World War Z Review
By Bret Dorman
Zombie fans like familiarity. A zombie movie has to feel like a zombie movie. Then again, eventually even the zombie genre has to evolve to feed the hunger of its… fans. World War Z is somehow stuck in the middle. Its not a traditional zombie movie, but its doesn’t add a lot to the genre either. Then again, perhaps a better way to look at WWZ is like an action-horror; major explosive set pieces as the main course with a dash of zombie.The Story: Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and family get caught up in a massive outbreak of zombie-itis and struggle to stay alive. Gerry uses his old U.N. connections to not only save his family, but quite possibly the entire world! Also, in a deleted scene on the DVD, Brad Pitt’s character from True Romance rides the zombie waves on a surf board! Woah!
Zombie movies, at their best, treat the actual outbreaks and monsters like metaphors, highlighting something about humankind while pushing it’s human characters to their most extreme limits. People arguing can be pretty interesting, but people arguing during the end of the world while their brains are eaten?! That’s just good cinema. Lately however, zombie outbreaks are just another standard backdrop and the science of the ‘virus’ is getting more and more realistic. Putting science in silly movies is a tricky thing. Some movies, like Blade II (vampire eugenics, anyone?) simply use a few details to add a new spin while keeping the fun alive. In Blade II, we aren’t given huge lectures or charts to follow while characters spout about DNA proteins. Instead, the Main Vampire King dude says “Hey we messed around and made a new kind of guy and he’s really mean!” and then Blade fights that guy (along with some regular vampires). Even Jurassic Park pokes fun with its science-ride and gets it out of the way rather early to make room for dino chases. These movies use (loose) science to propel the fun. WWZ uses the science to make everything cold and clinical.Once science isn’t just the backdrop, but the end game, you have to realize you’re entire movie is open to more “nitpicky” criticism. Would you really use mini-liquor bottles to disinfect a wound? And then give liquor to someone who has lost a lot of blood? Using real science… no. You probably wouldn’t. Using movie science? Sure! Why not! And all car doors can stop bullets! See, I don’t have a problem with movie science, but when you try to use real science for “cool” effect and still rely on movie logic for fun, well, that I do find rather contradictory. For every “movie moment” WWZ has though, there’s a cool, unique “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment. At one point, Gerry gets ready to escort his family into zombie infested hallways and as a precaution, wraps his forearm up with a temporary makeshift armor. (Note to self: start keeping duct tape and magazines in same room.)
World War Z asks the question “how would the world REALLY react to a crazy ‘zombie’-ish outbreak?” In the book, I’m told the reader is told this information through a series of mini-stories, which recount different ways different countries try to cope. In the movie version, North Korea’s solution is recounted as both terrifyingly cruel and one of the “greatest feats of social engineering” in recent history. Jerusalem offers a unique outlook as to why they built their walls at the slightest murmurs of the “z” word while also providing a very optimistic philosophy on how every person they save is an enemy they don’t have to fight. The outbreak itself, as shown mostly in Philly, is full of pure chaos and confusion. There’s a true sense, amongst the bloodless rampage and occasional bird’s eye view “sweet shot,” that there really is no turning back. In fact, the movie doesn’t telegraph its every move, giving the pacing a sense of urgency and the story a genuine mystery vibe. Even upon rewatching the movie, knowing how it all turns out, I was surprised to find how much information the main character learns himself and must piece together, right alongside the audience.Tackling the global aspect while keeping the story intimate must have been no easy task. Especially in terms of keeping track of all the characters. I mean, surely there must be the family man, to provide tension and sympathy. But there also has to be the military dude, to keep everyone safe. Also the reporter, who knows what clues to look for and where. And let’s not forget the doctor, who figures it all out while providing emergency services. Oh wait, what’s that? WWZ just lumps all those roles into one super human? Bo-ring! Except that the filmmakers know what you’re already going to complain about and rather expertly circumvent every issue when it comes to a Jack-of-all-Trades, also Master-of-all-Trades combo-character. Instead of making him a soldier, he has wartime experience. Just enough to keep a level head and think on his feet. They replace journalistic doctor with do-gooder humanitarian once involved in detective like work. It’s a lot for one person to balance and luckily Brad Pitt is up to the task. He nails the fatherly moments, like feinting surprise/victory at getting the answer right to the ’20 Questions’-ish game he’s playing with his daughters. Or expertly adjusting to his youngest daughter not wanting to be called a “baby” right before telling a young boy that he’s “awesome.” That same character feels right at home asking characters for information or trying to talk a nervous scientist down.
I know I’m not the first person to comment on the PG-13 rating, but honestly you really can feel it in the movie. It’s not the general mayhem that is lacking, but the small “traditional” moments where an R rated movie would deliver the zombie-rrific goods. For instance, at one point, a character has a gun pointed RIGHT AT A ZOMBIE’S FACE but opts to kick him/her off the vehicle instead of going for the easy headshot. Or at one point a character has a weapon stuck in a zombie, trying to pull it out while another attacks. Except you only see this from the human’s waist, up. And as far as creating horror on the big screen is concerned, I’m much more interested in wider, longer shots that actually create a scary atmosphere, than simple (shaky aka moody) close ups showing a character’s scared face. This movie suffers from the normal “what is out of frame is out of sight” syndrome. A character scans a hallway, staircase, or runway and finds it clear- then BLAM-O! Zombie out of nowhere. If only s/he looked where the zombie was! Drats!
SPOILERSFor every one cool thing, there is a “cliche” moment that holds WWZ back. I’m not against cliches, but when you specifically go out of your way to try and offer a “unique” point of view on zombies by focusing on science and realism, those cliches stick out worse than usual.
One step forward: The entire set up to the outbreak. The cop busting the mirror. The daughter concerned about her dad. A concerned cabbie bonding with Pitt in mutual confusion/nervousness. An angry police officer getting crushed by a garbage truck and Pitt’s immediate decision to follow it.
One Step back: The U.N. guy talking on the phone in the helicopter, saying “What do you mean we lost Boston?” Really? Come on dude.
One step forward: Forcing Pitt to go on the mission because everyone on the ship is useful.
One step back: Fueling the plane just enough for a one-way trip, then having main doctor dude SHOOT HIMSELF right away. I admire the spirit of “Let’s put this all in Pitt’s hands and make him figure it out/up the stakes” but… come on dude.
One step forward: Pitt throwing the grenade on the plane. It was an all or nothing move. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. Pretty badass though.
One step back: “Hey sorry your hubby is dead but uh, get off our boat. Oh, and give us your cell phone. You won’t be needing it and we won’t either unless of course your dead, sorry, probably dead husband calls back.” I mean, not even a grieving period? Come on dudes…
One step forward: “No I don’t want the gun its too loud.” “Really? Uh, no we’re taking the gun you dummy.”
One step back: Not only kicking the can on the floor, but then not learning the lesson of “We should watch where we step” and stepping right on the biggest most audibly breakable glass in the whole building. Come on dude.
I could be “that guy” who tries to pick apart the science but I’ll just take the movie at its own word. At first we learn it takes the Korean doctor hours to tranform, but later it is twelve seconds (how convenient that stuffed animal counted right to twelve! haha, no I’m not nitpicking that its cool WWZ). We then learn there is a natural precedent for viruses skipping sick people, who some zombies just seem to intuit from a very far distance at very high speeds. The zombies seem solely stimulated by sight and sound, but you can also “make them angry” by killing them in front of each other. But my problem is with the wide range of science. For a virus that skips sick people it sure has no qualms about launching its hosts off of giant walls or from buildings blindly into alleys ways or through windshields… head first. And I’m not a fan of science side by side with outlandish action beats. “You know what would be cool?” is not the first question you should be asking when making a serious, dreary movie about sick people. In these instances, I find the realism cool. Like in Heat, when a bomb used to open an armored truck’s doors also ends up shattering the glass of every car in a nearby car dealership. Seeing zombies scale walls (because people are singing? come on dudes) and launch themselves off roofs for either no reason (it happens, the one who happens to land on the cage above Pitt) or onto helicopters doesn’t quite fit in a movie where millions of people are forced to have their teeth pulled to stop spread the “bite.”
In Conclusion, I keep saying it but, for every good there is a bad. Ultimately, World War Z is very watchable and at times, excitingly successful. The movie is a series of good intentions and interesting opportunities. Its not a complete bust, or an epic disaster, but I can’t help feeling the unique movie is bogged down by the stereotypical one. And in the end, the tame rating is enough to sway me just enough to go a tiny more negative than positive, but just a tiny bit.
Final Grade: C-
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