World War Z (2013)
Director: Marc Foster
Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz
Synopsis: United Nations employee Gerry Lane traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself.
Brad Pitt goes a bit grungy for Marc Forster’s adaptation of World War Z, the best-selling horror novel by Max Brooks in which survivors of the outbreak of a global epidemic which transforms its victims into mindless vicious zombies give eye witness accounts of the beginnings, height and eventual decline of a plague which claims much of the world’s population. The novel’s biggest strength was that it took a fantastic scenario and steeped it in a stark realism so that the reader had no problem believing what was described could take place in the real world. The book was also peppered with pithy socio-political comment, created some compelling incidents, and provided in-depth details about the physiology – if that word can be applied to a rotting but animated corpse – of the zombies. Forster’s film adaptation gives us none of that. In fact, to call it an adaptation is something of a misnomer, as the movie takes only the most fundamental aspects of the plot upon which to build an adventure thriller centred around a character who is entirely the creation of Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof, the movie’s credited screenwriters.
Pitt’s Gerry Lane is that character. He’s a former UN employee whose exact role is never really satisfactorily explained. But whatever he did, he would have been good at it. Because Gerry Lane is good at everything. When the heavy early morning Philadelphia school run is unaccountably attacked by a horde of zombies – or is it a horde? Or is it just a few who turn a few more and so on? It’s never really clear, because from a distance it’s practically impossible to tell this movie’s zombies apart from the humans. Either way, it takes only 11 seconds for a human to turn into a blood-crazed zombie once infected, so it’s not long before their numbers quickly begin to escalate. In fact, it takes only the course of that day for the entire fabric of American society to completely break down and for Philadelphia and the rest of the world to be overrun with zombies.
But I was telling you about how good Gerry is at everything, whether it’s driving through a gridlocked city street which has everyone else trapped, fighting off hordes of zombies, balancing on the roof ledge of a high rise apartment block, co-piloting a military plane, cauterising a stump (‘I have some field experience’), resisting the sudden immense rush of air from a gaping hole in the side of a commercial airline long enough to buckle up, injecting himself with the right lethal pathogen, or making breakfast. If you need any of these things doing – and doing well, mind you – Gerry’s your go-to guy!
Whatever it was that Gerry did when he was in the UN, he was good enough at it (naturally) for his old boss, Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena), to phone him pronto when all hell breaks loose to arrange to airlift him from the roof of a city office block and transport him and his wife, Karin (Mirieele Enos) and kids (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove) to the safety of a U.S. Navy vessel off the coast of New York. But the safety of his family comes at a steep price. In order to ensure his family remain in this safe haven, Gerry is pretty much forced into going on an insanely dangerous mission out into the zombie-infested world in order to find the origins of the outbreak from where the nation’s scientists can hopefully develop a cure.
Gerry’s mission takes him from a military base in Korea to a WHO research facility in Wales by way of Jerusalem, and it’s the kind of nightmare whistle-stop tour that could only ever happen in a movie like this. And it’s only after he embarks on this tour in the company of the boffin who’s been built up as the world’s saviour (and who promptly accidentally shoots himself the second things get hairy) and the usual tough military escort that the movie finally hits its stride and, just to mix metaphors, starts throwing a few punches. Because up to this point it’s been something of a mess. You see, it increasingly seems that filmmakers believe that a barrage of barely comprehensible, rapidly cut action sequences that the human brain barely has time to decipher renders any degree of character development entirely unnecessary. We learn in two short conversations – one of which is largely taken up with a game of 20 questions – all we apparently need to know about Gerry and the family which provides the reason he does everything he does. Then it’s – BAM! – whip pan shots, zombies head-butting windscreens and frequent urgent cries of ‘Go! Go! Go!’ — although sometimes, to be fair, the writers do elaborate with ‘Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!’
As I said, things stabilise during the second act, in which we, along with SuperGerry, start to learn a little background to what’s going on. Detail is still a little sketchy, but at least we start to feel as if we’re being fed something approaching a fully developed story rather than the action highlights. There is still plenty of action, but now the story approaches the scale of a biblical epic – quite appropriately, considering the story has shifted to Jerusalem – during which we see a spectacular zombie ladder scaling the hundred-foot high protective wall that surrounds a refugee camp of human survivors. Then, after a suspenseful sequence aboard a commercial plane searching for somewhere safe to land, for the final third of the movie Forster takes us from large scale spectacle to a small scale game of hide and seek reminiscent of a PC game, as Gerry and a few hardy survivors skulk around the largely deserted corridors of the WHO research facility in which lies the cure for the plague – if only he can sneak past all those damn zombies. From thousands against thousands, the quest to save mankind shrinks down to one against one, human and zombie separated only by a thin pane of glass.
World War Z is a movie that will probably disappoint most of those who loved Max Brooks’ novel, while those enamoured enough of the film to seek out the book might be equally disappointed. Pitt makes an unlikely superhero blessed with the kind of immense good fortune that exists only in big budget Hollywood blockbusters, and too often Forster’s style of direction irritates rather than excites (the zombies move so fast that their attacks are often an incomprehensible blur, due, no doubt, to the fact that Forster has to keep the gore light in order to achieve that all important PG-13 rating). When a so-called zombie movie repeatedly turns its eyes away from the gory moments you know any integrity on the part of the filmmaker has been compromised by cold, hard financial prerogatives, and the movie is sure to suffer as a result. On the plus side, the movie does grow stronger in the second half, once we’ve come to terms with the fact that we’re watching nothing more ambitious than the usual summer tent-pole production.