When it was announced that World War Z was officially going to be hitting theaters this year, it cemented 2013’s status (in my mind at least) as the year of the long gestating disaster; Troubled productions of movies no one wanted to see. The biggest is, of course, Ender’s Game, a movie about which rumors have been swirling since the late 90s, but World War Z might be the most public. Scripts and rumors have been bouncing around since 2007 and talks of it’s multiple scripts, actors and writers dropping in and out of the project have made it a laughing stock before it even hit. But that doesn’t need to be bad; both Titanic and Apocalypse Now were made under similar circumstances, but they are exceptions, rather than the rule. So how did World War Z turn out?
Well…in a sentence? It’s a train wreck. A near complete mess on almost every conceivable level. A completely failure as an adaption and a disaster when taken strictly on it’s own merits. I’ve no doubt I’ll see worse movies this year, but none that so willfully and blindly waste their own potential. The only thing that might save it from being a staple of ‘worst big budget zombie movies ever’ lists is that it’s too boring, dull and forgettable to be still in anyone’s mind the next time such a list is compiled.
The plot, theoretically but not really adapted from Max Brooks’ book of the same name, is devoted to Brad Pitt as Gerry, a former UN Investigator who is living in Philadelphia when, surprise surprise, a zombie outbreak hits. Gerry tries desperately to protect his family…when he gets them airlifted to a completely safe battleship out in the middle of the Atlantic and is immediately sent back to go try and find a cure for the whole zombie thing.
And we just ran headlong into the first major problem with the movie; it has absolutely no idea where to put its focus. The movie wants to be a character focused story on the lead and his family, but it also wants to imitate it’s globe trotting source material. The result is that every so often during the movie, we cut back to his family on the battleship doing something totally fucking irrelevant. The only things his family’s actions do the change anything are set off a problem (in a way that makes his wife look like a moron) and alter the precise location the movie’s incredibly truncated ending takes place.
This also has the net effect of completely destroying the movie’s pacing, but that damage was done 10 minutes with the incredibly rushed way the movie goes about it’s story. Each scene moves so fast that not a single plot point or character beat manages to sink in and it feels like the movie wants itself to be over as fast as possible, which is bad enough but it means that the occasional check in with Gerry’s family stop the movie cold. It doesn’t help that the screenplay is exceptionally weak and the direction tops out at mediocre and bottoms out in shaky cam bullshit that makes it impossible to tell what’s going on.
It’s also a bizarrely toothless movie, in both story and presentation. Early on in the movie, a family is killed (offscreen, like you do) but the kid who’d been briefly and poorly characterized, survives without explanation, which signaled to me that all you needed in this movie was a name or a backstory and you’d be completely safe, a theory that held up throughout the entire movie (the kid, incidentally, hangs around the entire movie and adds nothing aside from me constantly wondering why someone who just watched their parents die was so goddamn cheerful).
But the way the action happens is also completely toothless. Remember all that insane, over the top gore and violence that made the stupid, but entertaining, 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead so enjoyable? Completely gone. Most of the action takes place offscreen or hidden behind shaky cam, and what we do get to see is almost completely bloodless. And by the by, I’m not going to apologize for expecting my movie about the flesh eating undead who have to be put down by having their brain destroyed to be fucking gory.
And none of this even addressing how unoriginal this whole movie is. Yes, all of the zombie clichés get a workout, but there are whole concepts and sequences lifted from other better movies, the most blatant (and bizarre) lift being from Snakes on a Plane of all things. The movie has maybe 2 original and interesting sequences, but both undercut by internal circumstances. The first is a cool sequence involving the ‘zombies as fire ants’ concept (which is one I kind of like, or at least think deserves a better movie) which is heavily undercut by how stupid the setup to it is. The other is a kind of interesting take on their cure concept which is undone by how long it takes to get going.
As I said in my review of Much Ado About Nothing (a movie with 1/100th of the budget and production time, but with 20 times the talent, brain and drive of this one) almost all of the big budget movies of 2013 have been either disappointing or flat out bad, and World War Z is thus far the worst of the bunch. It’s still up in the air to see if movies like Pacific Rim, World’s End or Elysium can turn that around, but as for World War Z? You should avoid it like the zombie plague.
Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and at this point he kind of just wishes the zombie craze would just die down…so to speak.