By ANDREW LINK (digitalBURG) – There are several problems that have always prevented the zombie genre from really being scary. Sure, they’re relentless and tireless and want to tear your guts out, but zombies tend to be those shambling, meandering slack-jaws that everyone is sure they’d never die to. Yeah, everyone else will get eaten, but not us. We have a plan.
That’s been the real draw behind the zombie games and movies that have seen resurgence since 2004’s revamp of “Dawn of the Dead.” It’s not really about how horrifying and terrible the opponent is. It’s about how you survive and rebuild a broken society. The answer to this question turns out to be quite easy: Brad Pitt.
Need someone who wasn’t trained in medicine and isn’t an epidemiologist to crack a worldwide outbreak of a deadly disease? Brad Pitt. When Israel has been under siege for 10 days, who gets the brilliant revelation that noise perturbs zombies 15 seconds after he arrives on the scene? Brad Pitt. Who can be impaled with a steel rod and patch the hole with soccer dad mojo and locks of love? William. Bradley. Pitt.
Pitt plays that perfect guy that knows everything and can be everywhere and there’s no danger of him ever dying. Granted he’s probably the only name in the cast most people will recognize, but in a film that’s pretending to be about a lot of greater social issues and a world-scale infestation, the man gets a boatload of face time. Almost the first half hour of the film is just Pitt being the greatest dad in the world before hell breaks loose. One of his daughters has an asthma attack that doesn’t matter at all to the plot other than to show us how great of a dad Pitt is.
Even after his family is safely aboard an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean, we have to take intermittent breaks in the story to be sure we remember how much of a family man this guy is. It’s distracting and worse, his family doesn’t matter. The only reason the character’s family is even in the movie is to form a premise for him getting involved with the UN when he could’ve just been written as an active UN employee from the beginning. I have to concede that Pitt does a decent job in his role as Gerry Lane, but he’s definitely not flexing his acting muscles in “World War Z,” and I’m suspicious that he helped with production only to ensure that he didn’t have to cut his hair.
If you ignore the hype around “World War Z” concerning its delayed release date and slew of writers and post-production nightmares, there are some things the movie really does right. It’s not often that we see zombies that are lightning fast or working together. They also turn humans into zeds quite quickly. One part of the film claims 12 seconds for a person to turn, while another says 10 minutes. This discrepancy matters to the plot in no way whatsoever, but it’s still faster than the “we’ve still got enough time for a heartfelt parting scene” that shows like “The Walking Dead” seem to love so much.
“World War Z” hits the ground running in a very satisfying way. Instead of the entire film taking place around a single location (“Night of the Living Dead” and its farmhouse, The Winchester pub in “Shawn of the Dead,” the shopping mall in “Dawn of the Dead,” etc.) we really get to see an apocalypse happening on what feels like an apocalyptic scale.
But it’s like the asthmatic daughter is a metaphor for the movie itself. The film has a lot of good pieces but they don’t always seem congruous. There’s the family that doesn’t matter, the invulnerable hero that knows everything, random bits of acting from characters that seem like they’re really good but wandered into the studio from the movie being made next door, and ultimately the viewer’s inability to care about anyone on the screen including the zombies.
There are plenty of people who will complain that the whole movie is practically bloodless and say that its PG-13 rating held it back. Granted, you aren’t going to see Gwyneth Paltrow’s face get peeled off, but that’s probably all you’ll be missing from “Contagion.” It’s impossible to feel like “World War Z” didn’t just steal bits of script from several other movies, most notably “Contagion,” and that practically any of those other movies was a bit better.
“World War Z” plays a lot like a roller coaster, but in a bad way. The initial build-up is great, that first drop is breathtaking, and there are a few fun turns, but the ending comes too abruptly and you’re left thinking, “That’s it?” While the film wants us to believe it’s a deeper social commentary about the importance of the family unit in the face of adversity and overcoming cultural and religious differences when disaster strikes, it never quite gets around to making any direct commentary on any of the issues it pokes before the movie just kind of stops.
As with the implied gore, the camera sweeps us away from anything that might turn our stomachs or hearts. It’s much easier to be reminded that Brad Pitt is a great father than it is to rethink our position on social inequality in the third world. And according to the blatant sponsorship plug in “World War Z,” any thinking we do should be done over a nice can of Pepsi.
Despite its shortcomings, the film is leagues ahead of most of the other done-to-death slop being injected into the zombie genre. It’s a worthy addition to the already enormous pile of zed flicks out there and over time will probably be better-received by couch-surfers than movie-goers. If you love zombie flicks and you’re looking for a high budget popcorn muncher, this film is perfect for you. If you thought a $200 million-plus movie would finally show you the apocalyptic zed-slaying carnage you’ve been waiting for, you’ll need to wait a while longer.
I give “World War Z” a rating of Pepsi/Brad Pitt, which is roughly 6.3/10.