World War Z so passed us by we forgot to mention it in this week's paper, much less screen it by press deadline. Turns out we needn't have bothered.
Critic's Grade: C
It looks like Hollywood executives can sleep a little easier at night, once again content in the knowledge that throwing enough money at a problem can solve it. Thanks to $20 million in reshoots, Marc Forster's World War Z
has managed to conceal most of the cosmetic evidence of its clusterfuck production and emerge into the light of day (or dark of theaters) as an eminently watchable summer blockbuster. That said, it remains a fundamentally flawed film.
Billed as “an oral history of the zombie war,” Max Brooks' inventive 2006 novel-turned-source-material saw dozens of characters from across the globe sharing their horrific accounts of humanity's annihilation at the rotting hands of the undead. With a sprawling scope and strong geopolitical element, the narrative was bound to be stripped/dumbed down once pegged as fodder for an action-horror flick. Consequently, it's unsurprising—but nevertheless disappointing—that this adaptation centers on just a single character. I mean, it would be inconceivable to actually make an ensemble piece about a worldwide epidemic, wouldn't it? (Cough, Contagion, cough.)
Pulling double duty as producer, Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former U.N. investigator who's settled into his new role as hausfrau. While caught in morning rush hour, Gerry and his family are set upon by agents of the zombie apocalypse, which has erupted simultaneously on infinite fronts. With this brand of walking dead more akin to rabid sprinters than somnambulists, humanity is quite literally overrun in record time. Gerry's past connections allow him to stow his wife (Mireille Enos) and kids on an aircraft carrier. However, such perks mean that he must make himself useful. And so, he's soon globe-hopping between South Korea, Israel and Wales on a scavenger hunt for possible solutions to this infestation.
If handled properly, these episodic sequences should feel like Gerry is making cameos in other characters' separate movies, joining the action in media res and constantly being forced to play catch-up. Instead, it seems as if the entire world is simply waiting around for Gerry to show up, uncover the odd clue and then leave things far worse than he found them.
Forster's previous work on Quantum of Solace and Machine Gun Preacher has hardly instilled much faith in his aptitude for directing action. Regrettably, he consistently lives down to his reputation here. The best that can be said about his work is that his lack of spatial awareness occasionally serves to heighten the frantic chaos of the large-scale skirmishes. More often than not though, he seems like a man clearly out of his depth. Even in more subdued passages, he lacks the skills required to effectively ratchet up the tension.
An irksome desire to preserve a PG-13 rating also ensures that audiences are deprived of any of the carnage one immediately envisions when hearing the phrase “zombie war.” However, what World War Z most glaringly lacks is any sort of unique sensibility being brought to the material. The screenplay is focused on pumping up set pieces and ironing out plot points rather than instilling even a trace of subtext—the lifeblood of any great zombie film. Ultimately, such a product can only satisfy the most mindless of hordes.