Brad Pitt survives a lot of shit in World War Z…ya know, besides the zombie apocalypse. We’re talking plane crashes, helicopter crashes, an impaling, human stampedes and even a terminal illness. Pitt, known here as Gerry Lane, is an indestructible force for good. A man so hell bent on finding a potential cure he wills his own survival. Also, despite the film’s general stupidity (and unintentional hilarity) the zombies are scary, really fast and make freaky clicking sounds. Who needs character and story when you can just eat the characters?
It’s funny to try and encompass the story of WWZ because the film doesn’t really have one. It takes roughly 5-minutes before the entire world is overwhelmed by giant, rumbling hoards of zombies and our hero Gerry, his wife (the lady from The Killing) and two daughters are on the run. We gather – through some clunky exposition – that Gerry was some sort of operative for the United Nations. He’s retired now but the UN needs him to help find a cure because, “he’s been to some dangerous places in his life.”
I have to admire the films haste – wasting literally no time in setting up a dystopian world where people are hunted mercilessly by their undead counterparts. Even a bizarre and completely unearned scene in a looted grocery store, Director Marc Forster attempts to display humanity’s ugly side as Gerry’s wife is pinned down by two hillbillies and Gerry has to fight them off. Society crumbles faster here than a game of Jenga in a Brooklyn hipster bar.
WWZ’s lack of focus on anything other than destruction is impressive but also to its detriment. We get bits and pieces of character work here but Gerry is basically a do-gooder globetrotting for a cure while his family sits on a boat hoping he returns with some answers. I certainly never cared about anyone involved which eventually zapped the film of the emotional payoff it was hoping to achieve.
One thing Gerry’s journey does accomplish is giving WWZ a grand scale. We move from South Korea to Jerusalem to Nova Scotia before the film is done – witnessing destruction on a massive level. Each stop plays like an objective based video game. Gerry finds a person – who gives him a clue – then, they outrun zombies and take an airplane to the next objective. The linear storytelling rarely stalls, which is great, because I’d rather see zombie destruction than listen to these archetypes talk about the future of the human race.
And the zombies…woah boy. When the trailers debuted I was not impressed by their massive brand of mayhem. The zombie hoards looked rubbery and moved like ant hills on steroids. And while they still move like that in the finished product the sheer grandeur actually works. Even the more intimate moments where the undead are played by actors in makeup are effective because we know they possess intense, unrelenting power. The CGI largely works as well as Forster’s camera whirls around the beasts with surprising clarity. Forster’s tendency towards shaky cam can be a bit nauseating but I thought his action here was furious and a lot of fun.
Did I ultimately care about the outcome of this magnum-opus? Not at all. The journey however is a blast (and often frightening…like your roommate startling you kind of frightening, but still.) WWZ’s now storied and troubled production history should also not go unnoticed. The film went terribly over budget, underwent several re-writes all while rumors swirled about infighting on the set. The final product bares none of those scars. It’s surprisingly polished and if it performs well a sequel could be in the works. Sometimes summer blockbusters must revel in big, dumb fun (see Fast 6 people) and World War Z does exactly that.
**One note on World War Z as a book adaptation…although it bears the name of the Max Brooks cult favorite it bears no resemblance to its contents. Take the film as a standalone story and hope one day Mr. Brooks’ book will receive a true adaptation.**