“World War Z” has many problems, some of which surely stem from the much reported on troubled production and reshoots, but it’s biggest problem boils down to one observation: it has a fundamental misunderstanding of what the zombie subgenre is and can be. While many unfairly relegate the subgenre to surface analyses of mindless bloodshed and walking corpses, the truth of the matter is that it’s very sophisticated. The best zombie movies and television shows understand that stories come from people, so they tend to focus on the characters rather than the zombies. They can even use zombies as a metaphor for real world issues, particularly the classic George Romero pictures. Comparatively, “World War Z” is fluff, a brainless action picture with hardly anything going for it. Its focus is skewed, its themes are barely there and its characters are unmemorable. This is one to quickly forget about.
Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is husband and father to his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos), and two little girls, Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove). They live simple lives in Philadelphia, but one morning, a disturbance causes mass panic and the city finds itself overrun by crazed people hungry for live human flesh. They quickly find out that the entire world has been stricken with whatever virus is causing their people to do this, but luckily, Gerry is a retired United Nations employee and still has some connections that are willing to help. However, in exchange for keeping his family safe, Gerry has to head out in the chaos and try to find a cure, perhaps even Patient Zero, the one who set this chain of events into motion.
“World War Z,” in one of its only attempts, tries to wring out some kind of emotion in these early moments. A loving family thrust into an impossible situation, a father who has to leave that family and risk his life to save them and the world, a pair of daughters who don’t fully understand what’s going on, yet are still fearful. These are all in the early moments, but they’re hardly prominent. No more than 10 minutes is spent with them and no personality is truly ever established. They love each other, but they’re a family; such information is obvious. What are their personalities like? What are they afraid of, beyond the easy losing-my-family fear? In general, who are they as people? As far as the screenwriters are concerned, it doesn’t matter. This movie is about zombies, and lots of ‘em.
In fact, the writers were so clueless as to how to proceed that they introduce extraneous side characters as motivation only to kill them off shortly after. Take the brilliant scientist, for example, mankind’s best hope for finding a cure. He works as the catalyst to Gerry’s adventure, as he has to accompany him on his search, but the writers have no plan for him and instead opt to have him freak out at the first sight of a zombie, trip, fall and accidentally shoot himself in the head. This is the mark of poor screenwriting. No decision is organic and all motivations are manufactured in an attempt to make way for the action. Frankly, the movie gives no reason to care, which seems to correlate with the actors actually in the movie. Grave lines like “What do you mean we’ve lost Boston?” are delivered with the same intensity one has when asking what’s for dinner and the acting is generally sluggish, even from Pitt, who can’t even sigh convincingly here, despite a string of solid performances in his previous work.
As a popcorn movie for those who don’t necessarily care about quality and just want to turn their brains off, I suppose “World War Z” will fill their needs, but it doesn’t change the fact that it defecates on the zombie subgenre to an insulting degree. Zombie movies like “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead” explored themes of racism and bourgeois culture. “World War Z” explores nothing. Television shows like “The Walking Dead” (and its video game equivalent from Telltale Games) craft wonderful, human stories about people trying to hold onto their humanity even as the world falls apart around them. “World War Z” has zombies crawling on each other to jump over a giant wall. Even the film’s source material, a book written by Max Brooks, was smart enough to tell its story through firsthand recounts from survivors of the event, allowing them to describe their own experiences and giving the zombie nightmare a human angle. The movie, quite simply, doesn’t get it. While other zombie media understands the possibilities the subgenre can offer, “World War Z” spits on it.
Even its ending, which was reshot to replace what was apparently an even worse ending, is anti-climactic and unfulfilling, though it does take a quick second to put in one of the most egregious product placements I’ve ever seen in any movie. At the end of the day, even the technical construction of the film is lousy. The camerawork is overly shaky and the cinematography is so dark, it’s sometimes tough to see what’s going on. When you actually can see, the edits come at such a furious pace—partially due to its restricting PG13 rating and partially due to its desire to manufacture excitement—that it effectively obscures it. “World War Z” had a ton of problems during its production and those issues shine through in the final product. It's an absolute disaster.
World War Z receives 1/5