By Will Ashton
Few films in the past couple years have had as troubled productions as World War Z.
The (estimated) $225 million film, produced by and starring Brad Pitt, has been plagued with everything from going over budget to schedule delays to having to re-write and re-shoot a whole 40 minutes into the film, amounting to its third act. In the months and weeks leading up to this film’s release, there have been countless discussions about this film, specifically, how much is this film going to take a hit at the box office?
But, beyond the simple money issues of the film, how does the film fare itself? In the days where The Walking Dead is considered one of the best shows on TV, at a time some people consider the golden era of television, do we even need this film? And, also, weren’t zombies supposed to mean something?
Based (loosely) on the book by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks), the film follows Gerry Lane —a character that, apparently, wasn’t even in the book—a former member of the United Nations who, after losing his job, moves his family to live in Philadelphia. During a ride into town, they find themselves in the middle of an outbreak, as a new-found disease has now caused the zombie apocalypse. Realizing that they need his talents once again, the government gathers up Lane and his family and tell him that, in order to keep him and his family together and safe, Lane must help find a cure for this disease outbreak.
World War Z has flickers of interesting ideas, much like any zombie project should. Topics addressing the state of government in a time of panic and the aspects of medicine control when widespread death seems inevitable pop up here and there in World War Z. To the film’s credit, I applaud them for at least trying to bring up some of these topics in an big-budget blockbuster. But, unfortunately, while the film attempts to address some thought-provoking discussions, the film never truly delves into any of these topics. Deciding, rather, to focus on action set pieces and chase scenes than putting its foot down and trying to say something concise.
Typically, the first couple scenes of character development in a zombie movie are rarely the strongest in the film. But here, they are. When they are all together, the film proves that the four main actors of the film work believably well among one another. When the film, competently, develops the tension and development of the outbreak on a personal level, it seems as though the film is going to become a taunt, engaging zombie thriller. But it is then that the problems of the film begin to emerge. The first action set piece of the film, much like the rest to follow, are so over-edited and poorly staged that, not only is it hard to follow what is happening on screen, but it’s also hard to get engaged in the film’s building tension.
Director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland) is a talented dramatic director. He has proven that he can pull strong performances from his actors and provide some strong character-driven dramas. But his action direction still remains lacking. People complained about his action direction in Quantum of Solace, but I found that these problems were even more evident here. In both films, he demonstrates that he knows the power of good set pieces, but still suffers from the fact that, if we can’t see what’s happening on screen, then what good do they do?
It’s weird that, for a guy that was so passionate about this book and making this project, Pitt gives a rather flat performance throughout this movie. Perhaps after all the issues that grew out of this movie, his heart was just no longer in it. But, given the flat and expeditionary dialogue that he has to often say and respond back to in this film, I can’t say that I fully blame the guy. His character lacks any real depth or development. So, as a result, it’s hard to really get invested in his story because, well, he doesn’t really have one. Other talented actors like David Morse and Matthew Fox pop up in this movie too—and when I mean pop up, I mean they are there-and-gone—and try to make the best of what they got. Particularly Morse, who has a pretty nice, even scene-stealing, supporting role. But their performances are squandered by an over-edited plot and a script that doesn’t know what to do with them.
While Forster’s action direction still remains lacking, as noted before, there are some unique and occasionally engaging set pieces here. One in particular involving zombies and a wall is ridiculous, yet entertaining. Then there are the ones like the one on the airplane, which make me question how the people who complained about the silliness of Man of Steel are going to react.
As for the re-shot last 40 minutes, while they are not terrible, they definitely feel as though they are out of place. The movie’s last couple minutes reminded me of the troubled ending of I Am Legend, but without the really good first two acts that that movie had. Ultimately, the movie ends it by playing it too safe. Throughout the film, the movie is constantly at battle with itself as to whether or not it should be R or PG-13. As a result, the movie has some very awkward editing and a predictable and dull ending that lacks the punch I feel the movie was trying to build.
Ultimately, World War Z is not the disaster that it could have been. And, honestly, I think I’m being a little harsher on it than I should. But, at the same time, it is not the film that the fans deserve either. For every element that seems to work or want to work in this movie, there is always something that holds it back, and that’s truly a shame. While I cannot say that I have read the book, I know, from what I have heard about it, that it offers some truly thought-provoking and interesting ideas to the zombie mythology. Maybe one day, somebody will try again to give it the adaptation that it deserves.