I might be one of the only people left alive who hasn’t read Max Brooks’ best selling novel World War Z. We are a select few, those who haven’t read this sprawling yarn of the hopefully not impending zombie apocalypse, but I know the book has a fervent following that were drawn to its journalistic, almost documentarian style. I can’t for the life of me comment on the similarities between the book at the film at all, or even if there are any. It’s generally established already that the Marc Forster directed and Brad Pitt starring and produced effort deviates wildly from its source material, so I can only make assumptions on that front. What I can say, as a film critic, is that the movie bearing the same title is a complete and total debacle with very little to praise, becoming one of the weakest “zombie” films ever created and certainly the most lacklustre with this high of a profile. It’s intermittently laughable, mostly boring, and self-serious in all the wrong ways.
Gerry Lane (Pitt) is a former UN worker who spent a lot of time on the front lines in wartorn and impoverished areas of the world now spending time with his wife and two daughters in a state of semi-retirement in Philadelphia. One day, a global heath crisis reaches intense new heights and people start getting sick, turning on one another, and seemingly attacking for no reason. With almost all major cities and governments around the world either fallen or toppling under the weight of it all, Gerry is called back into duty to try and get answers about the epidemic. It’s a search that will take him on three separate missions away from his family: One to South Korea where “zombies” were first reported, one to Jerusalem where walls have been built and measures implemented to keep everyone safe, and finally to Wales where a lone World Health Organization outpost could offer the keys to a potential cure or inoculation.
Again, I haven’t read the novel, but I’m sure it didn’t ever shy away from gory details about things, and first and foremost Forster (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland) fails to deliver by crafting quite possibly the most genial and least threatening apocalyptic vision ever. Undoubtedly, or should I say there had damned well better be, a version that actually doesn’t feel like a Sesame Street equivalent of The Walking Dead. Zombie purists, theorists, and fans all have various feelings about the speed of how such creatures should move, but…
Oh, wait. Hang on. Let me back up for a second. First of all, I really shouldn’t be using the word zombie. I guess these creations are a lot closer to the ones Danny Boyle envisioned in 28 Days Later, where people seem more enraged than anything else. Even the 12 second transformations (always lovingly counted off by some jackass on camera) look the exact same as Boyle’s vision. And that’s fine, I guess, but wasn’t the title of Brooks’ book subheaded with “An Oral History of the Zombie War”? Wasn’t it followed with Brooks’ own Zombie Survival Guide? Why then in this movie does it take over 30 minutes for anyone to even say the word “zombie” and then for everyone to shoot the idea down as a total impossibility? Verily, the film has the constant look and feel of a zombie film made by people who detest zombie films and the people who like them.
Now, these creatures move about as fast as Usain Bolt going for a gold medal, but good luck actually getting a look at them and being disappointed when you finally do. Every zombie attack is almost entirely bloodless. Or only kind bloody. There might be blood. It’s really hard to tell since this might be one of, if not THE, most incompetently shot and edited action films (I scoff at calling this a horror film in any way) in recent memory. Everything that happens is an incoherent blur of sound and noise, made worse by Forster’s annoying need to shoot everything in drab, soft focused light with the shakiest of shaky-cams. And God forbid you get suckered into watching this thing in its atrocious Clash of the Titans reboot level of awful 3-D retrofitting. You would be better off lighting your own money on fire in the theatre just to see the screen.
You would be better off burning money in your backyard to tell your own zombie stories around the ensuing bonfire, too. This film has no characters whatsoever. What Gerry does for a living is never actually answered. His family only exists to be put in danger with none of them having personalities of their own. Characters pop up to get killed seconds later and it’s impossible to care or feel anything about their passing. The story itself bounces arbitrarily around between set pieces that attempt to create some sort of epic grandeur (zombies rushing over walls en masse, narrow helicopter escapes), but all without rhyme or reason. It wants to show full scale carnage at the expense of its story, but then it can’t be bothered to show said carnage because it’s a PG-13 movie. The script and story are credited to four talented writers, including Drew Goddard (director of Cabin in the Woods) and Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus), but there’s absolutely nothing in this mess that bears the trademarks or fingerprints of either of them. Say what you will about Lindelof’s track record in the past, but this film doesn’t even have the personality to be one of his productions.
The fault here rests unequivocally on Forster, who once showed promise but has sadly degenerated into a hack for hire. Whatever story there was in this film at one point, he – and let’s be honest, most likely the studio – have cut to ribbons and shredded said ribbons into oblivion. Even if the original novel did have a more unorthodox structure, just forgoing that and just making a balls out action film shouldn’t have been that hard to do. There is precisely one scare moment in the film that I thought was effective and that was only because I was a hair away from falling asleep right in the middle of the film. I almost wasn’t happy that it jolted me from my slumber because I only awoke to find out the film wasn’t even going to have an ending. I don’t mean that it ends with a sequel set up (it does, somewhat naturally), but nothing even on a human, dramatic, or narrative level is really explained. There’s an entire act missing from the film, and I would venture a guess from this mess that at least 30 minutes of this were excised somewhere along the way. There’s no way the film was shot incoherently. No one would have ever bankrolled this film the way it ended up.
World War Z is anger inducing levels of bad, but I’ll leave on a few compliments. Pitt really isn’t that bad of a leading man, but the fact that he produced this and shepherded the production every step of the way almost negates any of the doe eyed looks he gives the people around him when things go wrong. At least his charisma remains intact. The best performer, albeit in a thankless role that again goes nowhere, comes from Daniella Kertesz as a surviving Israeli soldier. Marco Beltrami and Muse team up for a pretty great score deserving of a better film. There’s also a pretty great plane crash that serves as the best sequence in the film. At least those elements work. The rest of it is dead on arrival.