There is a moment midway through World War Z where viewers see an all out zombie horde start pilling up the side of a wall trying to get to the living on the other side. Piling on top of one another, some finally make it to the other side, and also somehow take down a helicopter. I feel like this is the perfect metaphor for Marc Foster’s World War Z, starring Brad Pitt, for while there are some generally intriguing moments in the film that rise up above other zombie films, it seems that Marc Foster is trying to simply add one genre trope after another to make the film seem more epic, but ultimately pile up into one shambling mess of a film.
Based on the popular novel by Max Brooks, World War Z is an epic globetrotting zombie film, where Gerry Lane, played by Pitt must travel around the world in order to find a cure to the zombie outbreak. The film waste no time showing how quickly things go to hell. After briefly introducing Lane and his wife and daughter, the outbreak begins in grand fashion in the heart of New York. While the whole frantic infection scene is nothing new to the genre, the was one small detail I really enjoyed in this scene was whereupon witnessing someone get bit, Pitt’s character, Gerry, turns back and counts how long before he turns into a zombie. In this moment viewers see what this character is all about. He is calm and calculating and already focused on the next step to take.
While these early moments got me very excited for what lies ahead, the remaining two hours of the film ended up being a typical globetrotting adventure, but this time with zombies. See it’s original and fresh because it has the living dead shown from all over the world. By all means are these adventure scenes epic in scale and glazed with some pretty great special effects but that cannot hold on it’ own. My main gripe is that through trying to make a grandiose zombie film, director Marc Foster thinks he must prove how grand it truly is through having these massive zombie infestation scenes. There a few small encounters peppered throughout the film; however, they are few and far between and never have much urgency to them. This is upsetting because there are plenty of opportunities to do so, especially the scene with Brad Pitt fleeing with his family. These moments start off as something small and minimal, and a great way to add some tension and urgency to the film- for despite being a large scale film is does revolve around Pitt- but Foster always feels he must push the envelope and go as big as possible. In turn these moments become laughable, so much so that people were not jumping in the theater when I went, but actually laughing aloud at these dumb moments.
This leads into another issue I head with the movie, for through trying to go as big as possible, Foster glazes over the most important part of a zombie film-the zombies. Throughout the film there are a total of about five zombies shown in close up with makeup. That is sad. The rest could otherwise be shambling human beings or otherwise CGI which is a disappointment. Some of the best moments in a zombie film are seeing the amazing detail in the makeup and zombie design. Even the ones we do see close up are rather miserably conceived and laughable-seriously people in the theater were in fits of laughter when they showed a zombie with dreadlocks gnashing its teeth at Pitt close up. Once again by focusing on scope and sheer amounts of zombies, Foster forgets what makes the living dead so scary at some points, being that they can take inhuman amounts of pain and still come at you. Sure we see them get mowed down by machine guns and hit by crowbars, but it is always a one and done moment. They never come back to bite someone in the ass-physically and metaphorically speaking.
Another thing: for a movie with so much carnage, not once are viewers shown a decapitation or a spot of blood. The camera always zooms in on the character committing the action and does not show the action itself. The only moment blood is shown is when Brad Pitt gets a bit of a flesh wound. That is it. Every zombie head bashed in, every amputation, every person bitten, and it would seem that Pitt is the only person with blood flowing in his veins. How odd.
Unfortunately the script of the movie fares no better. Having faced multiple rewrites, the dialog is all over the place, going from emotional in some moments to downright stupidity the next. Having faced multiple rewrites this does not surprise me as the list of writers goes from Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods) and Damon Lindelof (Lost, Star Trek) to comic book writer J. Michael Straczynski, who fans of the comics will likely cringe at. While some scenes are well written, such as between Gerry and his UN friend Thierry, there are others which go into downright absurdity. One moment in particular is quite laughable as the supposed savior of humanity (it is not Pitt) actually shoots and kills himself by falling up some stairs. Yup, it is good to know that the biggest worry that humans during a zombie apocalypse is ascending platforms. For some reason the writers also feel the need to add zombie trope after trope just to make fans realise it is a zombie film. Protecting your arms with paper and debris to avoid bites is clever and not often shown in zombie films, but a character handing Pitt a giant fire-ax and saying take this you will need it, makes me feel like this movie was a weird zombie PSA and at any moment the guy handing him the ax was going to turn to the camera and wink. It is a bunch of these small moments that add up in the film, making it seem hollow and without substance.
I wanted to like World War Z, I really did. It has the scale and scope that no other zombie film has accomplished thus far. Yet by trying to make something which should be unfamiliar and fresh turn to be so familiar and predictable, Foster ruins what could have been the best zombie film in years. Yes it has style, and big action moments, yet like any zombie, this film is rotten from the inside out. The script is bland, the big moments are predictable and things that could have been serious turn out to be laughable. I will give him credit for trying something so grand but that does not mean that you forget the little things that make this genre of film so enticing to film-goers. Overall World War Z is grand in scope but once it bares its teeth it is more bark than bite.