By Jessica Delfanti | June 21, 2013
Director: Marc Forster
Writer(s): Matthew Michael Carnahan (screenplay & screen story), Drew Goddard (screenplay), Damon Lindelof (screenplay), J. Michael Straczynski (screen story), Max Brooks (based on the novel by)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Fana Mokoena
For many, reading Max Brooks’ World War Z was a redefining moment in how we view zombies. Far more than filler for movies that intend to pack as many head-shots and gore into 85 minutes, these zombies were unromantic, brutally lethal, and took their toll in every corner of the world, from the otaku so embroiled in his online life that he misses the apocalypse almost altogether, to the soldier on the front line, to the “survivors” that turn to cannibalism. Brooks’ beautifully researched and realized collection of vignettes contained never before seen scope on the what if of a zombie apocalypse, and brought the threat, chillingly, into the readers’ own hands.
So when it was decided that a film version was to be made, many lovers of the book reacted with excitement, and then the inevitable question: how? The answer, brought to us in a tidy blockbuster by the strangely enthusiastic Brad Pitt, is grab the title and pretty much nothing else to make an admittedly fresh but unremarkable zombie film.
In Marc Foster’s World War Z, Pitt plays Gerry, an ex UN investigator who is recruited to find the source of the zombie virus just as it absorbs the world in chaos. There are some moments where we catch a glimmer of the book premise, as soldiers in South Korea recount their undead encounters, and those moments are tantalizing but unsatisfying. For the first half of the film, WWZ seems to promise something truly unique: a zombie apocalypse set in personal contexts from multiple cultures. However, as the narrative shifts to a somewhat absurd mental breakthrough that leads Gerry toward the vaccine, it abandons the very interesting character of the investigator and the very interesting plot line of the search for Patient Zero for a boring, uninspired savior arc.
Dissociated from the book, the film appears in better light, but it does have serious pacing issues. While the beginning is engaging and fun, there is no middle of the film: it segues from introduction and hook directly to realization and climax–so much so that you don’t even realize the climax is the climax, and are surprised when the film ends. WWZ would strongly benefit from several more scenes in the middle, either padding Gerry’s narrative to make it more believable, or establishing the widespread nature of the virus.
Granted, when the main complaint about a film is that you wanted more, you can’t dismiss the fact that it was great fun to watch and the zombies are realized in a very cool way. Portrayed like rodents piling on top of each other in a rush, there is something particularly unnerving about the undead. They run, they bite, they squawk and writhe in ways that human bodies normally cannot, and the physicality of that is more engaging than the standard zombie shuffle. On top of that, the CGI on the hordes of zombies rushing over walls and through buildings is rendered well enough that it sometimes look surprisingly real.
Perhaps the unfinished quality of the film stems from what appears to be a blatant plan to pursue a franchise. While the first installment may not blow us away, the concept of a sequel is intriguing, as the retrospective nature of the film would require it to match up with the book. As for WWZ? Well, it’s a zombie movie. In the end, we all like watching those, don’t we?