World War Z Director: Marc Forster
Writer(s): Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof
Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox, David Morse Paramount Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 116 Minutes
Release Date: June 21, 2013
Directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace), World War Z is based on Max Brooks‘ 2006 novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.
The film stars Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, a retired United Nations employee who must travel the world to find a way to stop the zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and collapsing governments.
As a novel, World War Z exists as a collection of individual accounts, wherein the author assumes the role of a member of the United Nations Postwar Commission one decade after the Zombie War. Passages record a decade-long war against zombies, as experienced by people of various nationalities. Personal accounts also describe the religious, geo-political, and environmental changes that resulted from the Zombie War.
As a film, World War Z focuses on the zombies themselves, human bodies reanimated by an incurable virus, devoid of intelligence and craving living flesh – and immortal unless the brain is destroyed, of course. After securing his wife (Mireille Enos) and kids on an aircraft carrier, Pitt’s character traverses the globe in search of a cure for the rabies-like infection that turns humans into ol’ Zeke.
Rated PG-13 for “intense frightening zombie sequences, violence, and disturbing images,” World War Z is neither intense, nor frightening. Hell, Warm Bodies and My Boyfriend’s Back are more violent, disturbing zombie movies than Forster’s generic, unaffecting blockbuster. What could have been a genre-defining piece of work is nothing more than I Am Legend on a global scale, with insect-like swarms of shiny, computer-generated zombies running amok in South Korea and Israel instead of Manhattan.
Forster’s film, which reportedly cost up to $250 million to make, is a misfire on almost every possible level. There’s the underwhelming script by four different writers (J. Michael Straczynski, Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof) that does little to capture the horrors and atrocities of the zombie apocalypse and offers only immediate, surface-level thrills that can’t compare to one 40-minute episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead.
World War Z could have (would have, should have) been a great movie if the script adopted the format that made the novel so successful. Obviously changes must be made when adapting a written work to a visual medium, but Forster’s film would have succeeded more as a pseudo-documentary in the Ken Burns style. Instead of putting Brad Pitt in the middle of swarming pixels, with his hipster scarf and gorgeous Vidal Sassoon hair, have him traveling the wasteland, interviewing survivors about their horrific encounters. Use flashbacks to show the digital mayhem, then tie in all the interviews and vignettes with some sort of shocking revelation that pushes Brad Pitt’s character into action.
Instead of embracing what makes WWZ a definitive entry in the zombie subgenre, Forster and his gaggle of scribes take a seminal work and dilute it into another mindless, big-budget circus reminiscent of Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow and Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend. It isn’t all bad though, Pitt does a serviceable job as everyman Gerry Lane, a former U.N. field agent who was around for the Libyan civil war and other global conflicts. Mireille Enos (AMC’s The Killing) is also solid for the six minutes of screen time she gets, disappearing for entire acts of the film while Pitt flies cargo planes and fights the undead.
The biggest crime committed by Forster’s film is that it’s entirely boring and offers little to audiences who are already well-versed in post-apocalyptic fiction. Modern zombie flicks like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, and Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland have spoiled us with stories of undead hordes that present a real threat to the characters.
There’s nothing scary or suspenseful about seeing a flood of digital humans with rabies running through an equally digital landscape, shot by digital bullets whizzing out of digital turrets from digital helicopters. There’s just nothing tangible about World War Z; it’s a video game cutscene – and a mediocre one at that. Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us offers up more suspense and emotional storytelling in its first five minutes than Forster’s film musters in 116.
As a connoisseur of the subgenre and someone who loves Max Brooks’ novel, Forster’s take on World War Z is a disappointment mired by poor writing and a dependence on gee-whiz special effects. With its downright dull sequences of bloodless, pixelated terror, Forster’s PG-13 zombie epic would be more appropriately titled Yawn of the Dead.