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World War Z

June 21, 2013
World War Z

Can we just agree that zombie movies are over now? I mean, I know that it’s still possible to stumble onto an interesting patch or two like Warm Bodies did, but for the most part all that’s left in the genre is a worn-out parody of a sliver of nerd culture whose time has come and gone, like those Twitter spambots that include “bacon ninja” in the bios.

So let me guess how World War Z came about: some studio execs with more dollars than sense decided they wanted to milk every last dime out of the zombie thing. They heard about this book and optioned it before realizing that it’s just not made to be a summer blockbuster. Instead, it’s an attempt — and by all accounts an rather deft and nuanced one — to infuse an oral history like Studs Terkel’s The Good War with a zombie flavor.

Basically, what this movie should have been was a fake documentary, like something by Ken Burns with George Romero pinch-hitting on the reenactments. Instead the writing team — Matthew Michael Carnahan, J. Michael Straczynski, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof — looked straight at this possibly innovative approach, and they blinked hard. They took the book and threw out almost all of it. The rest they filled with the pawed-over remainders of a decade of 28 Days Later imitations and poured it haphazardly out onto the screen in a bog-standard Strong Man Saves Helpless Women summer blockbuster.

The biggest recognizable feature from the book is a worldwide zombie pandemic, which is pretty much obligatory. We see it hit Philadelphia, where Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a retired UN investigator who’s worked in every buzzword warzone you can think of, manages to escape with his family — his wife Karen (Mireille Enos) and daughters Rachel and Connie. They make their way to Newark and hide overnight until they can be extracted from the roof of a housing project by a UN undersecretary (Fana Mokoena) who wants Gerry to help track down a cure.

The rest of the movie is stupid. And not in the “hey, zombie epidemiology wouldn’t work like that” nitpicky sense — though there’s plenty to pick at — but in the “active contempt for the audience as sentient human beings” sense. Gerry initially resists the call to service, and Karen backs him up with an oblique reference to the psychological toll the job took on him before. But there is absolutely no follow-up, showing how the stress starts getting to him. He’s finally strong-armed into it by the threat of his family being sent to a refugee camp; his wife and daughters are essentially made into hostages, and Enos’ character pretty much stops here after becoming a reward promised to Gerry for a sufficient performance of his masculinity.

There is another female character, an Israel Defense Forces officer (Daniella Kertesz), though she doesn’t really improve matters. For one thing, she seems to at least understand English, and yet when asked for her name she gives her rank: segen, roughly equivalent to a lieutenant. It seems that Gerry has a lengthy and impressive enough résumé in the UN that they consider it worth expending scant resources on his family to get him to work with them, but not so lengthy that he’d recognize an IDF rank.

I could go on and on, but it all adds up to cheap, lazy writing churned out on the assumption that we’ll swallow anything with the word “zombie” on it and ask for more. Here’s hoping World War Z is a strong enough headshot to put this shambling hulk down once and for all.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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