Adapted from the amazing novel by Max Brooks, World War Z tells the story of Gerry Lane, who has to hop the globe with an infinite amount of luck and gasoline while trying to find the cause of this monstrous outbreak. Brad Pitt stars as the character, and using his signature charm, delivers a performance that we don’t often get in zombie movies. Fans of the original novel will notice a few shout outs to the text in the film, but not enough to convince you that the movie is the same as the book (because it isn’t).
The movie has been panned by many for its inflating budget throughout production, but what is easily noticeable in the film is that it does not look cheap. All the money that was put into the film is on the screen and is quite impressive – it goes to show what a high-budget zombie movie can look like. Where this mammoth sized budget causes a problem is that the charm of seeing people in zombie make-up is lost. Only a handful of the zombies aren’t computer generated, but the ones that are real look phenomenal.
Most zombie movies are contained and personal stories. World War Z disavows this trope and creates a gargantuan story across the entire planet. I give it points for making a compelling zombie story that stages sequences around the world, which few others can lay claim to, but as a result of this style of storytelling you lose any connection with the characters. Of course there is investment with Brad Pitt’s character since we know how important he is, and because he’s Brad Pitt, but there’s no reason given to care about anyone else in the movie. They’re all literally canon fodder with no point given to them except for death or as a goal for Brad Pitt. Good zombie movies do their best to create characters that, even if unlikable at first, grow on the viewer. If you have no one to root for in the movie, then you’re rooting for the zombies. Some films want you to root for the undead, but in a film whose core values are in “helping others,” that’s not the directors intention, so why make 90% of the characters so useless?
Beyond its epic scope, another thing that World War Z has going for it over other zombie films is they use the word zombie. It might register a chuckle or two when they first say it, but it grounds the film into a mindset that everyone can relate to. The film knows that the world is obsessed with zombies and we would use the word in the event that such a thing transpired. This instance will help viewers settle into its “real world” approach, and doesn’t ever feel stale or campy due to the tone of the film. However, using the zombie word alone isn’t enough to keep audience members from scratching their head as non-realistic events begin to occur in this “real world.”
Most of the trouble with World War Z lies in its construction. The acting is great and the effects are fantastic, but the editing and cinematography cause problems. There are maybe five shots in the entire film that are longer than three seconds and this ADD style of cutting, while seemingly an unintentional motif for replicating the chaos, hides much of the nastiness of the zombies and causes many of the location’s details to be skewed. Director Marc Forster came up with some great ideas for many of the sequences, but his creativity is muted by the pointless 3D. At times, you might be watching a scene that is almost completely black with no visible details on the screen. You’ll hear snarling though, so it’s not a total wash.
The direction of the zombies in the film is pretty interesting. Instead of going with the traditional “Romero” zombies like the novel, it goes for a hybrid of 28 Days Later “Rage infected” with sprinkles of typical zombie fair mixed in. Other liberties are taken with the behavior of the monsters in the movie, but the most noticeable is their aggression. You might forget that these are zombies as they pounce on people more like Jurassic Park‘s velociraptors. This offers a unique perspective on the infection for this movie, traditionalists will likely find less enjoyment than some viewers.
World War Z isn’t reinventing the zombie movie, in fact it rips-off quite a few other (and better) films in the process. It has an amazing opening that builds up through incredibly staged sequences that result in the weakest of weak sauce endings. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in the novelty of having such a grandiose film about the undead. If the ending of Dawn of the Dead is Tobasco, World War Z is lemon juice.