Review: World War Z (2013)

If size and spectacle are the sole goals of its filmmakers, World War Z is a resounding success. But I have to believe the filmmakers want us to care about the overwhelmed people caught up in all the spectacle, which is where the film fails.

There’s nothing wrong with spectacle. I love spectacle. And it’s somewhat refreshing to have a zombie film of this scale and intensity. However, when you move past the hordes of zombies acting like South American fire ants, creating a tower to climb over a giant Israeli wall, what are we left with to grasp onto emotionally? A film’s relentless momentum only carries you so far.

The production of World War Z was a notorious fiasco, with a ballooning budget and a star and director who apparently weren’t on speaking terms. However, all the intrigue and chaos behind the scenes is meaningless in terms of the final product. It may inform some of the film’s issues — the conflicting visions of the multitude of screenwriters could be the reason the film seems disjointed — but it’s not necessary to understand what works and what doesn’t work in the film. The final product, in all its unevenness, speaks for itself.

World War Z is stuck between the procedural and action thriller genres. The procedural follows Brad Pitt’s Gerry Lane, a former UN analyst of some-sort (the film is so quick to jump into the action, I felt like I had missed an early scene explaining who this character is), as he travels around the world trying to find the origin of the zombie virus. I was consistently reminded of how efficiently and effectively Contagion portrayed a global pandemic a few years ago. World War Z should have copied its approach. The action thriller part is what happens after Pitt arrives at each location, be it South Korea, Israel, or Wales, figures out that the answers aren’t there, and all hell breaks loose.

I don’t want to deny the film all credit. There are some wonderful moments here. The film is often scary, especially in its final scenes when the scale shrinks and the danger to Pitt’s Gerry seems real. As well, James Badge Dale makes an appearance as an uber-competent soldier during a nighttime, rain-soaked zombie attack on an airbase. In his one scene, his character generates more interest than Pitt’s. That’s not to say Pitt is bad. He’s not, but he doesn’t have to do much other than than look good, run fast, and have all the answers when the other characters are all acting like idiots. He’s a perfect character — no flaws. And he’s at arms-length from the audience the whole film. The film wastes him and Mireille Enos in flat roles.

World War Z is a zombie film of a scale we will not see again (except for in the inevitable sequel the film so laboriously sets up), but it loses all interest with its lack of humanity. Why care about humanity dying off when humanity is so dull? I’ll stick with The Walking Dead, its problems and all, as my choice tale of gore, survival, and zombies. However much I may hate some of the characters on The Walking Dead, at least I feel something about them! World War Z doesn’t give us that luxury.

5 out of 10

World War Z (2013, USA)

Directed by Marc Forster; written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof, based off a screen story by Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski, based on the book by Max Brooks; starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Ludi Boeken, Matthew Fox, Fana Mokoena, and David Morse.