World War Z Review
by Daniel Rester
World War Z is the newest film that fits into the zombie subgenre, which has been gaining even further popularity in the past decade or so. One of the big books that has revolved around the flesh-eaters is the 2006 novel of the same name, written by Max Brooks (son of Mel). Z the book gained popularity with zombie fans after its release, while Z the film had months and months of trouble during production — but has finally arrived.
Though I have yet to read Brook’s novel, the word on the street of the undead is that the film deviates from the source material greatly. That may irritate some fans of the novel, but what will likely irk diehard zombie fans the most is that the filmmakers decided to make Z PG-13. Yes, arguably the first huge-budget (around $200 million), “epic” zombie film has been stripped of an R rating and mostly all traces of blood and gore. This was perhaps an even bigger mistake than the changes made in adapting the material from the page to the screen.
Z follows Gerry Lane (producer and star Brad Pitt), an ex-United Nations employee who is thrust into action after a zombie pandemic threatens humanity. After escaping from the U.S. with his family, Lane is ordered to escort some others to Korea and try and figure out what is going on. When things go south, Lane must globetrot in order to find clues that may lead to a prevention of the outbreak.
Directed by Marc Forster, Z works well as a massive, fast-paced action-thriller. Too bad it doesn’t do quite as well as a zombie pic. The film plays more like a zombie film for the squeamish, never showing the full consequences of certain situations. I’m not saying that everything should be bloodied up, but the total lack of gore may leave undead fans scratching their heads; not having any really mutes some of the film’s scariness and intensity. Warm Bodies, a zombie love story that released earlier this year, was also PG-13 and came with a thin amount of b&g as well. But at least that film had some creativity and storytelling savvy to make up for its shortcomings within the genre, which are things that Z needs more of.
It’s rumored that many scriptwriters worked on the screenplay for Z, though final credit only goes to Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof. The script has a few nice setups, but it never dives beneath the surface much. An intriguing idea to a possible cure does arise in the third act, but the writing takes easy steps before getting there – becoming episodic as Lane goes from one place to another and having similar things keep occurring. Rather than developing characters thoroughly or providing some strong social commentary (though there is some great stuff about Jerusalem), Z’s script mostly just goes through the motions and then arrives at an abrupt ending.
Forster does what he can, given the script and PG-13 restrictions. A number of scenes are impressively executed and have a real energy about them. There are occasionally some overblown, CGI-heavy scenes, but a lot of the action is truly exciting and plays out on a grand scale. Yet one of the best scenes comes when Forster takes a break from the chaotic, giant set pieces and instead focuses on just a few characters and suspense in a quiet hospital. The director manages to dish out enough thrills and chills to keep things satisfying, but the film still feels a bit big-and-empty when all is said and done.
Pitt does fine work here and helps keep the film alive (no pun intended). Good actors like Mireille Enos (playing his wife), Daniella Kertesz, and David Morse join him, but no one really shines besides Pitt because their characters are mostly boring and underdeveloped. But Pitt does enough to make up for such things, delivering a solid and believable performance as Lane. The character is never painted as a superhero, but rather as a resourceful and diligent man who is worth rooting for. Props to both Pitt and Forster for that.
Z is not a terrible film, but I never became attached to it. Action fans who usually don’t like zombie flicks will enjoy themselves, but I left a tad disappointed as a zombie fan. The movie just lacked certain characteristics of the genre and didn’t make up for it enough with its story or characters. But I did admire a number of things about it, including some of its spectacle and Pitt’s performance. Such things at least make the film watchable. However, this is no amazing zombie film like Night of the Living Dead (1968) or 28 Days Later (2002).
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B).