Genre: Action, Drama, Horror
Directed by: Marc Foster
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Daniella Kertesz
After an inexplicable national crisis, survivors holed up in a Pennsylvanian farmhouse repel hordes of the un-dead, many of whom comprise their relatives and neighbours. Soon most of them are dead and the Omega-man among them awakes the next morning to be killed by a Sheriff who mistook him for one of the attackers. Infused with controversial themes, with scenes from the gruesome to the terrifying, this extraordinary film is the zombie ground zero ‘Night of the Living Dead.’
Romero’s film is an arguable masterpiece that led the way for a genre (near-franchise) that would feature a variety of horrifying, and often unbelievable, innovations. Adapted from Max Brooks’ seminal zombie novel of the same name, Marc Foster’s ‘World War Z’ falls short of its potential and offers yet more rotting flesh to the field outside the farmhouse.
When early script leaks surfaced, many reviewers cited an air of ‘Best Picture’ potential surrounding the Brad Pitt-produced blockbuster. Journalistic hyperbole accounted for in those reviews, this potential is squandered by a film hewn with rewrites. Such signs of plagued production permeate the film and what prevails is a lack of consistency, a series of uneven groans made inferior by their own global scale.
The primary failures of ‘World War Z’ are exemplified in its early acts. Brad Pitt plays a character I had to assume was also Brad Pitt, a seemingly perfect, UN employee who has retired to make his kids waffles. The scenes establishing the family fail to endear due to their momentary nature and it isn’t long before Brad Pitt takes Brad Pitt’s family out in Brad Pitt’s car when they (including Brad Pitt) are attacked. This pace might have been refreshing had the film not immediately become bogged down in scenes where the family are taken to an aircraft carrier. It’s as fun as it sounds, and while necessary to incite the next act, these scenes are superfluous and without tension since it’s obvious that Brad Pitt is going to have to leave the aircraft carrier and travel the world to do whatever it is that Brad Pitt does.
Classic blockbuster fare, this already signifies a shift away from the terrifying, and it will come as no surprise that ‘World War Z’ is relatively light on thrills. While more focus is undoubtedly placed on the action, there isn’t enough of it to make the film a Roland Emmerich style popcorn flick. Similarly there’s not enough believable, impactful human drama to make it anything other than a countless body count and relatively little investment in what is at stake. What follows then is an uneven patchwork of ideas, none of which can be accused of any overleaping ambition and many of which squander the potential of the Max Brooks’ novel.
This source material is a compilation of interviews and reports that document the zombie war, the action taking place retrospectively in their accounts. Consider the idea of an interview based film, monologues delivering the human account of a terrible war and it is here that the action scenes of ‘World War Z’ seem ridiculous and insignificant. If you look closely amidst the computer generated crowd shots, you can almost see the corpse of something good, a minimalist horror instilled with human drama and not a generic Hollywood vehicle.
This is not to say that ‘World War Z’ is the worst zombie film to happen, it is instead to say how disappointing it is. The film still has its merits including the strong performances of its central stars. Scenes were Brad Pitt deduces the time it takes for someone to be infected, and later where he must sneak his way through a research facility contain glimmers of tension that are enough to sustain the price of a ticket. One scene is particularly evocative as the city of Jerusalem unite in song before inevitably, and dare I say it almost brilliantly, things go wrong.
These traces of brilliance make other moments seem ridiculous and in the light of what came before; ‘World War Z’ seems all the less entertaining. The opening sequence for instance, is the same montage of news clips that accompanies countless modern films – a great example of the film’s lack of ambition. In contrast, the climax of the film taking place in Cardiff showcases an attempt to try something new, albeit one that drew quiet scoffs in the cinema and one that is oddly absurd in a big budget, globetrotting adventure.
The most poignant summary of the problems with ‘World War Z’ is almost certainly found in the climax of the film. Having discovered something that I won’t spoil, Brad Pitt stops for a Pepsi by a Pepsi machine and soon after things start to look positive. Taking Romero’s sequel ‘Dawn of the Dead’ into account, this obtrusive product placement is laughable.
Gone are the social commentaries and any substantive thematic material, what remains is an unoriginal, mildly entertaining film that strays away from the most basic zombie survival guides.