World War Z is every bit as bad as I feared it would be. Though I never read Max Brooks’ book upon which it’s based, when I heard about the premise – a globe-hopping multiple POV take on a zombie apocalypse and the war the survivors waged against the undead – I thought, much like Hollywood, hey, that could be a cool idea! Let’s apply a Contagion-like approach to a zombie narrative. Sadly, when uberstar Brad Pitt signed on for the film adaptation, a decision was made to eradicate the novel’s central conceit and make it about one man’s quest to find the source of the plague that turned people into ravenous snap-jawed yokels. The resulting film, which credits at least four screenwriters, is allegedly directed by Marc Forster (honestly, it could’ve been directed by anyone…or a committee) and went through numerous re-shoots, is a total bore.
Spare for some decent genre thrills in the Philly-centric set-up, the film is a cliché-ridden sack of tripe. There’s not one second where you doubt Brad Pitt’s blank-faced hippy-haired hero is going to save the day or that his family (headed by Mireille Enos, who desperately tries to give her predicament some emotion while provided with zero personality by the writers) is ever in any real danger. No cliché is unturned as Pitt goes on his quest: the zombies are attracted by noise, one of the little girls naturally has asthma, a little Hispanic boy is adopted by the family because they are so full of goodwill, some nameless brave soldiers sacrifice themselves for the cause, someone gets bit but is saved by the classic chop-off-the-bitten-limb trick, and the “cure” is found in a WHO facility. Meanwhile, any attempts to liven up the proceedings are undone by lame CGI, a lousy music score, horrible lighting, shoddy editing (never can any real gore be shown so everything is quick-cut and half off-screen) and murky cinematography (one extraction scene in the dark and in the rain renders every character anonymous and the suspense incomprehensible). The genius studio, which willingly butchered whatever decent flick might have been hidden underneath this rotten carcass of celluloid, also sucks dry any sense of surprise; the one unique thing about these zombies (they swarm like insects and communally scale walls) was given away ad-nauseum in every single trailer.
The writers, meanwhile, provide no character development and throw the viewer from silly situation to silly situation – seriously, just try to make any sense of Israel’s explanation for building their protective wall, and then watch how quickly their plan crumbles thanks to some singing and dancing. The only merciful thing about sitting through this narrative abomination is that the film has been so butchered it moves at an incredibly quick clip which some critics have mistaken for good pacing. No, it just means we’re never given enough time to digest just how bad this all really is.
For all the complaints I’ve had over the years during my love/hate relationship with AMC’s ridiculously popular The Walking Dead zombie series, at least that show attempts to develop characters (before they get eaten) and has maintained a palpable sense of dread and surprise with its gore-laden gritty realism. World War Z is scrubbed clean and too tidy, like an embalmed corpse laid out for a wake. But, hey, it seems to be making a ton of money, and maybe I’m just sick of these zombies. I can’t help feeling, though, any sequels that arise from this stillborn tragedy will be the absolute pits.
Written by David H. Schleicher