Now as some of you (but hopefully most) may know this movie is based of a book of the same name by author Max Brooks (and yes he is related to that other Brooks) and is a continuation of the mythos set up in the Zombie Survival Guide he wrote some years previously. The film however, is an in-name-only adaptation with the sense that the is a world wide zombie apocalypse going on.
A while ago I saw the first trailer and upon realising it wouldn't be a movie version of the book decided I would cease to put it past Brad Pitt and give the movie a second chance in my mind. I realised that the film would be a mythos unto-itself and felt that instead of criticizing the film for not being enough like the book I would decide to let bygones by bygones and watch it and enjoy it for what it is.
Though what is this film you ask? Well read on and find out!
First off though let me set down two of the films largest pre-showing failures. The first is that in a very controversial move for a zombie film it only has a rating of 14A which is well below the R rating most zombie films get. This of course removes any gore factor the movie could have provided and stops the idea of zombies eating people from being an issue on screen. These two things are bad in and of themselves as it removes the gore/cannibalism factor that is mostly essential to the zombie genre. The second is that the film right off the bat bills itself as more of another over the top action film which looks incredibly cheesy to say the least.
Now the film itself is something that opens up on a rather confusing note playing some very interesting music over a number of strangely irrelevent images of nature and humanity (some showing animals being eaten) but tells us nothing about the plot or where we will be seeing the story set. We then get a cut to a scene of Gerry Lane's (Brad Pitt) children jumping on him to wake him up. Then a thinly done spread of news reports referencing a very vague blink-and-you-miss-it rabies outbreak and the implimentation of martial law...somewhere? I really can't remember. We then cut to downtown Philiadelphia where Lane is stuck in traffic. His mirror is smashed off by a speeding police car and then another police officer is killed when a garbage truck driven by either a man who is turning or being attacked (you can't tell) is smashing through traffic.
Then zombies show up. And by show up I mean some people who you can barely differentiate from the running masses of people around them start attacking people. Due to the restrictions on footage of people being eaten we see the zombies bite people then run off to bite more people. In a 28 Days Later style fast turn the people die and reanimate into zombies (this using the loosest sense of the word) in seconds. They then turn into an unidentifiable mass of running people who tackle others so it is essentially impossible to tell attacking zombies from fleeing people.
The first ten minutes and already the film is looking like a disaster! You can't tell the zombies from their victims and you don't even understand where they came from! This could have been fixed with the whole walking zombie thing. They could be blood soaked shamblers wandering into the crowd and grabbing people forcing them down making for a confusing panic as people run away. That's a big detractor.
Next we amble on into some looting territory as Brad Pitt struggles to get supplies to his family and a UN administrator (Fana Mokoena) agrees to help him get out of dodge on a helicopter. He then stumbles upon a Spanish family who lets them hide in their apartment for the night. The next morning the family escapes and shows an astounding degree of common sense by improvising a bayonet for Pitt's rifle, tying ropes around their wastes to prevent them from getting lost, and having noise discipline. (All pretty survivalist if you ask me). This then leads to a truly great scene where they have to shuffle back and forth from hallways in a dimly lit building and make their way to the roof.
I will admit that even though I knew what was going to happen I was legitimately stressed out and sucked in. To that I give the director props since this will later be a staple of the movie. The scene was done well and you actually felt a sense of dread as the characters stumbled around not 100% sure of their destination. Accompanied by crazy music and wonderful direction this is probably one of the best scenes in the movie, next to the ending of course.
The stressful scenes, great lighting and actor coordination (though not acting) are probably the high points of this film with one scene being masterfully coordinated in each section, from the overrun US base in Korea to the rapid run through Israel, and the well done finale in the WHO research center in Wales. Each scene is a pump action thrill ride as you are kept guessing at which secondary characters will survive (since obviously Pitt can't die) and just how close Pitt will come to serious mutilation. Sadly the zombie killing is either kept to a minimum or is masked by dim lighting and good camera work or cut away shots.
Truth be told I am rather impressed the film manages to make it still feel stressful or the zombies seem scary without the gore and guts.
Though let's take a break to talk about the zombies for a moment. As stated earlier, in the beggining of the film you can hardly tell an attacking zombie from a running human, that isn't helped as time goes on. Sure they start to look more bestial and kinda sickly, but for all intents and purposes they are lame and don't fit the zombie mould other than a few hamfisted attempts at scary makeup.
|I guess it could be a zombie, or a really angry hobo.|
In the movie they emit cries similar to the necromorphs in Dead Space which while when you can't see them it's scary but when you can its underwhelming. They run, which as zombies go is a problem that deserves a whole other article to express, and they seem to be able to return from the dead in seconds. This isn't the only way they flout science! No they act like African Driver Ants and come in swarms which are able to clog entire streets, or in one infamous instance, form a less that human semi-pyriamid and scale a hundred foot wall...somehow.
|Pictured: Zombies...I guess...|
Let me now address the two worst sequences in the film. The first is a sequence which takes place in Israel and is basically ripped off part and parcel from the book with the character of Jurgen Warmbrumm and his entire speech ripped straight from the novel along with the whole giant wall section. This feels out of place and shoehorned in since unlike the rest of the film is has something to do with the novel. It was rather annoying to watch since it seemed to contribute nothing to the film (other than adding the character Segen and getting Israel eaten as the zombies come in) other than showing so much changed between even the trailer and the film itself with dialogue going from 'Russia is a black hole' from the trailer to 'India is a black hole' in the film (making an even larger change to seem that unlike in the book the outbreak starts in India, which shows that Hollywood is probably more sensitive about upsetting China and Russia than India).
The Israel sequence is doubly bad since the zombies impossibly scaling the wall is more irritating because the reason they eventually decide to scale it is ridiculous! The film establishes the zombies are attracted to sound, and yet the wall around Israel (not to mention the copious ammounts of traffic coming in) must be carrying sound for miles. Yet when people start singing on a loudspeaker that is when the zombies decide to scale it. It seems to have been added in for no other reason that to give us another thrill sequence, which I didn't enjoy as much mostly for the stupidity of it.
The second worst sequence is the plane incident where the zombies basically crash a plane after one infected soul gets inside and tears shit up. It speaks for itself how bad it is since I decided that it was so boring I could take a bathroom break and I was assured I missed nothing. The ending was basically just any other movie crash.
Then we have the contrived plot twist at the end which saves humanity. After that is some awesome sequences of people running from zombies. If the movie had been like that I would have loved the whole thing! However the amazing stresser sequences still worked perfectly well for my taste and made something that would have otherwise been unbearable, bearable.
Though let's face facts however, this is not a zombie movie. This is a movie where we see Brad Pitt go from one scene to another and run from faux zombies who you never really see. Sure there are some tense and fun moments, and you can get swept up in the excitement of certain scenes, but this isn't really a good movie and there are no characters other than Pitt's who stick out.
For characters there are his bland and mostly annoying family members, a young premier scientist who promptly dies, a semi-useless UN big shot, and a colorful cast of extras who don't do much with Pitt's character leading the way to victory each time. So yeah there never is any doubt that Pitt is the most important person in the world, and we never get to see anyone else do anything amazing save for screw up and leave Brad to save the day.
My final thoughts on the film are that it's ok. It's not great, not terrible, but not to good either. It has its moments, some fun action scenes, and a number of fun bits that can be interesting to watch. Hell I might even see it again when it's out of theatres. If a friend buys it.
Sadly it's not what World War Z could (or should) have been. We don't get the good zombie drama we should have, and we certainly don't get the world destroying apocalypse we were promised. Instead we see Brad Pitt running from place to place never doing anything.
Instead of this:
|For two hours.|
In the end though we just have to remember this film is possibly going to have sequels, and that is the real apocalypse.
2 stars out of 5, and that's being generous.