Its Undead Heart Is In The Right Place, But Its Reach Exceeds Its Grasp…
WORLD WAR Z is a good zombie movie. Its set pieces are tightly choreographed, well constructed, and exceedingly suspenseful. It does an excellent job of instilling in you a mounting sense of dread that explodes in sequences that will leave you captivated.
Adapted from the (superior) Max Brooks novel (and the best audio book you’ll ever listen to), WORLD WAR Z stars Brad Pitt as former United Nations researcher Gerry Lane. When a zombie virus sweeps the globe and threatens to decimate the human race, Lane’s talents are once again called upon and he sets off on a search for the plague’s origins and hopefully, a cure.
The film knows that its real stars are the zombies. It wastes little time getting to them, and handles them especially well. In an age where content such as THE WALKING DEAD and SHAUN OF THE DEAD have made zombies common place, WORLD WAR Z takes an inspired approach and features army ant-like zombies that overwhelm everyone and everything in their path with deadly purpose. Watching their horde sweep over city after city is a horrifying, fascinating experience that immediately and effectively transforms a known quantity into a powerful force of nature.
The living members of the cast are less impressive. Pitt turns in a by the numbers performance as Gerry Lane, whose primary concern is the safety of his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and daughters Constance and Rachel (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove, respectively). While there’s nothing wrong with his work here, his character is never given enough substance to make him feel like a person in his own right. It felt more like I was watching Brad Pitt on various zombie adventures, which took me out of the narrative at different times.
I would touch more on the performances of other supporting cast members, but there aren’t many that are particularly memorable. The two exceptions are Daniella Kertesz as Segen, an Israeli soldier facing some tough times as the film unfolds, and James Badge Dale as Captain Speke, commander of a band of troops stationed in Korea.
Kertesz communicates a lot of emotion with few words, primarily through some of the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen. I enjoyed her character and her performance a great deal. Dale makes the most of his brief amount of screen time, connecting you with his character in a grounded performance that is refreshing to see after his evil henchman turn in this year’s IRON MAN 3.
The film continues at a breakneck pace before an ending that feels very rushed. It leaves you with a sense not unlike that of going down the freeway at 88 miles per hour before coming to a sudden and unexpected stop. It is here that the film’s biggest problem is put on obvious and somewhat painful display.
WORLD WAR Z’s story is too big and too complex to be told in a single movie, or even in a series of movies. In stripping this tale down to its bare bones and focusing the story on one man’s search for a cure to save the world while keeping his family safe, the film lost the very thing that made the novel so special: a documentary-like narrative that uses disparate individuals to focus on humanity as a whole.
The novel elevates itself above typical zombie fare because unlike DAWN OF THE DEAD or RESIDENT EVIL, it makes you feel as if the Zombie War was an actual catastrophic event and not some sort of zombie adventure. In telling the stories of these individuals and how the Zombie War affected them, the novel conveys a sense of gravity to these events, and emphasizes that underlying realization we experience when any tragedy strikes of just how fragile and tenuous the way of life we so often take for granted actually is.
WORLD WAR Z wants to go there. You can see it lurking around the corner of every abandoned stairwell, every facility, and street in this movie. You can feel it in the newscasts going on in the background and especially in the film’s closing narration and worldwide montage. Unfortunately though, it never transcends its own genre in the same way as its source material. While WORLD WAR Z is a good zombie movie, it clearly aspired to be a great one.
I liked the film a lot… but I wish I’d loved it.