The great thing about zombie movies is that they throw up all sorts of corny wordplay that movie reviewers and humourists can eagerly swarm all over and devour like tasty, tasty brains. Since the public interest in zombies was resurrected in the early 00’s with the beginning of The Walking Dead comic book series and the one-two pop culture punch of Shaun of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead, the genre has shuffled on for an entire decade, stronger now than the first time it was alive, making many successful books, movies, television series and video games without showing any signs of dying. See how easy that was made for me?
Borrowing little more than the title of the book it was based on, World War Z stars Brad Pitt as a retired UN operative who is pulled back into the game for one last job, as every person in a movie who has ever retired must do. Unfortunately his job involves jet-setting around avoiding explosions and fighting the undead, because nobody makes movies about a retired person being called in for one last job if they work the glue gun down at the Post-It note factory. Although in the case of World War Z there’s only slightly more violence involved.
The rating of the movie has been kept down so as to get as many tickets bought as possible and it really limits the violence one would expect of a zombie movie. Using the hated modern action-movie tools of frenetic editing and shakey cam, very little focus is given to zombies attacking anyone. With such a large scale, there are far more people shown running around scared then ever shown being bitten. The level of blood on display would barely fill one squib on a George Romero set. In one scene someone gets their arm cut off, a later scene has medical aid applied to the stump, both scenes are so careful to keep the arm out of shot at all times you begin to wonder if the people working behind the camera are a little squeamish. Unwilling to commit to showing us the terrible and violent things that happen when the dead walk among us, the movie takes the lazy way out, settling for having Pitt looking sadly at cities while they burn. Really the experience is closer to 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow than typical zombie fare.
I don’t know what the fuck I thought was going to happen in a film called World War Z but the scope was too big to be really engaging. The story is too eager to jump from one location to the next to ever take stock of what was happening and try to get me to care about the characters. The image of a million zombies flailing around just blurs everything together into one big brown, deadly, twitching CGI effect like a giant evil turd having a fit. It becomes too abstract, sharing a problem that many disaster movies have in the antagonist being a mindless force of nature.
The fact that the victims of the movie are ‘everyone on the planet’ is a problem as well. There’s a quote attributed to famous film critic Josef Stalin, it is claimed that he said “one death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic”. Obviously it would be reprehensible if he was saying that about real life, but as film analysis it is spot on. Who can relate to off-screen death on such a large scale while the people we see on-screen get off relatively scot-free? When army men in the movie talk about cities “going dark” and “we’ve lost Moscow” or whatever, I felt like saying “Who gives a shit about Moscow? Somebody eat Brad Pitt!” (With sincerest apologies to the people of Moscow.) The fewer zombies shown on the screen the more interesting the movie got. Without giving too much away, towards the end Pitt finds himself in a medical facility, part of which has been shut off and is filled with zombies. The smaller number of them makes the scenes more focused and tense, and individual zombies shown in isolation look much creepier and are thus better at creating an atmosphere than the flailing turd.
World War Z isn’t terrible or anything, mostly I just found it boring and a little lacking. It felt like it could have used more action, with most zombie sequences used as an excuse for Pitt to work on his cardio by running away. Before it kind of trails off at the very end, it improves in the third act, actually feeling suspenseful as the number of zombies is cut down. When the camera stays still and isn't focused on CGI, there's some good shots to be found, like the beginning escape from the dual horrors of zombie and traffic. The characters are undercooked but nobody is doing a bad job, even the children at the start of the film. I feel like if you had kids you would be able to empathise with the danger that they're in. If you need something to watch this weekend, you could do worse, but ultimately World War Z feels a little empty, disposable and lifeless.