We’ve all read the stories about what a disaster this film was during production. Going over budget (waaaaay over budget), script problems, pacing issues, etc. But now that the film is in theaters there’s only one thing that matters: Is WORLD WAR Z a good film? My curiosity got the best of me and even though I wasn’t overly excited with the trailers I went to see WORLD WAR Z opening weekend. What turned me off about the trailers was the fact that the film looked as though it was largely a CGI-fest. Yes, there was a lot of CGI in the film, but there was no more in WWZ than in your typical modern-day flick. I avoided using the label “horror flick” on purpose. WORLD WAR Z is not a horror film; it’s an action-thriller and this is the main problem I had with it.
We all know that WORLD WAR Z is based on the bestselling 2006 novel by Max Brooks. The novel took a different approach to the typical zombie story as we get various international points of view from different characters about the beginning, middle, and ending days of the zombie apocalypse. There’s a common narrator in the novel, a United Nations investigator, who binds the entire story together, but the impact of the novel comes in the meticulous research and authentic geography that went into writing the book. Me? Yeah, I didn’t care for the novel at all. It read more like a loosely connected anthology, and many of the stories left me bored with my mind wandering and thinking about the next novel I was going to read.
When I first heard they were going to make a movie based on the novel I knew there was no way they’d be able to even be 25% faithful to the novel unless they went with an anthology approach (which thinking about it, wouldn’t have been a bad idea). So I was looking forward to seeing how the writers would create a more traditional narrative out of the book. The book had, I thought, the elements of a great story, I just hated the way it was delivered. To say the film is “loosely” based on the novel is an understatement. Other than the fact that the lead character, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), is an investigator for the U.N., there’s nothing else that will remind you about the novel (again, is this a bad thing?). The plot is a pretty typical zombie apocalypse storyline. Pitt’s character is a retired U.N. investigator who is called out of retirement once the zombies start overtaking America’s big cities. The opening scenes in the streets of Philadelphia were pretty damn good. They were suspenseful, tense, and had lots of action. Unfortunately the rest of the film couldn’t keep up the pace of the opening scenes.
As the world is quickly overrun with zombies, Pitt is called out of retirement to aid a scientist and some special force soldiers in trying to track down where the infection originated. Pitt is separated from his family and the rest of the film is about him flying to various countries (China, Israel, Eastern Europe) trying to find clues for a cure and trying to reunite with his family. Like I said, nothing new here in the story department. The only other big names in the film were Matthew Fox and David Morse who both had roles that if you blinked you would’ve missed them. The acting was solid from the cast and Pitt did a good job in his role. He’s definitely getting better with age!! No complaints in the acting department in this one. But the writing … hhmmm. That’s a different story.
WORLD WAR Z is directed by Marc Forster (QUANTUM OF SOLACE, MACHINE GUN PREACHER) and written by four, FOUR, writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, and J. Michael Straczynski. You probably recognize a few of the names here. Lindelof is the writer who pretty much ruined PROMETHEUS’ story!! But there are many times where you’ll feel the effect of having four writers. Many times the film feels disjointed and the focus switches back and forth between getting back to his family and finding a cure. Ultimately neither plot element works. We’ve seen the “I’ll do anything to get back to my loved ones” done a thousand times in zombie films and novels, and the cure to the zombie outbreak is extremely unsatisfying and is a stretch even for a zombie flick. But perhaps the most disappointing thing about WORLD WAR Z is that it’s not a horror movie. Hell, it doesn’t even contain any horror elements. I understand that this film wasn’t aiming to be a straight out horror flick, but when the antagonists in the film are zombies I’d expect to have some kind of horror going on. There’s not and when you get right down to it, the zombies aren’t even in the spotlight all that much.
This brings us to the zombies. Yes, the scenes of the zombies climbing on each other to get over a wall is all CGI. But the CGI isn’t my biggest complaint. I liked how these zombies are the fastest, most aggressive sons of bitches I’ve even seen. There was a huge opportunity to make them extremely horrifying/terrifying. But we really don’t get to see them all that much, and when we do they’re in a state of stasis, or inactivity, while waiting for some hapless humans to come by. Then towards the end when Pitt is trying out his zombie cure, there’s one zombie who just stares at Pitt and chomps his teeth as if he were taunting Pitt. The audiences reaction? Everyone laughed. Is this really the emotion you want the audience to have during the height of the climax of the film?
WORLD WAR Z is not a bad film. Overall I enjoyed it for what it was: an action-thriller with good acting and some exotic locales. But if you’re looking for a good old horror film packed with gore as zombies chomp on people from across the globe then you’re gonna be disappointed. Very disappointed. The main storyline about finding a cure is hugely unsatisfying and was in fact a big letdown. Think about if the only cure for cancer was to inject yourself with AIDS!! Just know what you’re getting into with WORLD WAR Z and I think you’ll have some fun with it. Maybe?
Director: Marc Forster
Plot: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 2 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 3.5 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer