Alright zombie fans, tonight was the moment of truth for Marc Forster’s World War Z film. After all the drama, the negative publicity, the re-writes, and the re-shoots, we can finally see what the future of mainstream zombie movies looks like. Behold the promised land, and see what $200 million dollars can get you nowadays in Hollywood.
“What does it get you Matt!” Well, thanks for asking, I’ll tell you right now! Brad Pitt playing a borderline superhero named Gerry Lane, an overload of CGI zombies that don’t really act like “zombies” at all, conveniently comical plot points, zero horror, cheap 3D, and all the slapstick silliness possible that could be crammed in every empty crevas on this decaying zombie corpse. Yup, a more applicable title for Forster’s film would be Gerry Lane and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week (or however the hell long he was gone).
World War Z is of course based off Max Brooks’ brilliant book of the same name, and in that sense I mean there are really no similarities except for the title sequence which flashes the same text found on the book’s cover – you know, the title?
This story, penned by a mix of J. Michael Straczynski, Matthew Michael Carnahan, Damon Lindelof, and Drew Goddard, follows UN Investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) on his quest to uncover the mysterious origin of a “zombie” virus destroying the world. Traveling country to country while his wife and two daughters live safely on a naval aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean, Pitt gets himself into one bad situation after the next, all with mankind’s fate resting on his shoulders. Following the clues like a trail of breadcrumbs, this fast-paced thriller never takes the heat off Gerry Lane, making it as difficult as possible for him to complete his mission.
Unfortunately, the whole mission feels like nothing but a farce, because this PG-13 horror/thriller is about as predictable as they come, and doesn’t diverge from normalcy in the least bit. There aren’t any dark twists or surprises that keep you on your toes, the attention paid to detail is disappointing, and World War Z actually makes a mockery of itself by almost seeming cheekily cocky or shockingly dumbfounding in a few scenes. I mean, there’s honestly a victory soda drinking scene, with a camera on Gerry Lane’s face? Sweet lord, is this doubling for a Pepsi commercial as well? Oh, that’s right, Paramount/Plan B have to make up that $200 million dollar deficit somehow – but not at the cost of integrity, please. It honestly felt like Forster’s film was holding a loaded gun with the finger on the trigger, slipped in the rain, fell down, and shot itself in the head…wait, what?
Concerning horror and terror, there’s no doubt the idea of a global zombie outbreak epidemic should completely destroy anyone mentally. Terrifying, horrifying, world ending; this is a nightmare scenario for the ages – unless you’re Gerry Lane, that is. At no point did I feel any sort of tension when the ever so charming Brad Pitt engaged in zombified action, because you know that (even if you haven’t seen the movie) World War Z doesn’t have the balls to kill off Gerry Lane. What’s a (possible) Brad Pitt franchise without Brad Pitt, right? Revenueless, that’s what.
So every time there’s a zombie pinning him down, or a wave following close behind him, you’re never once thinking “Oh my gosh, how is he going to get out of this pickle?” Nope, you already know he’s going to get out, rendering the “how” utterly useless. Plus, everything Gerry Lane does, works. The guy can’t fail. He just blows through this entire mission like a damn Terminator robot, almost like a child would run through a video game on marshmallow-soft easy mode, taking more damage than any character should but still beating the game in record time. No risk, no challenge, and certainly no reward.
Seriously, I get that it’s the apocalypse and all that, but my reference to Gerry Lane’s bad day above came from my utter astonishment that with four different people having scripted World War Z at some point, this is the best material they could come up with? The hurdles Gerry had to face became comical after a while, even to the point where I think a braindead zombie would laugh at them. Couldn’t at least one thing go right? Oh yeah, only the implausible, I forgot. If there were some type of vaccination that would have cured all this (there isn’t, don’t worry, just using an example) and Gerry had to retrieve it, based on existing script logic, the scene would go something like this:
Scientist: “Well Gerry, the vaccine to cure the world of zombies is in this compound, but in building B.”
Gerry: “Great! So let’s go get it!”
Gerry: “Well what!”
Scientist: “Well, building B has been overrun with zombies.”
Gerry: “Oh no, that’s terrible, well I’ll just…”
Scientist: “There’s bears too, Gerry.”
Gerry: “Wait, what?”
Scientist: “Yes, bears. Apparently they’ve also been trained to wield M-16 machine guns, so they’re also lethal from long range.”
Scientist: “And don’t even get me started on the volcano that erupted, breaking up hallways with rivers of lava that you’ll have to cross on an extremely rickety bridges the bears built which will most likely collapse when you cross them.”
Gerry: “Is there anything else?”
Scientist: “Well there are the indestructible lazer shooting robots who got loose on floor 2…”
Gerry: “Screw it, I’ll be back in ten minutes with the vaccine. You two random Marines, you’re with me. Don’t expect to come back though, you’ll be dead in seconds, leaving me against all odds, only to miraculously think my way out of danger with superior brainpower and blind luck.”
But who knows, that’ll probably end up in the alternate endings somewhere. Chances are one of these writers had an idea along those lines already, it’s just pure numbers.
I digress though, because Brad Pitt absolutely put on a blockbuster performance as Earth’s mightiest hero in its most desperate time of need, and for how badly World War Z bumbles through this lighting-quick script, Pitt makes the most out of each scene, proving his film-carrying A-list worth once again. I didn’t care for the whole family arc myself, because this is a movie that should have been more focused on a bloody war between humans and zombies, but there was a flickering candle lit somewhere deep in my cynical core that actually wanted to see Gerry succeed – but all that was pretty much changed by a Hallmark ending the studio thought would make audiences feel all warm and fuzzy. Well isn’t that nice.
But the icing on this crumby cake is no doubt the antelope like zombies World War Z decided on, employed to do nothing but create cheap chaos and false intensity – if you can keep your head straight during the action that is. Take the opening scene in Philadelphia for instance. With cameras spinning and zombies hurling themselves through the air, it’s insanely hard to actually catch some brutal zombie violence going down, but that goes hand in hand with our “play-nice” PG-13 attitude. Man, I just couldn’t help but feel something was missing watching zombies turn entire cities into free-range buffets without spilling a single drop of blood. These zombies were all bark and no bite, much like the entirety of Forster’s film.
Forster’s beautiful film, I might add. Given the gigantic scope of World War Z, Marc Forster delivered scene after gorgeously sprawling scene of grandiose aesthetics which prove his keen eye for locations. What atmospheric tension could be achieved was done so by Forster’s eye for big-budget visuals, which make you feel the epic scope of this film’s zombie chaos. Mountains upon mountains of zombies, dusty desert scenery, cities crumbling, entire blocks descending into madness – it’s a shame Forster’s technical prowess couldn’t save World War Z from a hollow, drab fate. I’ve been fair and kept book comparisons out of this review, but here’s my one gut shot – reading about the Battle of Yonkers was infinitely more gripping than about 99% of the action sequences crafted for Forster’s film.
I have to be honest with myself though, what else did I expect from a mainstream zombie summer blockbuster starring Brad Pitt? Things go boom, guns spit endless amounts of bullets, zombies chase people, some vague comments are made about geopolitical topics so producers can at least claim they left some of Max Brooks’ brilliantly topical material intact, Gerry Lane plays savior of the universe, and everyone goes home happy. World War Z is a zombie movie for people who don’t like zombies, making a joke out of the Z which finishes its title.
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World War Z is rotten to the putrid core, which is amazing considering the amount of writers that had a chance to get this story right. Man, I'm not even going to bother with a zombie pun on this one.