World War Z (2013)
Just another zombie movie. Le sigh.
World War Z is about a former investigator for the UN who quit his job a while back to spend some quality time with his wife and kids. Life is pretty good for this former UN investigator, he’s even got the pancake thing down to a science. Then, on one terribly unfortunate day, the zombie apocalypse goes down while he’s driving the fam through the streets of Philadelphia. Thanks to some aggressive driving and friends in high places, he and his family escape unharmed and get choppered to a UN aircraft carrier that’s sitting pretty in the Atlantic. From there, he gets pulled back into action to find out where this epidemic originated in the hopes of finding a cure. So they fly him off to South Korea and wish him the best while the world as we know it succumbs to the Zeds.
Get it? Zournalists? Eh, not my best work.
So being that it’s regarded as a bible of sorts for all of us who know exactly what we’ll be doing when the zombies finally arrive, I prepared myself by reading World War Z a few months ago. Wasn’t the kind of thing that would usually take precedence on my reading list, but I dug the hype, it certainly had its merits. Going in, I guess I was expecting something hokey, something along the lines of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Lo and behold, it wasn’t hokey in the slightest.
For those who haven’t read it, Max Brooks was not effing around when he wrote his follow-up to The Zombie Survival Guide. Not only it is insanely well-researched for a novel about something that hasn’t even happened, but it treats the zombie apocalypse with an utmost seriousness that it is well-deserved given, you know, it’s the apocalypse and all. In a sense, it’s like Contagion with zombies, and also like Contagion, it’s as much about the survivors as it is about the walkers.
So I was kind of surprised when I saw the trailer for this movie.
Suddenly, we’ve gone from a refreshingly realistic, character-driven story to one where zombies run track and are King of the Hill champs. This was not the World War Z I remembered. Someone had read the CliffsNotes.
As a result, it was hard for me to watch this without thinking of the approach that, in a perfect world, I would have taken. Now, if I was a fat cat Hollywood producer who’d just bought the rights to this movie, the last person I would have called was the guy who did Quantum of Solace. Never would have occurred to me, why would that possibly occur to me? Instead, I would call up my friends at PBS and tell them to get Ken Burns on the phone. With formalities out of the way, I’d tell him my plan and work my magic. When all was said and done, we’d have a game-changer on our hands, because that’s just how Aiden the fat cat rolls.
In a nutshell, the plan goes as such: have Ken Burns do for World War Z what he did for the Civil War and World War II. Being that the source material is a on oral history of the zombie war from the mouths of those who survived it, an approach like this would be money in the bag. Hire some no-name actors to recount the events from infection to salvation, splice in footage and stills of the events themselves and let Ken tell this story like it was meant to be told. And make no mistake, we’ll be sticking with the O.G. slow zombies. Had a hard enough time dealing with those jerks as it was.
It’s a no-brainer, folks, and I hate to believe I’m the only one who thought of this. Sure, it’s not gonna turn the same kind of profit as something starring Brad Pitt, but, man, what a lost opportunity. This could have been something special, something that really could have elevated the genre in ways that even The Walking Dead hasn’t. But alas, it’s a little too late for “could haves.”
Still, maybe I shouldn’t be so frustrated by it all, and there is part of me that wants to just lighten up and let bygones be bygones. But it’s hard. It’s hard when you’ve got a show like The Walking Dead that, in the span of a pilot, humanized and legitimized the zombie sub-genre in ways I never thought possible. It’s even harder when I hear that all of my co-worker’s friends watch it solely for the blood and gore, character development be damned. That shit is beyond me, that shit numbs the mind. So when the film makers here decided to slash and burn “the human factor” from Brook’s novel in order to make way for super zombies, it’s hard to ignore that sting of defeat, that realization that the gorehounds are winning.
If the book didn’t have so much going for it, that’d be one thing, but since it does, this feels like devolution in a sense. After all, why take a risk on something original when you can just remake 2012 with zombies? Serenity now, guys. Serenity now.
But as the Verdict clearly shows, it’s not all bad and it really could have been worse.
Taken for what it is, World War Z kept me watching. The two best things I can say about it is that it’s often intense and there are a handful of times when it actually starts to feel like the source material. Most of the time it’s rushing the plot along so we can get to the next zombie flood already, but on the rare occasions where Brad Pitt’s character starts gathering intel and connecting the dots, those glimpses of Contagion just shine on through. The downside is that each of these scenes are preceded and followed-up by one zombie attack after another, almost all of which you’ve already seen in the trailer and serve as constant reminders of what a dumbed-down product we’re dealing with.
If only there had been some characters I could connect with and invest in. If only everyone in this movie wasn’t such a fucking idiot, everything would have been so much better. That last point in particular, that one can’t be stressed enough. It is truly amazing how stupid these characters are from beginning to end, even the great Brad Pitt and his beautiful locks of gold. See, there are only two ways that the zombies in this movie can detect a non-zombified person: sight and sound. Therefore, there are two bang-up ways not to get zombified in the process: don’t let them see you and shut the eff up. Simple enough, right? Well you won’t believe what a hard time they have following rule No. 2. It is the leading cause of zombie invasions in this world and an outrageously preventable one at that.
Granted, I’m not the one with the zombies after me, but I don’t think common sense should be this hard to come by. Turn off your cell phone. Don’t leave your weapon for no good reason. Don’t bang into every goddamn thing in your path. If you’re about to step on glass in a quiet room, DON’T STEP ON THE GLASS. I don’t know what to tell you, guys. These people are hopeless. Hell, there’s even a dude who gets killed when he trips on nothing and (whoops!) shoots himself in the head. I kid you not, that’s how it happens. Not the kind of move you can pull of twice.
But like I said, it could have been worse. They did go ahead and spend oodles of money to reshoot the final Act, and given what the original ending was supposed to look like, I’m really freaking glad they did. I don’t know how the masses feel about it, but I thought those last 30 minutes were the best part of the whole picture. Toned things down, fleshed out what was far and away the most compelling aspect of the plot and, for once, went for substance over spectacle. The effort does not go unnoticed.
I know this probably reads as a pretty harsh review, but as it is, World War Z is an entertaining summer blockbuster. Then again, it’s also damn shame given what could have been. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m nuts about the book or anything because it’s more of a matter of not appreciating what it did well until I saw it done like this. Who knows, maybe there’s still a chance that Ken Burns will read this and it’ll light a fire under his ass, but until that day comes, I guess this’ll suffice. It is what it is, boys and girls. It is what it is.