Nonchalance, hate or pity. Those are your choices with World War Zee: a film that has managed, miraculously, to rise from the dead only to collapse into a limp, lifeless heap upon arrival. Let’s start with the latter.
Hopes have not been high for World War Z.
Having signed on to produce and star in an adaptation of Max Brooks’ stark, thought-provoking retrospective of a zombie outbreak, Brad Pitt found himself the head of a production that, apparently, had no body.
Whispers stated the star’s passion project was $50 million over-budget (ballooning from an already high $150 million), over-long and, due to various creative differences in its adaptation, made no bloody sense. Executives were fired. Pitt and director Marc Forster reportedly stopped speaking to each other. The third act was re-written by Lost‘s Damon Lindelof and then re-shot. “Oh, here it comes”, someone probably said, “the dead film walking.”
So: as disastrous as expected?
Not really. In fact, considering the circumstances, it’s surprisingly passable. Its opening, for instance, forgoes all build-up and flings you right into the midst of – as it’s known in the book – The Great Panic: the earliest stage of the outbreak in which humanity – literally and metaphorically – eats itself.
Beyond admirable attempts at apocalyptic scale later on, it’s about as close as Foster gets to ripping your throat out. A highlight reinforced by not only the strength of the sequence itself, but by the fact that Pitt’s UN employee Gerry Lane and his papier mache family haven’t had the chance to bore us into siding with the zombies yet. And there, after we’re done with patting a big-budget Hollywood production on the head for managing to turn a camera on, is where the hate lies.
For World War Z, as well as being a mediocre film, is an absolute waste of its source material.
Here, at the height of zombie saturation, was the chance to do something different. Instead, Brooks’ novel – which explores, through interviews with survivors, the personal and political cost of survival in the face of extremity – is merely a vessel for an action film that feels like it’s been released far too many times before. Sure, there’s nods here and there – a scene in Israel being one – but even Brooks’ most cerebral observations come across as jarringly dull in Generic Gerry’s quest to find a cure and get back to his family. A premise which isn’t inherently rubbish, of course, but simply suffers from surgical scars too deep to ignore.
Whether the result of being credited with four writers or not, the edit is messy (with characters such as one briefly played by Matthew Fox coming and going), the story is flabby and the script is strangely soulless; with dialogue resembling unskippable cut-scenes in a videogame that isn’t particularly hot on gameplay either.
Lindelof does the best he can with the third act, changing an original ending that would have made Pitt’s character drastically turn from – as the studio saw it – sympathetic family man to zombie killer extraordinaire. But even his stripped down, scarier, emotional ending ultimately cannot provide a pay off in final act for a relationship that offers absolutely no chance for investment in the first or second.
None of that, of course, will particularly bother those who just fancy a bit of brainless fun – of which there’s a lot to be had. But, given what could have been, World War Z should be held to higher standards than that. Let’s just hope, if given the sequel its ending so desperately wants, that they end up getting their shit together.