My Ten Cents On: World War Z


World War Z. I doubt there have been any other zombie films more hyped in the media. This was largely due to the film’s relation to the Max Brooks novel of the same name, a critically-acclaimed work which explores cultural and social ills, exposed through a global calamities of a zombie outbreak, and due to the draw of Hollywood Superstar Brad Pitt. Now, I’ve read the book, which is presented as a series of interviews gathered by a journalist who, while collecting data for the UN, assembled the “qualitative” information, which the UN didn’t need, into a book. The interview topics range from the start of the outbreak and the breakdown of society, to fighting the zombies and the very real struggles surviving in a post-apocalyptic world entailed, to the end of the war and the strength of human perseverance and ingenuity. If this sounds like an endorsement for the book, well… It is. The novel is pretty well-written and I’d recommend it to anybody.

That being said, as I read this book, I could see no way for a film to adapt this into a narrative form and still capture the essence of the material. Anyone who expected the World War Z movie to be just like the book has quite a few things to learn about when it comes to movies. A World War Z TV show, where dozens of hours could be spent on exploring this vast world, and the effects of the zombie uprising on a global scale would be perfect, but in a 2-hour time frame, nope. So, in heading into the theater, I had no illusion that this film would be anything like the book, and I was right.

World War Z follows the story of Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a UN investigator who, after the global spread of the zombie virus, is tasked with escorting a scientist to discover the source of the plague and hopefully find a way to defeat it. When the mission goes horribly wrong, it is up to Gerry to figure out how to fight the infection.

The Zombie Movie that breaks the big Hollywood “Undead rule”.

If any of you were really paying attention, World War Z did something that no serious Zombie film has ever done in the past. They actually used the word “Zombie” in the film. Think about it, when you hear the word zombie, it’s always in the context of being funny, satirical, or Bruce Campbell related. In serious horror films like Quarantine, 28 Days Later, hell, even on TV shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, no one uses the term, it’s always something else (Infected, Walkers, Undead). It’s like no one in serious films has ever heard of the term “zombie” in their lives.

These undead films are about a desperate struggle of a group of humans, highlighting the destruction of society, morality, and civility in the face of an unstoppable plague. These films ask questions like “Is this my mother, or is she just a body, with the soul long gone?”, “Do I have to kill her?”, “If I’ve been bitten, is it over, or should I hold out and keep it a secret?”, and make them all morally ambiguous. There are tough decisions to be made by the character, but when the men and women who run Hollywood hear the term “Zombie”, they automatically assume that the deepest conflict the main character would have would be whether to use a shotgun or a chainsaw to mow down waves of Zombies. (The correct answer is both!)

Hell. Yes.

Hell. Yes.

But now, we have a shift on our hands. Hollywood is finally embracing the “Zombie” term, and doing so in a highly-billed film with the top-tier name of Brad Pitt attached to it. This, to me, indicates that the geek culture is firmly lodged in the Hollywood seat… And that saturation is not far off in the distance. When you have film makers who aren’t geeks using these terms in huge Hollywood blockbuster attempts, then we are going to see lots of cash-ins coming in soon, and heads up, many of them will not be as good as you think.

All that being said though, this film in particular was very well executed.

Prepare for the zombie’s greatest weapons! Stress and jump scares!

The movie was riddled with stressful moments. Following Gerry Lane’s travels around the world, and going by many of his close calls was an edge-of-your-seat, fingernail-biting experience. Kudos must be given to Marc Forster for his directing efforts. Finally, his penchant for following characters, and putting you in their shoes has tied in marvelously with a film. Marc Forster last showed up on this site in my review of The Mechanic, when I discussed action choreography and how he f*cked up Quantum of Solace.

The thing is, Marc Forster’s skill is in having you feel like you are with the character and going through the exact same experience. This does not work when you are showing James Bond, a super spy that is in no way an average Joe, but it does work incredibly well for a normal dude stuck in a zombie apocalypse. Throughout the film, you are watching with bated breath, worried and stressed that out of any corner a zombie might pop out. You feel like you are trying to survive with him. This movie brilliantly put you in with Gerry and helped you feel like you were trapped in the same hell with him. You’d be right there with him as he turns a corner and zombie roars out of  cover, where it apparently waited in stealthy silence.

This movie had a lot of those “jump-out-and-say-boo” moments. For the most part, the scares were actually well done, but as it wore on, and the zombies continued to jump out at you from dark tunnels and shafts, I began to think it weird how zombies can shut up and stalk silently when they know someone’s around the corner and can’t see them. At some point I imagined the script writing session going like this:

Writer 1: “Brad Pitt goes to this place, then the zombies attack! Then he goes to another place, then the zombies attack! Then, while he escapes that place, and he’s travelling to his next destination, guess what?”
Writer 2: “What?”
Writer 2: “BRILLIANT!”

Also, the zombie virus has the amazing ability to turn you into a mutated mix between an Olympic-level athlete and a spider!

Also, the zombie virus has the amazing ability to turn you into a mutated mix between an Olympic-level athlete and a spider!

This film was so suspenseful throughout the entire run time. From the get go, the film kept pounding at you, rushing you desperately through the story. For the most part, this worked to great effect, but, just like a guitar string constantly put on tension, the note was bound to sour. By keeping the tension so high the entire time, the movie didn’t really build upward.

As a result, personally, I found the ending weak and lacking impact. Without any moments of calm to drop down the tension so that you could stretch it up again, the film was constantly applying pressure, so that the ending didn’t quite feel like an ending because the climax was just as, if not less, exciting than the earlier scenes. This was my major gripe with the film.

The bites weren’t that deep.

My other problem was that, despite all the world going to hell, the film’s following of this one man’s journey felt kind of shallow. When you travel the world, you gain perspective, you are exposed to different things, and you get to see different things. This movie felt like it all took place on a sound stage, that every scene was done a few miles away from each other. You didn’t feel the Korean essence in the film’s South Korea, or the Middle-Eastern flavor of the film’s Jerusalem. The locations they went to felt like caricatures of the actual places.

When Francis Ford Coppola made The Godfather, he wanted to make the film so authentically Italian that you could “smell the spaghetti.” Lost in Translation had you feel the strong cultural barriers posed to an American man in Japan, and hell, Casino Royale‘s settings in Africa, Montenegro and Venice all had a bit of character. Throughout World War Z, I felt like the locations were all generic, and had nothing important about them.

So much was left unanswered... Like, how did the zombie plague affect feline-kind?! Answer me! how?!

So much was left unanswered… Like, how did the zombie plague affect feline-kind?! Answer me! how?!

In following Gerry Lane, and perceiving the chaos of the Zombie Apocalypse from one man’s viewpoint, the film was meant to be limited. And at some points, it worked. There was one scene where Gerry and his pilot were flying through the air, and saw a nuclear explosion off to the side. There were also mentions that the North Koreans were able to stop the zombie plague spreading through their country by having everyone’s teeth pulled out. You can’t turn someone into a zombie by gumming them. These little tidbits, the limited insights to how cultures were dealing with the plague, were by far the best parts of the film. These scenes were few and far between, as most of it was really about running from zombies.

Another problem of mine was the family subplot. The first part of the movie has Gerry and his family struggling to survive in an uncivilized, urban environment. When he was in a grocery store, where people were looting, someone tried to attack his wife. In order to defend her, he had to kill the man. A policeman saw this, came running up to Gerry, only to pass him in order to loot more supplies. The breakdown of society and a family trying to struggle through it was very well executed, and the first 15 minutes of the film were perfect for me. Then the helicopters came.

the first 15 minutes of the film, Gerry's family went through this.

the first 15 minutes of the film, Gerry’s family went through this.

Then the rest of the film, they did this.

Then the rest of the film, they did this.

Gerry and his family landed on an aircraft carrier, and in order to keep his family safely on board out at sea, he had to accept a dangerous mission. At the end of the day, after going through a lot of emotional growth with them, Gerry’s family was placed in the film solely to get him to do the rest of the movie. I was really disappointed when it lead nowhere. The family was built up to be a secondary lead character, the story of a family trapped on a boat while they hear tales of what’s going on, dealing with the panic that comes about people living in an enclosed space, fighting for food, water, shelter, and dealing with the destruction of everything they’ve ever known. Sounds interesting, right?! It would have been perfect for Marc Forster’s style of direction, and it would have had them do more, and fit in a little more of the social element of the zombie outbreak, versus having way to many shock scenes. It would have given this movie a lot more depth, and depth was what it needed.

At the end of the day, it was a movie I enjoyed, but I wouldn’t say its one of the best that 2013 has to offer. This is a movie that I enjoyed once, but I doubt I’d enjoy it as much the second time around.

My Cent’s Worth: 7/10

World War Z was a fun film, and it wasn’t a waste of my cinema money, but I don’t see it becoming a classic soon. It was an entertaining piece of film, even if it was quite shallow. For those of you who think it’ll be like the book, please don’t, you’d only be setting yourself up for a bad film experience. If you go in with the right mindset, and take it for what it is, I’m sure you’d have a good time with it.


Posted on July 2, 2013, in Film Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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