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Review: ‘World War Z’

Pretty Much Dead

Max Brook's best-selling undead novel, "World War Z," is reanimated for the sliver screen. The apocalyptic film opens everywhere June 21.

"World War Z" is clean, quick, and relatively painless -- with an emphasis on clean.

There are too few moments of unease, which obviously doesn't fit a horror or thriller -- whichever "WWZ" is supposed to be. The occasional booming score excites; our apocalyptic survival modes temporarily switch on after the countless shots of chaos crazed cities. But ne'er is there a spot of blood. (Not even on a crowbar recently unstuck from a zombie head.) These most basic, gripping aspects of the zombie horror sub-genre elude director Marc Forster and his team.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) carries a perfectly awesome zombie smashing tool through a hallway of zombified disease specialists, which he never uses. That sliver of red at the bottom of the ax head is not blood, just part of the tool's design. And those are scratches on his face which also never bleed. Jeez, all this blood talk is making me sound weird to myself. And this has turned out to be a long picture caption. Are you still reading this?

In addition to the absence of brutal, bloody basics, the actors fail to fully engage. Upon the departure of Gerry Lane (appropriately tired-eyed Brad Pitt) from his children and wife (motherly looking Ginny Weasley*) to the incredibly dangerous mission of finding a zombie cure in a near-hopeless world, no one sheds a tear. It's like he's going to work for a day at the office. And his return is equally disappointing. No exclamations of relief, cries, or laughter. Just cheeky smiles and warm hugs for the man who swam in a sea of death to remarkably save humanity. Lame.

The film does keep us locked in with its fast pace and few surprising developments, but overall it feels a bit... lazy? Zombie movies often run a typical course. Protagonists do what's natural: work in a small group, collect necessary supplies, lay low, mobilize, and survive. However, within that typicality the audience seeks originality, surprise, and that unmistakable wormy feeling from seeing human evisceration. We need to feel at least some sense of horror within the comfort of our cushy armchairs. "WWZ" fails to deliver on that front.

The narrative style outlined from the widely popular novel seems far more appealing a presentation, though more difficult to translate to film.*

Rather than a one-way linear timeline as seen in the screen adaptation, the original story follows U.N. investigator Lane as he visits survivors of the war who recount their experiences. This lends itself toward a wider (and more expensive to create) array of stories and perspectives to cover. This is less typical of films and more reflective -- allowing rumination on the similar difficulties of survival for all rather than one man's trans-global race against time and the fastest, most efficient zombies ever. (The first living-to-undead transmutation is a mere 12 seconds!)

Would I see it again? Sure. Does it number among the best zombie or thriller films? No way. And with the film's costs projected around the $400 million dollar range, it's already garnered attention as a potentially terrible flop of a project.

"World War Z" is rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images.

Looking for something similar? Check out "I Am Legend" (2007).

Looking for something better? Check out "Zombieland" (2009) or "The Walking Dead" (TV Series).

*Note: While I am relatively unbiased, having not read the original novel, I have a decent grasp of the narrative style used in the book. (Please correct any mistakes in the comment section below.) But regardless of whether or not the viewer has read the book, the quality of the film is not affected... because the movie sucks either way.

*Note: Gerry's wife, Karin Lane, is not played by Ginny Weasley (though that would have been awesome), but is in fact Mireille Enos.

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