most successful in movie history. It isn’t surprising that comics have become such a rich source of original material, as the medium has allowed countless creators to create exciting worlds and characters. So, with the rise of superhero movies and the countless stories available in these companies’ libraries, the studios have tons of options from which to pick. Warner Bros. has chosen to adapt DMZ, a Vertigo comic that does things differently than other comic books, for this occasion.
DMZ is a miniseries created by Roberto Patino and stars Rosario Dawson, Benjamin Bratt, Freddy Miyarez, and Hoon Lee. The miniseries tells the story of a dystopian United States of America that has been divided by a second civil war. In the middle of the conflict, there is the Demilitarized Manhattan Island Zone, better known as the DMZ, where people live outside the laws of the old and new governments that claim the rest of the country for themselves. The DMZ is the new frontier. A mother will try to find her lost son inside the son, but as she does, she will get involved in the politics of the zone even if she doesn’t want to.
By being a label where more serious stories could be told, Vertigo made a name for itself. As a result, the stories had a different feel and perspective on what comics could do. Stories with characters with no superpowers or without fantasy elements were seen more and more often in the label line-up. DMZ was one of those titles and had a good run. Sadly, now that the comic book is being adapted into a live-action TV show, the story feels very familiar as its structure and premise feel like what TV shows have been doing constantly for the last two decades. There are no surprises or amazing visuals in DMZ; what you see is what you get.
This doesn’t mean that DMZ is a bad show, but it can be boring at times. The way the story develops feels outdated by today’s standards, and it becomes worse when it is clear that the interesting setting of an America being divided by a second civil war, is barely used. Maybe for the future of the series, the story can move outside the borders of the DMZ, but as of now, the story is contained to this territory, and it makes everything seem small and inconsequential. The civil war everybody talks about is over, and the memories are just that. There’s a lot of talking, but not a lot of showing.
What is shown is a series of scenes between characters that could be fascinating if they weren’t held down by conventional storytelling. Some plotlines are just too predictable, and even some lines of dialog can be seen from miles away. We have heard all of these stories before.
Ava DuVernay directs the pilot episode, and it ends up being the best one. DuVernay brings with her a style that feels almost documentarian at some points, it makes every feel raw and intense during that episode, even if the shots are not particularly pretty or captivating. Ernest Dickerson directs the rest of the episode, and there the miniseries falls into standard TV fare.
Again, this doesn’t mean the miniseries is bad. It’s just that you can feel that there’s wasted potential here and that the way the story is being presented, both in terms of the writing and the visuals, could be so much better. Without something that makes it stand out, the story is just another crime series of fights between gangs.
Thankfully, the show has a great cast of actors that help elevate the material and presentation to the next level and makes the show an entertaining watch. Rosario Dawson, plays the main character, Alma, and the actress is just as perfect as she always is. Dawson has been working for decades in film and TV, and her presence is a welcome one in almost every project she participates in. With Dawson as the main character to anchor the conflict, it is easy to watch even the less interesting parts of the story. You just want her to succeed and be happy, even if it is easier said than done.
Benjamin Bratt also does a great job as the villain, Parco, and the actors chew the scenery completely. It is how the character is supposed to be, and Bratt plays the loveable bastard with gusto. Hoon Lee is also great as the elegant kingpin that helps Dawson in her search. The actor did an amazing job on Warrior, and it is great to see him more on screen.
DMZ might not be anything surprising, and it lacks that hook to make it stand out from the competition, but despite all that it can be an entertaining watch. Comprising only four episodes, it can be watched in one afternoon. So, if you need something to watch, that has action and some good old-fashioned drama, this is for you.