***Avast, here be spoilers! You’ve been warned!***
A zombie movie is not just about the dead rising and killing everyone. I mean, don’t get me wrong. That’s part of the macabre fun of the genre, but if that’s all your movie is about, then it is missing the point completely. World War Z is what people with this fundamental misunderstanding of zombie movies think a zombie movie is. It imitates without understanding as though just having the various ingredients present makes for a good movie.
Let’s start with how sanitized all the violence is. Zombies are the familiar made obscene and terrifying. The zombies can be recognised (if they’re close to the victim), or, at least, are recognisable (as former people). There is the potential for anyone around you to become a monster at a moment’s notice. To achieve this you need a visceral sense of menace and danger, usually achieved by seeing someone’s bloodied guts clawed from their belly and stuffed into the gaping jaw of a former cheerleader or businessman or waiter. Something. Certainly not a faceless mass of zombies that are so CGI’d that a river of Barbie dolls tumbling toward you would be more scary. (That is terrifying. Someone do that.)
Violence happens off camera or in the distance. And it’s strangely bloodless.
For most of the film so much is ignored due to an urge for big scale invasions of the sprinting dead. The North Korean solution of de-toothing (?) their entire population is mentioned for about a second. Yet, it rather aptly describes this movie: a de-toothed zombie movie. And when did the Israelis build that little fence? More importantly, why did they decide to never bother looking on the other side?
Anyway, the basic plots sees Gerry Lan – screw it, I’m using Brad Pitt, because that’s all he is in this movie – Pitt comes across as something of a zombie himself as he trots around with a rather gormless expression on his face, unbothered by pretty much anything that happens. For some reason he is hand-picked by the Deptuy-Secretary of the UN to investigate the outbreak of zombies and in a completely un-elitist sequence they are airlifted from the city while thousands die around them.
Once they are safe on an aircraft carrier Pitt goes into sombre hero mode and after some fortuitous information he is whisked off with a bunch of spec-ops types who he out-cools while still phoning home. Certain things go wrong as they are wont to do in a zombie flick and his family is taken away yet this doesn’t seem to have any effect on Pitt’s character, who just decides ‘hey these guys kicked my family off the only place I know is safe and stuck them in a refugee camp, let’s go out of my way to help them’.
The movie attempts to include the anti-military/government paranoia and fear that is often a part of zombie movies, yet it has little impact. The wife and child are taken away and not heard from again. The wife has already been set up as a one-dimensional mother/wife cut-out. Not only doesn’t she do anything, she makes HIS work harder by being needy and calling him at exactly the wrong moment, but of course he’s very understanding and sympathetic despite this getting several people killed, because they are the perfect cookie-cutter couple of blandness. She obviously had nothing to offer that would allow them to stay on the ship and in safety, so off to the refugee camp and out of the movie they go.
PITT survives a fucking plane crash filled with zombies. I don’t even know where to begin…
After more random globe-hopping scenes that ended with the crash, Pitt has an epiphany. Somehow seeing random people survive the plastic zombies’ wild attack automatically makes him think of disease as the defence. An interesting idea yet so lacking in set-up and motivation it’s as if deus ex machina came and sat on Chekov’s gun, ate it, and shat out all the pieces and then tossed them out the window. Which makes no sense to anyone except Brad Pitt. But, of course he’s Brad Pitt so he has insights the rest of us don’t. Not even a moment’s consideration for other options such as maybe the zombies only attack things that are moving? Huh, that makes about as much sense. Probably more…
I did enjoy the last scene despite the ridiculous plane crash and that somehow Pitt and his friend are the only survivors (in a plane full of people who had just been turned into zombies, so by definition, should still be up and about and after them) and they crashed within short walking distance of exactly where they need to go. Not enough to make up for the rest though.
I didn’t actually realise how much I disliked this movie until I started writing this article.
That’s it. I’m off to read the book.