I only start with this semi-crazy-sounding rant because I don’t believe there’s ever been a movie I have done that more for than World War Z. Going in, it had a lot that made me nervous. First, it was an adaptation of what might be my favorite book of all time, and a very, very loose-looking adaptation at that if the running, swarming zombies were any indication. Second, it had a very troubled, very public production, with numerous problems and a complete third-act reshoot that very rarely bodes well for a movie. Third… PG-13! Who the hell makes a PG-13 zombie movie? I mean, The Walking Dead gets away with this, barely, but… come on! Zombies! Blood!
So what I’m saying is, I was a bit nervous going into it. By all rights I probably should have stayed away, but it has zombies, and it has Brad Pitt, both of which are things I enjoy in a movie, so I wanted to give it a chance. So I sat down with my wife at the wildly overpriced 3D showing of the movie, I unplugged my brain for a while, and I watched World War Z.
And you know what? I enjoyed the hell out of myself. I could point out everything wrong with the movie (and boy there is a lot of that), but like a low-quality roller coaster I still found myself exhilarated and thrilled by the experience just enough that I could excuse the fact that the lapbar kept disengaging during some of the loops.
Despite the grand scope of the movie, the plot is very slight. Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former UN Investigator, now a family man (not that they matter much) who is called upon to find out just what caused a worldwide epidemic of the undead in the hopes of finding a cure. The next 90 minutes are basically a series of excuses to show us just how awesome and capable Brad Pitt is, mostly in his ability at saving people’s lives, being an awesome zombie slayer, and just how noble he is in willing to sacrifice himself at a moment’s notice. This is fine and all, for a while, but toward the end it became something of a running joke between my wife and myself, where we would say, “We already know Brad Pitt is awesome, you don’t have to keep shouting this at us!”
Still, Brad Pitt and his greasy haircut aside, this is a very enjoyable movie. The scale of the first two acts is impressive, while the third act’s more restrained, more classic zombie movie tone is a bit jarring, I think it worked overall as it built tremendous tension. Honest to god, this movie’s a lot scarier than I expected and a lot scarier than it had any reason to be. While a good chunk of this came from some very well-executed jump scares, the constant, unending nature of the zombie hordes (which have been reimagined here as fast-moving, swarm insect-like creatures) is truly frightening, like watching a force of nature at work. The viral nature of these zombies is more present than ever, as they aren’t really interested in eating people, but rather just biting people and moving on so they can spread the virus to as many as possible. Though this is a bit jarring at first to the zombie media soaked mind, seeing them take running leaps at people, unmindful of their own safety is a pretty cool, creepy image.
As well, the setpiece sequences of this movie are well-executed as they should be in any blockbuster. The early sequences of Philadelphia quickly being overrun are creepy and awful in a traditional zombie movie, end of the world sort of way, while the zombie hordes breaking into the walled cities of Israel really allowed the film to show off what kind of zombie movie could be made with a really huge budget. Again, the third act, taking place in a World Health Organization facility in Wales, is a bit slower, a bit more traditional zombie movie than the global scale of the rest, but is tremendously creepy when it wants to be.
So, it’s an enjoyable movie, which is great. Now for the problems.
More than anything, World War Z reeks of a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be. At first it seems to want to just use the title to tell the story of a global zombie epidemic but with a unique story all its own, but then we get some heavy callbacks to the book including a character who actually recites a few paragraphs of dialogue. Then, when it tries to tie itself into the book, it breaks with the story and creates a zombie plague that is nothing like what the book tried to portray, nor a comparable world response.
As well, I have to put a complaint out there about Brad Pitt’s family in the movie, that complaint being that he shouldn’t have had one in the first place. His wife and children offer nothing to the plot other than something for him to occasionally angst over at best, or something to actively put them in danger (repeatedly) at worst. The fact that they’re sidelined for two-thirds of the movie and we’re still forced to check in with them every so often even though they are doing nothing of consequence is, from a storytelling standpoint, weird.
Also, I will say that the movie didn’t take the greatest advantage of its attempt at a global scale. While the attacks we see are big, many of the international locations (including a South Korean army base, in a rainstorm, at night, and Wales) are not the most exotic to look at, and kind of squander its global potential. The Israel stuff was pretty cool though, I’ll give them that.
And for that ending, we’re going to have to enter… THE SPOILER ZONE!
All right, about that ending. In this movie, Brad Pitt, because he’s awesome ya know, quickly deduces that the zombies in this movie only infect healthy targets and will actively pass by people with any chronic or potentially life-threatening medical conditions, and with the help of some World Health Organization scientists figures out that by purposefully infecting ourselves with a fatal disease and then curing it, we can make ourselves invisible to zombies. On paper, I gotta say this sounds kinda cool and at the very least sounds like it has some basis in science. The more I think about it, however, the more it seems to unravel.
If anyone with a life-threatening illness is ignored, we probably would’ve seen a lot more people being passed up by the zombies. Chronic smokers and drinkers would probably be ignored, not to mention anyone with cancer, or heart disease, or any number of other conditions. Large portions of the world infected with HIV and AIDS would be immune. I’m pretty sure any leading minds with a set of eyes and a cell phone would have figured this solution out a lot sooner than Brad Pitt, who doesn’t have a medical degree as far as we know.
It also adds a rather sad tone to the orphan Brad Pitt rescues, Tomas. One of the first times we see this boy, he’s in an apartment with its door being knocked down by the living dead, and he is trapped inside with his parents. The next time we see him, he’s running to Brad Pitt completely ignored by the zombies, and his parents are chasing the rest of them down, now firmly among the ranks of the living dead. While it’s possible that Tomas may just have been faster than the zombies (which seems unlikely), it might be wise of Brad Pitt to tell the boy that he probably has cancer.
All griping aside, I gotta say I enjoyed the hell out of World War Z. It’s got its problems and it’s nothing like the book, but as summer popcorn movies go, you could do a lot worse.
Anyone else out there see the movie? Have any thoughts on it?
As always, please take the time to like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter! I’m big into liking/following back, so just drop me a line!