World War Z (2013)

JUNE 22, 2013


I normally don't read a book that's due to be a movie until I've seen the latter (I've explained why dozens of times; to sum up - I know the book will be better, so why ruin the enjoyment of a new movie by noticing what's "missing"?), but as it turns out, the only thing World War Z takes from Max Brooks' (terrific) novel is the title and the basic premise of a realistic, global account of a zombie epidemic. 99% of all zombie films focus on a small area and leave a few radio/TV broadcasts to fill in the details of how it's spreading (via "Just heard... New York is gone!" type dialogue), but WWZ takes place in the US, Israel, South Korea, and Canada (replacing the original Russian location; more on that soon), and features more airborne sequences than movies about pilots. It is truly an epic adventure that shares just as much DNA with a James Bond movie as a typical zombie flick.

So it's kind of ironic that it's best moments are the ones that are straight out of any Romero wannabe. I particularly enjoyed a bit where hero Brad Pitt and his family stop at a grocery store to find inhalers for one of the daughters (if there was no such thing as asthma or diabetes, a lot of movies would have trouble creating an easy obstacle for their heroes). It's a scene filled with little surprises; when Pitt goes to find the inhalers and a man steps from the shadows with a gun, he doesn't rob/loot Pitt, but helps him find what he's looking for, and when a cop arrives after a scary situation, we see that he's there not as an officer of the law, but as a man desperate to find baby food and supplies for his own family. The best parts of the book were the smaller, personal stories set against the larger backdrop, so while the movie fails to adapt anything specific from it, they at least got the general tone mostly right.

Same goes for the (rare) focused zombie scenes. Those swarms of anonymous (and 99% digital) zombies scaling walls or whatever may look impressive and provide the trailer with its needed money shots, but in the film itself they're nothing more than empty spectacle. I much preferred the scaled down bits, like when Pitt and co. are racing up some stairs to get to a rooftop rescue with a few undead in pursuit, or when he and the other passengers on a plane work together to quietly block their section of the plane off from the tail section, where the zombies have begun biting their way through the other passengers. The larger scenes, such as the siege on Israel (as massive as it gets, really) are fine on their own, but with Pitt being the only character around that we know or care about (and the movie not close to ending), they lack any sense of terror. The PG-13 rating keeps things from getting too violent or gory, and that's fine - but there's not much excuse for being just plain ol' unscary.

Unfortunately, the "Pitt and a bunch of randoms" is a problem that continues throughout the movie. His family is safely kept on a battleship by the end of the first act, and from then on he's always on the go, meeting folks (many of whom don't even have names; David Morse is merely "Ex-CIA Agent") who either die or stay behind as he moves on yet again. The entire third act involves an attempt to locate an important sample from a lab at an overrun CDC type place called the World Health Organization, and the four people on staff who are there are collectively billed as "WHO Doctors" - they are the main focus for a 30-35 minute chunk of the movie and don't even get identifying traits to credit them properly! And poor Matthew Fox ("Parajumper" - a funny name anyway, even funnier when you consider we never see him do that) saw nearly all of his role left on the cutting room floor when the movie was reshot - he was originally a sort of human antagonist but is now only briefly glimpsed in a few shots.

Ah yes, the 3rd act. You can look around for details on what it originally was, but suffice to say (with minor spoilers ahead, but keep in mind this IS a PG-13 summer blockbuster released by a major studio) it's now much different, and less sequel oriented. Not that everything is tied up by the end, but the other "ending" stopped short of ANYTHING that could be considered a proper climax; Pitt was basically still out there looking for his family AND the cure, where at least the new ending resolves one of those things. I can't say which is BETTER since I haven't seen it (it SOUNDS pretty interesting, at least), but I will say that we lost even MORE of the film's already loose ties to the novel as a result, and that the new ending, while enjoyable as its own mini-movie, definitely doesn't jive with the rest of the narrative. For over an hour we're watching this global, epic-scale adventure, and then suddenly we spend the final two reels focused on a few rooms and a basic fetch mission (it's also easy to see that they didn't want to blow much MORE money on their new ending; replace Pitt with some guy from the Syfy channel and you have any Saturday night movie with regards to how expensive it looks).

So it's not a perfect film by any means, and bears more than a couple telltale signs of a reworked production, but it's nowhere near the disaster some folks had feared. Despite the involvement of Damon Lindelof, the plot is refreshingly straightforward - no "vague for the sake of vague" plotting or twist shenanigans. I would have liked them to do a better job explaining why Pitt's character is roped back into the UN (he has retired to be a stay at home dad) when he doesn't seem to possess any special skills beyond the ability to listen while people explain their situation to him, but I guess it's just shorthand - he's Brad Pitt, so naturally we want him to save us all (George Clooney was presumably quickly located and brought to safety). And again, we've never really seen anything quite like this for a zombie movie, so we can forgive a few missteps; if the whole movie was set in an isolated farmhouse or underground bunker, then its low points would be much harder to swallow. Not sure if Paramount wants to pursue it as a franchise as they originally intended after all the problems they had getting this one together (reports say there are, but I can show you a few articles about when Brandon Routh will be suiting up for a Superman Returns sequel too), but at least it paid off - the movie secured a HUGE opening weekend gross (Pitt's highest ever, in fact) and will be the all time highest grossing zombie film by the end of the week. Not too shabby for a movie everyone wrote off as a disaster a couple months ago. And as a bonus, it's a pretty enjoyable blend of typical summer action movie and zombie flick.

What say you?


  1. I liked how instead of everyone stomping around arguing and acting like goddamn drama queens like they do on Walking Dead everyone worked together and helped each other out. Oddly it ended up being a feel-good movie. I hope this is just the prologue and next they do a Band of Brothers style series on cable that actually follows the book. One episode for each chapter with different directors. Oh and it has the naked punk chick from Return of the Living Dead in it.

    1. She was so HOT! And out of left field. She should randomly be dancing in every episode. (Of everything)

  2. I hated the movie (gave it a 4.5 out of 10 in my review), mostly because of the lack-of-stakes in all the actions scenes. I had some worry for Segen, but that's mostly because I appreciate a badass female character and I worried she'd be bloodlessly killed off like every other character he interacted with.

    It could've been worse, and I may have been overly harsh, but damn did I not like this movie.

  3. I don't know, it just doesn't look appealing, maybe I'm just tired of zombies

  4. I really enjoyed this movie, and felt it did well by taking the spirit of the book and adapting it to the big screen.

    Every scene with a massive CGI zombie horde felt extremely claustrophobic. Knowing that all you could do in that situation is run from the flood of zombies created a sense of tension that lacks in other zombie flicks. Zombies just aren't scary when you can fight them.

    In hindsight, the switch from cities and air fields to one small building of corridors may seem jarring, but I felt that it ties everything together. Pitt's quest in the movie is to look through this huge sweeping epidemic to filter out information until he finds the small clue that could save everything; and his journey starts in huge chaotic set pieces that progressively get smaller until he finds what he is looking for in a glorified walk-in cooler.

    I also want to respond to this:
    "I would have liked them to do a better job explaining why Pitt's character is roped back into the UN (he has retired to be a stay at home dad) when he doesn't seem to possess any special skills beyond the ability to listen while people explain their situation to him"
    Fana Mokoena's character refers to Gerry as one of the best investigators he has worked with. They don't explain explicitly why, rather they demonstrate it by showing Gerry's resourcefulness and awareness every time crap hits the fan (paying attention to the countdown when a human is bitten, magazine arm guards, noticing zombies bypassing people etc.). It's clear watching his actions why he was brought in to do that job.

  5. The entire third act involves an attempt to locate an important sample from a lab at an overrun CDC type place called the World Health Organization

    The World Health Organization is a real UN agency.

  6. I also read the book before seeing the movie. I like how the movie retained the book's global scope as well. I also liked how Pitt discovered what was not a cure a but way to eventually turn the tide. I that was a refreshing change in a zombie movie. Also, I think para jumper refers to the USAF's pararescue jumpers, commonly known as "PJs".

  7. Just saw the movie yesterday and would never label it a "horror movie" as it lacks all horrifying aspects or gory scenes. in my books this is a "disaster comedy" and you will be able to enjoy this movie way more if you don't take it seriously at all, just think of the accident of that guy in the plane who shoots himself... It starts with the opening act and how comically quickly everything turns to chaos and pitt is willing to go pedal to the metal without even knowing what's going on and ends with zombies jugging and jiving and breakdancing to an inaudible song... Even more absurd, the magic plane that flies around half the world with 30 sec refilling or plot points that get totally lost (moving fingers in south korea, soldiers there telling him people turned after 10 mins not 10 secs, little boy from hispanic family - i'm sure jolie put that plot point in there and so on). the movie lacks any feeling for time as pitt flies around the world obviously in minutes, there's no real emotional connection to any of the people (it wouldn't be any different at all if he had no family) and a LOT of scenes are taken from other places (zombies scaling the wall see starship troopers e.g. or the zombies' mouth movements had me screaming "chianti" on numerous occasions).

    to sum it up it's an enjoyable movie if you don't take it seriously at all, if you don't look at it as a horror-movie but as a disaster-comedy. the cinema where i saw it was filled with laughter throughout and although i'm sure that wasn't the intention they had it's what is saving this movie.

  8. I watched the uncut unrated this movie today on Netflix. The cgi zombies were terrible. It's nothing like the book. There were plot holes you could drive an RV through. However, it was an ok zombie movie. I probably won't watch it again, but it was ok.

    Two items of note.
    I have asthma. Had it since I was a baby. The kid having an attack was very realistic. I lost/forgot my inhaler a number of times. The way Brad Pitt handles it with eye contact and mindful breathing was similar to my parents treatment of me as a kid.

    WHO is a real thing. They do a lot of good work.

    I'm surprised at how many movies I have seen under the zombie tag. I'm 're-reading and enjoying your site. I'm glad you still do reviews. Thanks BC!


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