6/27/2013 - Brad Pitt is all that stands between us and total annihilation by zombies in World War Z, a zombie movie very very loosely based on Max Brooks’ book of the same name.
Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is the stay-at-home dad of two little girls — Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove). But, as a former United Nations worker, Gerry knows civilization-imperiling trouble when he sees it. For example, when he, his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and their kids are trying to outrun a rampaging mob in downtown Philadelphia, he knows enough to stop and count the seconds it takes for a man bitten by another man to become a crazed animal seeking human flesh (about 12 seconds). Soon the family is holed up in an apartment building and their only hope for salvation is Thierry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena), a colleague from Gerry’s UN days. Thierry gets the Lanes a helicopter ride away from the zombie-overrun East Coast and on to a ship — but at a price. Gerry must accompany a team investigating the start of this pandemic in hopes of finding a way to fight it. This quest leads Gerry first to Korea, then to Israel and eventually to Wales. Along the way, he looks for clues about how the zombie disease spreads, what causes them to swarm and why they occasionally ignore a human in their path.
Let’s look at some of the zombie entertainment over the last 10 years:
The Walking Dead: A zombie TV show that focuses on how people deal with the reality of a zombie-apocalypse world.
Dawn of the Dead (the Zack Snyder version): A zombie action movie with comedy overtones and hints of satire about consumer culture.
Land of the Dead (George A. Romero, writer and director): A zombie movie that features social commentary about classism and gated communities.
Shaun of the Dead (written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright): A buddy comedy.
Juan of the Dead (written and directed by Alejandro Brugues): A blend of comedy and action that also offers some commentary on Cuban government oppression and propaganda.
Warm Bodies: Zombies in love.
Max Brooks’ book World War Z could fit in that list as yet another take on zombies. The book is an oral history of the zombie-apocalypse and subsequent attempts by humans to retake control of the world. Like all of the movies (and one TV show) mentioned above, it offers something new to say about zombies, a new way to use them to tell a story.
World War Z the movie is not so easily defined. It’s not funny and, while we do get a few characters to root for, the characters themselves and their relationships are not the focus. While Brad Pitt is just fine as the guy we spend most of our time with, he isn’t electrifying. There’s nothing interesting about him as a character; he’s just the one the camera is following.
I suspect the movie was going for gritty realism (I vaguely remember reading something from the movie’s creators that they wanted some of the down and dirty reality you get on The Walking Dead) but it feels too slick, too CGI-ed for that. A scene where thousands of zombies attack an allegedly impenetrable wall causes none of the anxiety, none of the visceral fight-or-flight feelings you get when you watch one Walking Dead character fight off one zombie. Humans organized and fighting back against the zombies, declaring war on them instead of looking for ways to eke out a living in the shadows, would be something new but that — spoiler alert, sort of, unless you’ve heard about plans for a sequel — is something not even mentioned until the end of the movie. We don’t really get any zombie origins here, we don’t get any zombie battles. World War Z often feels like just so much running.
I’ve also read that this movie was planned to be the first in a trilogy. I wish, instead of setting up future movies, World War Z had put a little more effort into making this one something new and fresh in a crowded genre. C+
Rated PG-13 for intense and frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images. Directed by Marc Foster with a screenplay worked on by way too many people (screenplay credits go to Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof with screen story by Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski) from the novel by Max Brooks, World War Z is an hour and 56 minutes long and is distributed by Paramount Pictures.