World War Zero
Zombies are goin’ around biting people and stuff
Sorry, Virginia, we don’t get our Battle of Yonkers. Actually, there’s no trace of that first zombie-vs.-humans war or any other part of Max Brooks’ clever zombie novel World War Z to be found here, other than some echoes in the dialogue, and the name. It could have just been labeled Brad Pitt vs. The Zombies. But even as its own entity, World War Z isn’t as epic as the title promises. There are a few flashes of promise, but not $200 million worth of promise.
What we get instead is a barely capable thriller in zombie drag, with shaky-cam and muddy editing to keep you confused when the shit hits the fan, ’cause that’s the way it’d look in real life, man. But not too much blood since it’s PG-13. The film is pretty much just a tweener action flick with zombie sprinkles.
The Bradster plays a retired UN spook (and all-around pancake-flippin’ family guy) who reluctantly re-ups to do something about all these damned zombies. He does so in a handful of noisy set-pieces loosely linked together to serve as story, but those pieces are just variations of “Shit! Someone just made a noise and here come the zombies! Run!”
And here the infected come a-runnin’, as director Marc Forster emphasizes the swarming aspect of insects or even the disease itself. It’s a neat approach, although pretty much just a cranked-up version of 28 Days Later that aims for adrenaline over the dread. There’s not much in the way of suspense, because that would slow down the action. But as he already established with Quantum of Solace, Forster doesn’t have a very good eye for action, either.
So the running time is mostly that, with Pitt and other folks just running about, dodging zombies, sometimes screaming or shooting. In between, they just talk and reiterate what they were talking over earlier so that no one in Beijing gets confused by the already very basic story. This is the new brand of multiplex filler: Any complexity is homogenized down into a simple noisy package calculated for mass international consumption.
As such, WWZ isn’t boring—it’s just not compelling. Things keep moving, but it never lands anywhere. If the best zombie films are about the subtext, the closest WWZ gets is as a metaphor for the current Hollywood paradigm: The industry has been radioed and the suits are eating anything that gets in the way on their mad dash to the final cash-out. Babylon is burning.
WWZ was an openly troubled production, and here Pitt wears the resigned air of wanting to finish already and get to the wrap party. Maybe the breaking point came after reading one of his co-producers explain WWZ to Vanity Fair: “It’s a zombie movie,” said Ian Bryce. “They go around and bite people.”
Brooks’ novel is a lot more than that. The movie, well, that’s pretty much it. But if that’s all you want out of your movie time, then, hey man, you just might like this.