I’ll just state from the start that I haven’t read Max Brooks’ novel, but from what I’ve heard this film adaptation bears little relation, so what does it matter? WORLD WAR Z is a painful viewing experience. Even by the standards of films with troubled production histories it feels rushed, badly put together and ill thought-through. It doesn’t work as a disaster movie, a thriller or (most disastrously) as a zombie movie.
The plot (surprise surprise) involves a worldwide zombie apocalypse and a former United Nations operative Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) on a quest for a cure. He dumps his burdensome family on an aircraft carrier for safety and then jets off around the world with some jarheads to save humanity.
Every single character is woefully underdeveloped, in fact blink and you’ll miss the contribution of any character who isn’t played by Brad Pitt. You can count the number of lines Gerry’s wife Karin (Mireille Enos) gets on one hand after the opening sequence. A female Israeli soldier (Daniella Kertesz) gets to tag along with Gerry towards the end, by which point Peter Capaldi has turned up as well, but neither make any kind of impact. Even Pitt, who was having a pretty good run over the last couple of years is coasting by on still looking pretty good for a man in his late 40s, and Gerry as a character is just a bland archetype.
The screenplay thinks it’s quite clever in its spouting of cod-humanist philosophy, but is actually really dumb, and occasionally pretty insulting. This is never more noticeable than in the main action centrepiece of the film, which involves seemingly endless waves of the undead throwing themselves at a colossal defensive wall surrounding Jerusalem. The script (patched together by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard among others) lazily and staggeringly insensitively puts the extent of Israel’s preparation for an apocalypse down to “Jews survived the holocaust and countless other atrocities, we’re going to dig in and survive zombies too”.
The special effects look far too cheap for a major blockbuster, and some of the visuals just don’t work – I understand you want your zombie hordes to look like they’re swarming, but speeding their movement up to the extent that the film looks like it’s on fast-forward just looks awful. Fast zombies have worked, they’ve been scary – just look at 28 DAYS LATER or the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake – but when they’re this quick they look cartoony, bordering on comical, and not the least bit frightening.
The editing is clumsy throughout, both in terms of sewing together the laughably butchered plot and within the action scenes themselves, which Marc Forster, as competent a director as he is, has never been able to handle (the best action scene he’s ever directed involved kites). The only memorable, or even remotely tense scene takes place on board a cramped aeroplane with passengers panicking and trampling over each other to escape their neighbours who are “on the turn”. At least Forster can handle one scary scene, albeit one based around a situation that’s inherently scary rather than any remarkable artistic feat on his part.
Opportunities are also missed whenever the plot looks like it’s going somewhere interesting. Towards the end of the film, Pitt’s character reaches what seems like humanity’s last hope for a cure to the zombie epidemic, a World Health Organisation facility in Wales, and he has to make a difficult and selfless choice to reach his objective. The decision he makes has massive and weighty implications, and could have made the finale truly memorable, but no, all the complexities and possibilities are glossed over and the film becomes dull again. The third act of the film was drastically re-written last minute to make it a bit more hopeful, but what’s the rest of the film’s excuse? No scene seems to be connected to any other! You have a good ten or fifteen minutes establishing the Lane family dynamic, then it’s all dumped and the wayside as Gerry jets off on his one-man crusade, and you’re just expected to accept every plot curve-ball that comes our way.
At least Marco Beltrami’s soundtrack is decent, and deserves to be attached to a much better film, though it can sound a bit like he’s trying to imitate both John Williams and Hanz Zimmer at the same time.
World War Z is what happens when you let an A-lister loose with too much money. Something’s gotta give, and without a sure enough artist at the helm, your project will crash and burn. You’ll be left picking up the pieces, and no matter how much you try to smooth over the gaps, flaws will still show through. High concept filmmaking should never be this disheartening, and with a budget reportedly just shy of $200 million it should at least offer you a feast for the eyes. But as it is, Pitt, Forster, the writers and the money men just look like they weren’t trying. Go watch a smaller scale zombie movie, one that doesn’t think having a budget excuses a “that’ll do” attitude. You’ll get much more out of it. SSP