World War Z
Call of Duty: Zombie Mode The Movie
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos
Review written by Tom Bevis
A lot of people said World War Z, Max Brooks’ sequel to The Zombie Survival Guide, couldn’t faithfully be adapted. In a lot of regards, they’re right. Not as a film, anyway – the spanning and erratic narrative, told as an oral history of a world-wide zombie epidemic spanning tens of years, is more suited for television than for film. But with zombies dominating television, a move in that direction would be seen as foolish by any functioning network executive.
What really gets me about this film is the chatter around critics and movie reviewers about whether the general public even want zombie movies. Many of them have credited this film to the runaway success of The Walking Dead television series. What they seem to be missing is that the source material of these two properties. The aforementioned AMC series was originally a comic from Image, and both The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z books were a response to consumers who weren’t content to see the zombie subgenre linger in the likes of a George Romero rehashing.
To put it bluntly, there is an audience for zombie movies, and it’s not just people following trends from The Walking Dead television show. In fact, that series is following the trend established in the previously mentioned books.
So, with that said, was World War Z a faithful rendition of the book? Not at all. Was it an effective action movie? Sure. But was it an effective horror movie? That’s a bit more complicated.
World War Z is a movie that depends on fast action and rapid-cut editing to get its scares across, but I’ll be the first to say that the film’s most tense and claustrophobic scenes are downright terrifying. The first half of this film is about an adequate horror film as you can find in any mainstream movie theater. The second half, though, veers more toward action, complete with mass destruction, crashing airplanes, and automatic gunfire.
Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, once you get past the first fifteen minutes, performs his role well. Despite his shaky start in the film, he reestablishes himself as the movie screen veteran he is and quickly takes control of the film. Adequate, as well, are the two young actresses who play his daughters. The real shame of the casting here isn’t anyone not performing well, but rather the script and director not giving Mireille Enos – cast as Karen Lane, wife of Pitt’s Gerry – more time. AMC fans will remember Enos as Sarah Linden, the compassion-plagued detective of The Killing.
Fans of the book this film is based on needn’t be terribly distressed by a lack of a faithful adaptation. Weeks ago, I predicted how the film would be portrayed, as Pitt’s character travels from locale to locale experiencing the disasters each has to offer. This prediction proved accurate, and it was perhaps the only method available to accurately convey the global events of the novel. However, it doesn’t work well in a two-hour movie. But there are plenty of nods to the rules established in the Zombie Survival Guide – in one scene, for instance, troops ride bicycles to traverse an airstrip without attracting the zombies. Here, the fun will be finding all of the references.
Fear not the PG-13 rating on this film, America. Sure, you’ll still have to sit in a crowd of hungry and irritable teenagers, but the film moves so fast and so intensely, you won’t even notice. Unlike many PG-13 horror films, it is not apparent when watching World War Z that it’s pulling any punches or striving to be politically correct in any way. This film handles its material and its presentation of the material with respect and sophistication, resulting in a PG-13 film that’s entertaining, scary enough, but not blatantly shooting for a high-school crowd.
In a bottom line, World War Z is just an adequate film. It is particularly engrossing in its visions of a world falling apart, but, as many zombie films, it has difficulty finding a focus. I’ve long stated that the emphasis in both horror films and disaster films, of which this film is both, has to be the human aspect and not the event causing the disaster itself. While the scriptwriters started with a bright spark to somehow convey both – Pitt plays a retired United Nations investigator called back to duty to find “Patient Zero” and isolate a cause in hopes that the cure can be cultivated – it stumbles in its efforts to maintain balanced. More on this beyond the break.
Beware, the discussion below contains spoilers. Do not continue reading if you haven’t seen the film.
By now, everyone and their mothers know about the troubled past this film carried. Shortly after being green-lit, the initial script was dumped altogether and the new version bared much less in common with the source material. Then, as the film neared completion, the studio realized the ending they settled on – which involved a massive battle in Russia – didn’t work. I’m sad to say that even Damon Lindelof, the bright mind behind Prometheus, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Lost, was unable to save it.
The new ending doesn’t work, either, apparently, and this goes back to what I was saying about horror and disaster movies. The ending of the film sacrifices the film’s human aspect and, instead, focuses on the global aspect. Pitt as Lane returns from his travels, the entire last chapter of his adventure cut out of the film (assuming it was even in the script at all, but according to the film, he travels from the Europe to Canada by ship in just a few minutes) and instead of giving that arm of the story any kind of closure, the film ends with a breakdown of the epidemic and how the world is beating it.
Is the end? No. Even the film says so: there will no doubt be a sequel to this in the future. But we can rely on the sequel to be even more unfocused than this film is here. Unfortunately, because the film tries to put equal weight on both the global and human storylines, neither is done justice and the audience is left wanting closure for two stories.