Last month at the virtual San Diego Comic Con, Amazon dropped the first teaser for Utopia, a reboot (adapted by Gone Girl and Sharp Objects author Gillian Flynn) of the controversial 2013-2014 British black comedy/conspiracy thriller. Now the streaming platform has released the official full trailer, and the series looks like it’s going to be quite the wild ride.
As we reported previously, the series is about online fans of a dystopian graphic novel called Utopia that seems to have the power to predict the real-world future. The fans are obsessed with tracking down the sequel (which supposedly also predicts future world events). This makes them targets of a secret organization called The Network.
The British version received critical praise for its originality and visual style, offset by strong reservations about its extreme violence, which struck many as unnecessarily gratuitous. (The most famous scene involved a torturer using a spoon to gouge out a victim’s eye). It remains to be seen if Amazon’s Utopia will match the same scale of violence, although Flynn recently told Deadline Hollywood that it wouldn’t be as prominent.
“I’m more ‘less is more’ as far as violence goes,” Flynn said. “I’m the person who loves that moment in Rosemary’s Baby where we’re only seeing part of the conversation whereas the whole audience is trying to look around the corner to see what’s happening, or obviously Jaws. I’m a big believer in that. I don’t want it for a cartoon effect or for shock value. I think we as an audience are past most of that as pure shock value. I want to use violence when it’s effective and appropriate.”
And unlike the sleek, Britpop-influenced tone of the British original, Flynn found inspiration for her take on the series in 1970s conspiracy thrillers like The Parallax View and Marathon Man. “In fact, when I was pitching this, I called it The Goonies meets Marathon Man,” she said. “I took this idea of a group of ragtag, unlikely heroes who get caught in this incredibly dark conspiracy.”
Per the official premise: “When the conspiracy in the elusive comic Utopia is real, a group of young fans come together to embark on a high-stakes twisted adventure to use what they uncover to save themselves, each other and ultimately humanity.” Ian (Dan Byrd, Easy A), Becky (Ashleigh LaThrop, The Handmaid’s Tale), Samantha (Jessica Rothe, Happy Death Day), Wilson Wilson (Desmin Borges, You’re the Worst) and Grant (Javon “Wanna” Walton, Euphoria) are the conspiracy-minded uber-fans, intent on teasing out the hidden meanings they believe are hidden within the pages of Utopia. When the dangers depicted in the comics begin manifesting in the real world, they decide to take action.
The cast also includes John Cusack (Grosse Pointe Blank) as Dr. Kevin Christie, Rainn Wilson (The Office) as Michael Stearns, and Sasha Lane (American Honey, 2019’s Hellboy) as Jessica Hyde, the comic’s famed central character, who leads our ragtag group on their mission to save the world. But she also has a few secrets of her own. The series also stars Farrah Mackenzie (Logan Lucky) as Alice, Christopher Denham (Manhattan) as Arby, and Cory Michael Smith (Gotham) as Thomas Christie.
The trailer opens, fittingly enough, at a comics convention as our main protagonists gather to revel in their mutual love for the Utopia comics. Samantha waxes enthusiastic to several fans about how much of the events depicted in the comics have come true—horrible viruses like Ebola and Zika, for instance. They are not impressed. “You’re one of those, huh?” a cynic sneers. “‘It all has to mean something!'” But amidst the normal business of the convention, mysterious figures are lurking—and watching.
Things get real with the appearance of Jessica Hyde. “You wanna stay alive, come with me,” she says. “They’ve killed every single person who’s seen Utopia.” Apparently, Samantha was right: everything in Utopia is real. As REM’s “The End of the World As We Know It” plays in the background, we see a quarantine camp and get our first glimpse of Stearns, the foremost expert on a new strain of the flu virus; the latest outbreak has now been declared a national pandemic.
Samantha and her friends remember that in the comics, the pandemic leads to “our undoing.” So naturally they join up with Stearns, who assures them, “We can fight it. We’d just be going in the belly of the beast, practically begging to be slaughtered.”
“Wait, what? That’s extreme,” Ian says. But’s it’s probably not an exaggeration, given that eyepatch Wilson Wilson is sporting—a hint that the eye-gouging-by-spoon scenario has likely survived the transition to American TV. The rest of the trailer is flashes of exploding cars, public protests, an ominously smirking Cusack, and the kids trying to break into a quarantine area while sporting colorful makeshift hazmat gear.
“How much evil do you have to do to do good?” Jessica asks, implying that the ends will justify any drastic means they take.
To which a horrified Stearns replies, “None! None evil!” We’ll have to see whether his conscience holds sway.
Utopia premieres on Amazon Prime on September 25, 2020.
Listing image by YouTube/Amazon Prime