A well-structured story was left on the backburner of Hollywood’s latest apocalyptic zombie epic, ‘World War Z’. Instead, we have a $200 million dollar action movie that delivers a few suspenseful situations. I imagine that with Brad Pitt starring in this zombie genre film, box office receipts will do well enough to compete with Pixar’s ‘Monster’s University’, but considering its mega budget and the long list of production problems the project had over the last few years, it might have a difficult time making ends meet.
Despite being rated PG-13, this movie about the undead may at times genuinely cause you to jump out of your seat, but those looking for a straight adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel of the same name will surely be disappointed. The book was written as an oral history of the zombie apocalypse, detailing the start and aftermath of the zombie war. It was styled as a series of interviews from different people around the globe and their accounts of the global epidemic, which provided a social and religious commentary on the devastation. That has all been dropped from the film, including some key plot points. For example, in the book it’s clearly noted that this zombie outbreak started in China, whereas in the film nothing is mentioned about where it began. ‘World War Z’ is a classic case of Hollywood showcasing its muscles with epic action scenes to sell tickets, rather than any coherent storyline.
We begin in downtown Philadelphia with retired United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Pitt), his wife Karen (Mireille Enos) and their two young daughters. While they’re stuck in heavy traffic, the zombie apocalypse hits the city with a vengeance. Within a matter of seconds, thousands of people have turned into bloodthirsty and incredibly fast-moving zombies. Gerry moves his family and calls his former boss to rescue them from a nearby housing project rooftop. They’re taken to a temporary refuge aboard several naval ships anchored in the Atlantic Ocean.
Things move very quickly, and not in a good way. It seems like everybody’s first thought and first action is always the right one, and nothing is ever explained in full. For example, it’s never explained why Gerry is the only man capable of stopping and solving the zombie outbreak; he just is. As Gerry embarks on a worldwide journey to find answers, his first stop is South Korea, where he meets a team of elite soldiers and scientists looking for solutions. Gerry only listens and follows the advice of a former operative who has been relegated to a prison cell for treason. This former operative informs him that North Korea has fixed the zombie outbreak by enforcing a mandatory teeth extraction from every citizen, but that he will find more answers in Israel.
After a suspenseful attack, Gerry jets off to Jerusalem, where the city has erected a six-story concrete wall to keep out the undead. Inside this wall, life is back to normal, but as soon as Gerry arrives, the zombies somehow manage to climb the wall and destroy the city in a matter of minutes. This escape scene is pretty spectacular and frightening, even if aspects of it don’t make sense at all. But that seems to be the theme of the movie so far. During the escape, Gerry comes across a wounded female solider named Segen (Daniella Kertesz), whom he takes on the last plane out of Israel. His contacts aboard the naval ship then tell him to head to Wales, where a medical research facility is still intact.
When a scary incident forces their plane to make an emergency crash landing, Segen and Gerry stumble upon the facility where the climactic finale takes place. This is the segment of the film that the studio demanded be rewritten, reshot and re-edited many times over. Gerry and Segen, along with a couple of remaining scientists, have to navigate a maze-like research facility full of zombies to get hold of a certain solution that could perhaps put a stop to this zombie outbreak that has by now engulfed most of the world’s population. These particular final moments are completely different in tone than what we’ve seen prior to this moment, by way of adding a slow and suspenseful situation, rather than the high-octane action scenes that came before. It’s not a wrong decision, just a strange one. Then, as if the movie has no more budget or time left, everything gets wrapped up very quickly in a vague matter, but not before Brad Pitt takes a long cool drink of Pepsi.
There are certain aspects to ‘World War Z’ that work very well. The zombies themselves are fairly frightening. They turn instantly after being bitten, and develop super strength and super speed to attack their prey. They hurl their bodies at full force, even off buildings, to attack. They twitch and move in ways that human bodies aren’t made to move. As heavy as this movie is on action sequences, one would hope for some pretty incredible action beats. Luckily for us, the filmmakers deliver that on a silver platter. Never before have we witnessed a zombie epidemic on this grand a scale. From the helicopter shots that show literally hundreds of thousands of the undead running for food and biting people whenever they get a chance, to the intense zombie outbreak aboard a plane in mid-air, you’re guaranteed to be on the edge of your seat. I only wish that the filmmakers had put this much effort into the characters or story.
Pitt of course does an amazing job as the leading man. He’s set on saving the world and is fully believable in such a position. The rest of the supporting cast aren’t A-listers, but still do the job. I think we would have been taken out of the whole experience if the supporting cast was full of Academy Award winners. Kertesz sticks out as a fresh face who holds her own alongside Pitt. Sadly, gore fans will be sorely disappointed as there isn’t a drop of blood or any decent flesh-eating scenes in the entire flick.
One thing that I liked most about ‘World War Z’ is that, for the first time since ’28 Days Later’, I didn’t fantasize about wanting to be in a zombie outbreak afterwards. Movies like ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Zombieland’ make it seem like a fun and a wild ride to be involved in this sort of apocalyptic situation. But with this flick, I found myself scared to even think of such a worldwide infection happening. Instead of watching people kill zombies in unusual and creative ways, we mostly see people running from them and unable to defend themselves, even with the most dangerous weapons. It gives the movie a realistic aspect that is all too horrifying.
‘World War Z’ may not be the perfect story or character-driven movie we wanted it to be, but its incredible action sequences and suspenseful situations deserve a look, despite all of the film’s flaws.