Review: WORLD WAR Z aka Zombies With Brad Shuffles, Stumbles, Drops Dead

I had little hope for this 'adaptation' when the first trailer popped up. Abandoning almost everything from the gripping and terrifying novel by Max Brooks, director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) instead funnels the story into a singular narrative that amounts to Brad Pitt globetrotting and running a lot. This is OK; on its own merits World War Z could have been a superior action thriller utilizing its locales intelligently and bringing its utterly chaotic premise to a satisfying close. I did say could have been. 

Feelings for the film dwindled even further after Twitch revealed here and here that Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus) was tasked with rewriting the ending and that seven weeks of re-shoots were required. Following this, so as not to offend the great market of China, the location of the outbreak's source was moved to South Korea, a place not exactly third-world enough to be filled with any diseases. Heading into the cinema with no expectations and these set-backs in mind, surely I would see its merits.

Initially I was pleased as the film starts brilliantly. A smart credit sequence and montage of world media activity forms the credits of the film. This quickly leads to a sensible opening where protagonist Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and family are having breakfast. This is one of those scenes that Hollywood does well, as the audience already begins feeling tense, waiting for the ball to drop. After these introductions the film cuts to a spectacular moment of chaos and anarchy, peppered with genuinely tense & thrilling moments. Unfortunately for humanity, these are 28 Days Later zombies, not the slow dumb shambling kind. In fact the first thirty minutes of World War Z may just be some of the best fictional zombie storytelling to date. Lane's family does not irritate as much as they do later, the people he meets feel genuine, while the danger and scenario are both immediate and concealed.

However World War Z stinks of rewrites and test screenings and this is painfully obvious when this thrilling part of the movie is over. No proper elements from the novel can be found in the whole movie; sure there is a broad mission to find the cure, but unlike the book's expertly scattered fascinating and horrifying short tales from around the globe. World War Z's globe-trotting by comparison is trite and condensed into a mind-numbing insta-trek, where Brad seems to spend merely minutes, barely an hour from place to place destroying everything but himself along the way. He is looking for clues to the virus' origin so they can find the source and put a stop to it. This is a tonally different story to that of the novel, with its emphasis on conflict, survival and, you know, actual war with the undead.

Gerry goes to South Korea, the Middle East and some other intriguing places on his trip. Brad carries the film with a fractured heroic style, but everybody he meets on the way may as well be cardboard cutout check-points that he tags before moving to his next destination. The South Korea segment is particularly offensive not only to fans of the book but to human intelligence in general. As soon as he gets there, a crazed CIA officer happens to be at the same spot and feels the need to provide the next plot point in the most obtuse way possible. 

Later, he winds up in Israel - a city that is surrounded by walls and has preemptively prepared for the zombie apocalypse due to a note from an esteemed general in the desert (perhaps the only link to the novel) and the peace is kept as the hordes of millions gather outside. The city carries on its hustle and bustle, refugees file in through protective fences (the zombies can see them), helicopters buzz about and yet as soon as Brad turns up, like a horrible curse, people inexplicably start singing from two loud speakers near the gate. This of course voids all logic and science and the entire zombie force ascends the wall - this is unrelentingly stupid, dear readers.

This segment is partially redeemed by its conceptual strengths. The faceless horror is a far more effective source of fear than close-ups of decaying bodies, and there is a brilliant sense of an unstoppable liquid mass of the undead. Alas this idea is not portrayed long enough to have any impact - unlike the book in which they literally rose up from the ocean floors - truly a scary idea and a brilliant sense of scope that is squandered in World War Z.

Throughout his unbelievable ordeals, Gerry tries to make contact with his family, but by this stage they are also merely a plot point and act to hinder him in foolish ways, while his children have all but disappeared from the film. Other characters and captions explain what is going on, when it is already painfully obvious, but this is the kind of movie that assumes the audience are morons.

As mentioned Lindelof re-wrote the ending and it is unfortunately obvious. The final segment feels more like the first Resident Evil movie and has almost nothing to do with the global madness the first two parts tried to convey. Ultimately the idea to halt the virus is clever but the execution is not. Near the end, the barriers of believability have worn down to the point the audience was laughing at the most tense and thrilling scenes. The end of the film also has one of the worst moments of product placement in many years that will have you pining for a Pepsi.

Needless to say the film gets to a passable conclusion, but by this point the damage has been done. Are blockbusters generally getting dumber? There are quite a few recent reviews on Twitch that are less-than-pleased with Hollywood's latest efforts. This is not acceptable and World War Z is simply another example of this scary trend.

World War Z releases on 20th June in cinemas Australia-wide.
Around the Internet:
  • Howard

    just saw it tonight. Best movie of the summer! oooh wiii!! oh and I didn't read the book so I'm not gonna nitpick. As a summer flick, it was entertaining and Brad Pitt so dreamy

  • Juan Andrés Valencia

    Actually Hollywood blockbusters have always been dumb. Do I need to remind you guys about Top Gun, Staying Alive, Airport, Independence Day, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, The Towering Inferno, Armageddon, the first Star Trek movie, Star Wars Episode I, Home Alone, etc.?

  • Criay

    That Variety article has "advertorial' written all over it. The sound, the feel, it all says "paid for."

  • quellcode

    I could imagine the film will become a financial success because of this: That people will go see it to check out if it fails.

  • Kurt

    I loathe that book and its '1st draft' kind of feel. The movie sounds worse though.

  • Mike

    It's not terrible, but I've never understood the intense love it seems to get from a lot of places.

  • mortis rex

    Elysium looks anything but dumb to me. Also looking forward to The Conjuring and the masive schadenfreude that's bound to be had with Pacific Rim. Only God Forgives just got a wide release here in Holland yesterday.. so it's not all bad Watashi.

    They already lost me on this one when it was anounced this would be PG13.

  • Watashi

    Yes. The blockbusters, and Hollywood in general, is getting dumber and dumber. But, this is important, is not new. Came from the very beginning. The 70s movies are one thing, the 80s another, and the 90s another. Every decade dumber than the previous one. Why I am saying this? Because and stopped watching Hollywood blockbusters more than 10 years ago. From time to time I watch one, and now their are even dumber than in the 00s. This trend is here to stay. And the Hollywood movies from the 2020s will me even dumber! And so on.

  • quellcode

    Interesting to compare this review to the one by Variety which comes to a very different conclusion:

    “World War Z” emerges as a surprisingly smart, gripping and
    imaginative addition to the zombie-movie canon [...].
    Showing few visible signs of the massive rewrites, reshoots and other
    post-production patchwork that delayed its release from December 2012,
    this sleekly crafted, often nail-biting tale of global zombiepocalypse
    clicks on both visceral and emotional levels, resulting in an unusually
    serious-minded summer entertainment".

    http://variety.com/2013/film/r...

    Who else has seen the film?

  • Watashi

    In general, the media survive from the money of the publicity. It's bad to bite the hand that feed you. The phrase "serious-minded summer entertainment" is oxymoron.

  • cinesimonj

    Yes I'm sure the Variety film critic really, truly, seriously is 'The Media', engaged in an advertorial conspiracy.
    Just as likely: Twitch is being paid to put down certain films.
    But Hollywood bad therefore Jews and conspiracies!

  • [A]

    Well, we all knew this was going to happen.

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