World War Z
Directed by Marc Forster
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Fana Mokoena
Rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images
1 hr. 56 min.
Had enough of zombies? Thanks to such TV series as The Walking Dead, it seems to be a popular subject these days, popular enough to draw in a superstar like Brad Pitt as both actor and producer. But does this movie add anything to the genre?
The strength of The Walking Dead is its human tension, its survival instincts. With WWZ, the focus is on the zombies: how they started, how they can be stopped, how many it takes to pile over a wall.
If that interests you, then you’ll probably be drawn into this story. But if you want something more, say a complex character or a surprising plot twist, then you’ll more than likely walk away from this film yawning.
Let’s face it; zombies are scary but that’s about it. Outside of being dangerous people eaters, they’re not particularly interesting. The best zombie flicks add a little something extra — humor (Dawn of the Dead), social commentary (28 Days), even a bit of romance (Warm Bodies).
In WWZ, the film spends the bulk of its time trying to figure out how this latest zombie invasion started. Even worse, it engages in a lot of explanatory dialogue that only serves the chase. The details of this chase, the details of zombie chaser Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), are left wanting.
The film begins strongly enough with Gerry, wife Karin (Mireille Enos), and their two girls preparing for a standard day at school. They’re driving through downtown Philadelphia when a riotous scene explodes. Zombies are suddenly on the loose and the Lanes have to run for their lives.
Gerry’s background is murky, but the film implies that he’s previously worked with the U.N. as a specialist doing dangerous tasks in some dangerous countries. This explains why, when the infestation starts, he gets a call from his old boss, Thierry Umutomi (Fana Mokoena), requesting help.
Gerry and family struggle, getting through Philadelphia and Newark safely in order to get transport to some type of U.N. ship a couple of hundred miles out to sea. When they arrive, Gerry is given two options: Either help find the source of the zombie virus or be transported (along with his family) back to zombie land.
This film feels ill-constructed, as if there’s a bigger story behind it that the producers cannot capture in two hours. Adapted from a book by Max Brooks, the story unfolds as if it’s been randomly hacked and spliced from various parts of Brooks’ novel. Lots of questions remain unanswered, the writers and director apparently assuming that as long as the zombies are onscreen doing their part, nothing else matters.
Pitt’s performance is saved by his charismatic screen presence and his willingness to jump into this hazy zombie fest with both feet. But frankly, he’s not given much to work with beyond the pursuit. Run, shoot, run some more.
As for the rest of the cast, including the talented Mireille Enos (from Big Love and The Killing), they seem to serve as window dressing. Enos spends most of her time talking to Gerry on the phone, and those who work with Gerry are reduced to lap dogs that are there to do his bidding.
This is a film that seems to avoid being interesting. Its focus on the pursuit of zombies leaves very little space to expand its view. If it had created more human interest or implied a spark of social commentary (something beyond its weak narrative ending), it might have been more compelling.
Absent that, the viewer is left to watch Pitt chase zombies and avoid zombies and discuss zombies for two hours. As jaded undead veterans who have already combed through years’ worth of zombie stories, we require more. For instance, Brad Pitt turning into a zombie. Now that I would pay money to see.