I realized the problem that would plague me for all 116 minutes of World War Z about ten minutes in; I could not name any character other than "Gerry" (Brad Pitt). I could not name his wife, his daughters, his friend at the UN, actually the Deputy Undersecretary of the UN, none of the soldiers, and as the film went on none of the other people he interacted with, not even the Israeli soldier he ends up paling around with for the baffling last third of the film. Her name was Schmersh or something.
In perusing the IMDB in preparing to write this review I see that the four characters who share the last 30 minutes of the film with Gerry and Schmersh are named W.H.O. Doctor 1, Doctor 2, Doctor 3... None of them have names, none of them have dimensions, none of them have a reason to even exist.
If I can't remember anyone's names and I watched this movie an hour ago then it's not me, it's the movie.
Why such a curious thing, you ask? (And I admit that I did too) The answer is the plethora of writers brought in to try and make a silk purse out of the sow's ear that is Max Brooks' astoundingly pedestrian bestseller World War Z. The writers aren't all bad, J. Michael Straczynski, best known for Babylon 5, Matthew Michael Carnahan of Lions of Lambs and The Kingdom fame, Drew Goddard of Cloverfield … er... fame... and the worst screenwriter working on Planet Earth today, Daren Lindelof who was, according a bloom of stories about the troubled production, brought in to rewrite the last third of the film. I'd like to take a minute to talk about Mr. Lindelof's output, and I know some of you are thinking, "Big? He wrote the Star Trek reboot, and the sequel, he wrote Prometheus. Aren't you being a little hard on him?"
No, he's barely literate and spent too much of his early life in front of the fucking television. He writes like I shit, and the output is both corny and painful in equal measure. He and that fucktard J.J. Assface have single handedly destroyed Star Trek as a film franchise by stripping Trek of everything that made it special and turning it into a clone of every other big budget action sci fi film ever made. It's as bad as Lost in Space (with Matt LeBlanc, remember that one?) because it's fucking identical to it. Anyway, before I end up spending all 700 words of this review on a voodoo curse aimed at them, let's just say that Lindelof's work is evident in the film. Whenever the film's pacing stumbles, whenever the characters fail to perform the same action twice (when the first time proved it was successful), whenever characters begin a conversation in the air over Jerusalem and end it in Wales – and the conversation is all of 5 lines long, you're looking at his illiterate scratching.
Capuchin monkeys, who mimic missionaries writing letters home to ask for more bug repellent, using only Capuchin monkey shit and ants for ink write more coherent less idiotic stuff than his contributions to World War Z.
Anyway, what we get as a whole of the film is absolutely nothing that we have not seen in any one of dozens of outbreak/zombie films over the last ten or so years. Fleeing masses in cities? Got em. Running zombies? Oh yeah. Inept military? Yep. Complete breakdown of society as whole? You know it.
One of the things I like about the film, and the approach it takes to these very familiar elements though, is that it takes the tack of classic – even 1950s type – science fiction in that the main character is the one working on the cure that will save the world. He's the guy responsible. He is the scientist in the ivory tower. There was a definite old-school vibe in that, and while I don't have much praise for anything else in the movie, I did like that. There are few other things that ring out as okay in the sea of "eh whatever" that is the rest of the movie.
One of those things that isn't "eh whatever" is Brad Pitt. I know he sort of pulled a John Travolta cum Battlefield Earth to get this thing made, and started bidding on the rights to the book before the fucking thing was even printed, he stuck with this even as the budget went nuts and test audiences were baffled by some of the stuff in the early iterations of the film and even came back to shoot the worst 30 minutes of edited film in his career to bring this monstrosity to a sort of ending.
He does this, never once does he look at the camera and make you think, "you know, he was already thinking about some other project by this time..." every time he's on screen he's in the film he's good. He's a good actor, always has been, just that this time he's in a film that could very easily have starred Antonio Sabato Jr., Lorenzo Lamas, any of the Wayans Brothers, C. Thomas Howell, or Coolio in the role of Gerry and been just as "eh whatever".
The other thing that carries through, at least the first half of the film well, is that while the screenplay doesn't follow the format, style, characters, plot, or anything else of the book, it does manage to suggest that the events discussed in the fictional interviews were actually happening in real time in the film. This is especially true for the Korean segment and the segment set in Jerusalem. These early passages hew closest to the narrative of the book and in that respect they work pretty well as stand alone pieces.
It is pretty clear that these segments were written by the earlier team because they focus on the grander picture of the Z-War and what it means to the little clusters of survivors holding back the monsters with dwindling ammunition (Korea) or a big fucking wall and some crazy military decision making (Jerusalem). The end focuses solely on one little plot element and a video-game-esque sequence to get Garry into a room filled with deadly pathogens. It's like the film's scope was cut off at the knees and what we were left with was something that would be dull in a Resident Evil game.
The zombies run, they have no apparent lust to eat living people, only to bite them and thus infect them with some strain of rabies that is introduced in the first few seconds of the film as part of a news report. We learn that it takes only 12 seconds for a person, once bitten, to transform into a bitey and nearly indestructible Olympic quality sprinter. The zombies have no personality, they are human only in that they still look like humans. They presentation here owes way more to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later than Romero's Night of the Living Dead.
The film is also entirely goreless, sexless, and swearless. Were it not for the spastic editing and epileptic seizure inducing action jump cuts World War Z could get a G rating. It probably should get a G rating too because only the very very young will be surprised by anything appearing in this film.
I prefer slow zombies to fast, but that's clearly a personal thing. The zombies also don't decay the way we are used too seeing, in fact on the rare 3 frames when you actually see a made-up human and not a seething mass of CGI body parts, the zombies look sort of like regular people with really leathery skin who chatter their teeth like they should have a big tin key in the back of their heads. There's no gore, bullets don't seem to do more than knock the zombies down, no one really bleeds, there are no body parts, no guts, no nothing. It's utterly sterile. When the zombies move like a giant seething mass the effect of sterilization is even worse; then they literally look like a CGI blob from the old PS2 days.
Zombies only really work in film in one of two ways: the first is that the recent undead are people that the main characters know and love and thus there is a moral quandary as to whether to blow their heads off or not, the second is that they are nasty decomposing monsters that drop rotting flesh and swelling nasty organs. Anything else means that the zombies can be anything else, actually, now that I think about it this film could have starred plants (Day of the Triffids), or robots (Terminator – the future sequences) or apes (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) or ants (Them!) or any number of other antagonists and it wouldn't really have been any different. Maybe that's the signal that the zombie craze is finally ebbing, and ironically, it's the film based on the book that really brought them into popular culture that signals the final coda on the genre?
The dialogue is wholly in service to the plot for 99% of the film, typically with Gerry telling people to do the things they are already doing, "RUN!" or "GET TO THE ROOF!"so that if (when) your mind lingers on the crappy CGI or gets bogged down trying to decipher the confusing visuals, it's not all that hard to drop back into the film. That said, the film is pretty easy to follow even without dialogue, which is ironic in that the book is an oral history and follows the various tales of survivors after the war has ended. Whereas in World War Z the film the story unfolds in real time. I think that's a problem for the narrative too, because the post part of the post-apocalyptic zombie stories World War Z is what helped make them interesting. All of Max Brook's characters were dealing with the events they experienced and in some cases the choices they made during the war. Some of that is sort of captured in the first two thirds of the film with a toothless crazy CIA agent in Korea and a Defense Minister in Jerusalem, but that's really as far as it gets.
Once Gerry crash lands within impaled-side-on-airplane-shrapnel-walking distance of the W.H.O. Facility the film plummets into his personal story of survival and it's a snore.
The script tries really hard not to lay out any rational scientific explanations for why this rabies virus has suddenly mutated – that's for real thrillers like Contagion – nor does it try to explain why it makes people into bitey-monsters – that's for 28 Weeks Later, in fact the closest this film gets to science is Brad Pitt making a hilarious leap of logic based on flashbacks to events where he wasn't personally involved featuring people with whom he didn't interact. It's utterly stupid, and since Daren Lindelof is so functionally illiterate he can't even manage to write a counterpoint character that Gerry has to argue with to hash out a plan. In writing, this is known as "expository dialogue" and usually allows the characters to lay out a plan of action as if they were having a conversation. That's what a writer would use, expository dialogue isn't elegant but like a monkey wrench, it can be useful when no other tool is available. What we get in World War Z is Gerry very simply stating his plan, his rationale for that plan, then everyone agrees to the plan, then they execute the plan.
See if you can guess how much tension this imparts? It helps less that for the entire last 3rd of the film we ignore everything going on in the rest of the world while Gerry uses his Wolverine-like healing powers to recover from his shrapnel and determine the fate of the world based on flashbacks to events that stand out so hilariously from the chaos around them that it's like a silent movie inter-title reading "ZOMBIE CURE PLOT POINT".
It would help if the zombies were more interesting, by the time we get to the end of the script it's suggested that the monsters can also move slowly and sort of shamble around in the absence of stimulus. Convenient, almost as if the zombies – to paraphrase JJ Abrams describing the Enterprise's warp engines – move at the speed of plot. And by the last third the film is desperate for a plot that will abandon everything that went before to put Gerry and Schmerch into a single level video game and the most stupifyingly idiotic conclusion in recent film history.
I can only hope that the Blu Ray release features the hour or so of actual film cut to make room for Daren Lindelof's crap. I mean, even if the original ending was Gerry staring into the camera and saying "Zombie" over and over again in increasingly hilarious inflection and accents including the made up languages for Quest for Fire and Klingon for forty five minutes it would be better than what we get from the turd-processor of Mr. Lindelof.
Marc Forster, director of good (Stranger Than Fiction) bad (Machine Gun Preacher) and awful (Quantum of Solace) keeps the action moving along. I hate the way modern films use flickering crazy fast editing to show panic or action. Most of this is just seizure/headache inducing, and that's in abundance here, but only lasts for the first half hour or so as the zombie outbreak begins. Once the film slows down enough to start introducing plot that sort of ends. Sort of.
Confusovision action sequences aside, there isn't much to speak of for flowery or showy direction in World War Z. It's almost directed like a TV show. Establishing shot, close up of Brad Pitt, wide angle scene... repeat ad infinitum.
The weird thing with World War Z the film is that normally when I hate an adaptation it tends to bump up the source material a little for me, especially if I didn't love the source material. But I was so completely unimpressed with the book that even though the film shares literally only the title with the book, I lump them both together into the same zombie-filled wheelbarrow of hatred.
Okay Hollywood, we're done with zombies now, right? Thanks.