Ouch. As an avid fan of the ‘zombie’ genre and of the book, in particular, that this is VERY loosely based on, this flick very much resembles an insulting kick in the head. I knew that there was gonna be trouble when I first got wind of the inevitable movie adaptation, largely due to the narrative structure of the book. The book follows the author as he travels the globe, 10 years after The Zombie War, and collects the anecdotes of various survivors. Ideally, World War Z SHOULD’VE been made into a 10 part HBO miniseries instead of…this. Now, I think Brad Pitt is great. I’ve enjoyed NEARLY everything that he’s done but, as Producer and Star of this flick, I want to punch him right in the grill! How in the hell can he possibly think that this mess is gonna satisfy the zombie-loving movie-going masses?! The same accusation/threat is also very much leveled at director Marc Forster, for a whole variety of reasons that I will touch on. Gawd, where to begin.
First off, for those who don’t know, World War Z (the movie) focuses on Brad Pitts ‘Gerry Lane’ character, a former UN investigator forced back into service by a sudden outbreak of what people initially think is a strain of rabies. In rather short order, we see society essentially collapse on itself (within 10 minutes of the opening credits) under the rapid spread and violence of the zombie virus. Gerry then embarks on a globe-trotting quest to locate the source of the outbreak, as a means to halt the spread (they hope). Sounds promising so far, yeah? And it does start off that way.
When we first meet Gerry and his family, there’s a pleasantness and certain believability to their interactions, something that always bodes well in genre flicks like this. It means that the main character has something tangible at stake, being the survival of his loved ones, not to mention the survival of his own ass for their sake. But here, after they manage to get narrowly evacuated, the first dive in plot quality happens. As soon as Gerry is picked to go off on his harrowing quest, his main focus is lost. The physical danger to his family is largely removed, as they are now left safe and sound in a flotilla of ships (one of the very few nods to the book, BTW), while he takes off with a group of faceless special forces operatives for a military base in South Korea, which happened to be the source of an email where someone just happened to use the word ‘zombie'(?!). After shit goes wrong there (naturally), he’s then on his way to Israel, where apparently someone had some idea that the plague was coming cuz they managed to construct a massive wall around the country ahead of time. So, with the flimsiest of evidence, off to Israel he goes. Where…shit then goes wrong AGAIN (albiet in a pretty cool way) and then he’s off to…Cardiff, because apparently there is a World Health Organization lab near the airport (which doesn’t matter as the plane doesn’t even make it there) where he can put yet another EXTREMELY loose theory to the test. The flick reminded me of a simple video game, as each scene maintained a very basic pattern of ‘get in, find ‘object’, zombies attack, flee, repeat’.
In one major respect, World War Z also very much reminded me of another film I reviewed a few months ago, ‘The Bourne Legacy’, where I was dismayed when the credits rolled cuz the questions “THAT was it? THAT was what the WHOLE movie was leading up to?!” kept trumpeting through my mind. Same thing here. There is absolutely NO resolution to the initial problems presented at the beginning of the ‘story’. The idea of finding The Source is thrown straight out the window and replaced by a rather dumb plot device involving voluntary injections of curable terminal diseases, as camouflage, cuz zombies apparently don’t like tainted flesh.
Speaking of tainted flesh, I have to address the violence in this flick. One thing that the zombie genre is known (and celebrated) for is its generous helpings of blood and gore. Some of the best examples of inventive practical make-up effects have been seen in this type of horror movie. I mean c’mon, they eat the flesh of the living!!! It’s not meant to be pretty!!! The entire notion is revolting…so go for the gory gold!!! Not here…at least not on screen. This must be one of the cleanest zombie movies EVER…if not THE cleanest. ALL the attacks are ‘accomplished’ via ‘cut-aways’ and sound effects, punctuated by some annoyingly frantic editing. This is the same director who did Quantum of Solace (2008) and THAT movie had epileptic levels of lightning-fast edits, so fast that many shots were rendered useless, as they were gone in the blink of an eye. There is a similar style here, which tells me that either Forster didn’t read any reviews for Quantum of Solace or he just doesn’t give a shit.
Speaking of not giving a shit, I really wonder what author Max Brooks has to say about this. This entire debacle would’ve been a little easier to swallow had they chosen to NOT use the title ‘World War Z’. Aside from throwing out the ENTIRE story, they also change the core issue: the zombies themselves. If memory serves correctly, the ‘undead’ in the book are in keeping with ‘The Romero ZombieVerse’, being the shambling examples that are a threat if they have the element of surprise or if they manage to mass. Those types have been cast aside in favor of the ’28 Days Later, fast-moving twitchy and screechy bastards’. At times I was also reminded of the piss-poor CG monsters (vampires?) from I Am Legend (2007), right down to some of the dodgy digital effects.
There’s also Gerry’s tendency to pick up strays along the way, which I simply didn’t buy. At first a young latino kid, for no real reason, just ends up added to Gerrys brood, where he subsequently does NOTHING. Then Gerry opts to risk everything for the sake of one of his random, Israeli military bodyguards, and drags the poor chick around with him after (bloodlessly, ‘off camera’) slicing her infected hand off. There is NO personal connection between them, yet she gets dragged along on this messed up adventure.
With regards to ‘messed up adventures’, the production of this movie was itself a messed up adventure, with the entire original 3rd Act being tossed out and a new, Damon Lindelof-scripted one being shoe-horned in, at significant financial expense. And it’s noticeable. The entire last portion feels aimless and empty, just another video game level to be completed, But even when it’s completed, it leaves the film having accomplished nothing. Brad Pitts voice-over basically just tells (confesses to?) us that THIS…is just the beginning. It figures that Lindelofs name is attached to the credits. The similarities to another potentially awesome movie, Prometheus (2012) are rather glaring, in that Lindelof was also called in to ‘cock up’ the decent, ‘in place’ script for that one too. More damn questions at the end than the audience began with. That seems to be that hacks new MO. What started off with Lindelof looking cleverly ambiguous in his writing now just reeks of laziness. He’s rapidly becoming the M. Night Shyamalan of the Screenwriters world aka Box Office Poison.
For a film with the high budget that it had, there are some amazingly sloppy elements on display in World War Z. There was one editing/continuity error that just bugged the hell out of me, and you may not even have to be an ‘airplane nerd’ to notice this. When Gerry leaves on the first leg of his journey, we see the aircraft, a Russian Antonov An-12 (for some reason emblazoned with US Navy insignia) being ‘catapulted’ from the deck of an American aircraft carrier. While looking cool, this is a move that has VERY rarely been used, launching aircraft of this size and without them being made for it, from the deck of a ship designed for much smaller fighters. Anyway, we then CUT to a beauty shot of this aircraft in flight…only now we’re watching an American-built C-130 Hercules roaring through the sky. Um…really? And so it goes, shot by shot, they kept cutting back and forth between these two, noticeably different planes, all the while pretending that it’s all the same American Navy aircraft. It was shockingly sloppy.
I guess ‘shockingly sloppy’ could be a good way to describe this flick, however I honestly feel that THIS is a blatant case of a ‘missed opportunity’. World War Z is simply a movie that shouldn’t have been made. It’s a pointless excuse for a genre flick that has now ruined the chance of somebody eventually stepping up and doing the source material justice. All they really would’ve needed to do, again, was just change the title and take author Max Brooks name off the credits (which he’s probably wishing for now anyway), and go forth with their mediocre Zombie Movie Wannabe project. But nope, THIS… is what happened.
What a disappointment. I went into it with low expectations but part of me really wanted this movie to be something special, for it to pleasantly surprise me. Oh, it was ‘special’, all right! World War Z (the movie) just doesn’t need to exist. You may find it to be a morbid ‘curiosity’, and on THAT level, I would recommend it. But it’s a waste of your time on The Big Screen. Just don’t bother. Mr. Brad Pitt…smart’n up, dude! You owe us a better ‘World War Z’ than THIS. Jeez.
*As ‘done’ as I am with this flick, I do hope that the DVD/BluRay release has A) an extended cut and B) the alternate, ‘original’ version. I think that could be an interesting ‘side by side’ comparison. Either way, I don’t expect my lowly opinion to change TOO much. (*smacks Brad Pitt upside the head*)