Based on the novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks, the Marc Forster (Monsters Ball, Quantum of Solace) directed film bears little to no resemblance to the book. While the novel was essentially a collection of short stories told by a group of survivors, the film strictly follows Brad Pitt’s character as he globe-trots attempting to find the source of the zombie outbreak. What we get is an action movie with fast moving zombies that in no way resembles a horror film. My biggest fear going into this film is that I wouldn’t be able to separate the film from the novel. What is on screen is so different than the novel that it was easy to separate the two; they are completely different monsters.
After a tense beginning in which Gerry and his family are attempting to get to a UN helicopter, Gerry finds himself recruited back into the UN to help a Doctor discover the cause of the outbreak. When the Doctor shoots himself in the head (ala White Boy Bob in Out of Sight), he takes it upon himself to complete the mission. From South Korea, to Jerusalem, to Great Britain, Gerry finds himself involved in action packed moments throughout this beginning of the zombie war.
Gerry agrees to be recruited back into the UN to save his family. This is one part of the film that I liked a lot. After being rescued by the UN helicopter, him and his family are flown to an aircraft carrier. There, he is told that only essential personnel are allowed to stay onboard. If he doesn’t work with them, him and his family are going to be sent back to the mainland to fend for themselves. Basically, he is blackmailed into rejoining the UN. Once they think he is dead, though, they promptly ship his family off to a refugee camp in Nova Scotia. It’s a pretty harsh concept, but it actually seems logical.
In the beginning of the film, as they are attempting to get to the chopper, they meet a Mexican family in an abandoned apartment complex. The family allows them to stay with them for a little while while waiting for the chopper. Gerry tries to talk the family into leaving with them, but the father refuses. As Gerry and his family are heading upstairs, they are joined by the young son of the Mexican family, who they rescue and take in as one of their own. This really made no sense. You get a glimpse of the Mexican father holding the door as it is slammed against, but the film never actually tells you what happened. Were they killed? Were they turned? How did the boy get away? Or did he just leave his family there and run to Brad Pitt? This is just one of the many leaps of logic you are expected to take as you make this journey with Gerry. And there are plenty more, though I won’t ruin every one of them here.
Another problem I had with the film was the lack of characterization. You are given a couple minutes in the beginning of the film to get to know Gerry, his wife, and his daughters, then the film completely devolves into a mostly mindless action fest. You never really get to know any of the characters or supporting characters. When visiting Jerusalem, Gerry is escorted by Israeli military. One young girl gets bitten, Gerry chops her arm off (in a completely gore-less scene), and drags her onto the last plane out of the city as it is being overrun by the zombies. She is then attached to him like a little lost puppy. The rest of the film, he has this one-armed young Israeli soldier following him around, much like the little Mexican boy is attached to his wife. I suppose he just needed a sidekick; a Robin to his Batman, if you will. Personally, if a dude cut off my arm, I wouldn’t be super thrilled with him after that, let alone put myself in danger to help him out.
While it seems that I have been tearing this movie apart, I have to admit that I did actually like it more than I expected. I really went in expecting to hate every minute of this movie. I found myself glued to the screen for the 2 hour runtime. The things I have described above are just nitpicks. The film is entertaining as long as you don’t think about it too much. Let’s get on to the really big problem with the movie though, shall we?
Ok, here’s where the film really falls apart though. It is not a complete film. While we have a generalized beginning of the zombie outbreak, we never have an ending. After his travails in the W.H.O. (World Health Organization) laboratory, Brad Pitt is reunited with his family in Nova Scotia. We get a voice-over where he says that the war is only just begun, but we have bought ourselves some time. That is not at ending. It is a clear set up for a sequel. And it’s completely bunk. Essentially, you watched Gerry Lane run around the world to figure out that zombies don’t attack sick people. Really? That’s it? 2 hours of running around to find that out? The ending of the film almost ruins the entire thing. Argh.
World War Z is not a great film. It is not terrible and it is infinitely more enjoyable as long as you don’t think about it afterwards. Take it for what it is. A popcorn flick with zombies and no blood. While I enjoyed it while watching it, I have found that it falls apart when you think about it.
**1/2 out of ****
BIZZAM!! Fun Facts!
- Peter Capaldi, the new Doctor Who, appears in the movie. What is he billed as in the credits? W.H.O. Doctor. I shit you not. He wasn’t announced as the newest Doctor until a couple months after the film was released.
- Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard were called in to re-write the 3rd act of the film.
- Matthew Fox, known for his role as Jack on Lost, originally had a larger role in the film. He was to be set up as the villain for the sequel. Due to rewrites, though, he has only 5 lines of dialogue in the finished film and he’s a ‘blink and you miss him’ character.