Movie review: World War Z
05:00 AM, Jun 21, 2013
What if they had a zombie apocalypse and nobody cared?
World War Z isn’t quite like that, because we are invited to care about Brad Pitt. As for the rest of the world, living, dead and undead, well …
Marc Forster’s loose adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel survived production problems, writer changes and delays. It does a good job of establishing how quickly the fabric of society tears, in a thrilling, terrifying opening scene. (If nothing else, the movie hits the ground running.)
But what all of that time and money couldn’t provide, evidently, is decent character development for anyone but the man Pitt plays, Gerry Lane. Gerry is a former United Nations operative, no stranger to the world’s most dangerous places, who quit to spend more time with his family.
In the movie, he spends about 20 minutes with them before hopping back in the saddle. A drive through the streets of Philadelphia turns horrific, as enraged, savage people start attacking other people; before you can count to 12, the victim becomes another attacker.
Yep. Zombies. It takes a little while for the powers to be to buy that conclusion, of course. After a suspenseful sequence in which Gerry and his family escape the clutches of the zombies, they are swooped up, literally, by the United Nations. His old boss, Thierry (Fana Mokoena), tries to convince him to help the cause.
Reluctant hero alert: Gerry doesn’t want to leave his family, but he’s more or less blackmailed into it by a military officer.
So he heads off to South Korea, where James Badge Dale has a nice bit as a tough-guy soldier and David Morse has a ball as a disgraced, possibly insane CIA agent, before heading for Israel. Somewhere along the line Matthew Fox has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him moment. (I recognized him by his voice, actually.) Lots of actors come and go, few registering.
It’s not as if you can’t tell the survivors from the zombies. It’s that you’re not given any particular reason to care about one group more than the other. Even as big-budget blockbusters go, this is a hard movie to connect with.
Then, finally, in the last segment, things change a bit. The group is pared down to Gerry, an Israeli soldier named Segen (Daniella Kertesz) and a World Health Organization doctor (Pierfrancesco Favino) named â1/8 well, in the credits he’s listed only as “W.H.O. Doctor,” which tells you a lot about how seriously the writers take the characters.
This bunch must face off against a group of zombies confined to a wing of a research facility. Here, we get back to the tension so nicely portrayed at the beginning of the film, but on a more personal scale. It’s still Pitt’s show, of course (he is a producer of the film), but at least the other characters make a bit of an impression. (As does Michael Jenn, as a particularly hungry zombie.)
About those zombies: Fans of the genre will note that they are not the slow-moving, Night of the Living Dead type. Instead they move at great, reckless speed, driven by their hunger to bite, kill, move on. They hurl themselves off buildings, into helicopters, wherever flesh and blood might be. A scene in which they scamper all over each other, the pile building until they can mindlessly scale a wall in Israel, is pretty swell.
Not enough else is. Pitt remains a dependable star, and a better actor than that implies. His Gerry obviously cares about his family. It’s just the rest of us who don’t, and that’s where World War Z falls short of what it might have been.