Brad is noble and alone in the war against speedy zombies
What a great title! It sounds a bit flip, and also hip. And suggests an awful lot of wars if they’re numbered A to Z. But of course the Z is for “zombie.” And therein lies the first obvious disappointment: this is just a blend of previous zombie and disease-apocalypse films, and so we’re stuck with cutting and pasting and comparing and evaluating our memories and reactions, like judges at a livestock fair. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later are both cleverer, and Warm Bodies, cuter; Soderbergh’s Contagion, more factually informative (if mistaken); Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, more philosophically thought-provoking. However hokey its apocalyptic logic, Children of Men holds up (though I disliked it initially) because of how it makes you think about the future of humanity at a time of global meltdown. All these movies are huge attention-grabbers. That’s why they sell tickets. Boyle’s 28 Days Later, like a George Romero film — Romero of course one of the forefathers of zombiefilm — has an intimate narrative you can personally relate to, with many memorable dramatic scenes. All have or strive for that too, of course. Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks is additionally full of ingenious political and psychological ironies. And in being that it well justifies its existence as an extension of the Boyle movie’s ideas.
What has World War Z to offer? Two things, basically: 3D and Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt the soulful hero. It’s his vehicle. He completely dominates the movie. If you like Brad, you’ll have to see this. If you don’t, and apocalyptic horror flicks aren’t your thing, you’d best stay away. Z offers some innovations, and some dubious solutions. It leaves everything up in the air, the better to begin a new apocalyptic horror series. One new wrinkle is these zombies are fast, scuttling around on the ground seen from above in CGI like insects on a giant hot stove. The ever-increasing prevalence of CGI means many turbulent landscapes of human and zombie and building and automotive disaster, but they don’t, in themselves, change the movie’s trajectory from what the genre offered in the past. Nor does director Marc Forster show any particular sense of style.
World War Z is based on a book by Max Brooks, The Zombie Survival Guide, and the protagonist Brad Pitt plays, Gerry Lane, is a survivalist. He also is a tough, heroic, kindly man, clearly a sweet dad in early scenes, with a past history, as he puts it, “of surviving in dangerous places.” Those soft, sensitive blue eyes! The camera is in Brad’s face. Its handsomeness shines out at us unmistakably even in the busiest scenes. He provides us with a model of nobility. Brooks’ tale outlines the requirements for zombie-world resistance. First, be very calm. Be very brave. Love your family. Talk sweetly and reassuringly to them. But be ready to leave them behind if the surviving leader of the UN (Fana Mokoena) calls on you to play a key role in figuring out how to save the planet.
Off Gerry goes, leaving his wife (Mireille Enos) and his three kids (Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove, and Fabrizio Zacharee Guido) on a large naval vessel with a satellite phone to keep in shaky touch. He is accompanied by a brilliantly insightful and rather giddy young British doctor (Elyes Gabel) whom the UN expects will be their best hope (he later disappears). Curiously, from here on Gerry relies on hunches or hints. The first mention of “zombie” was from Korea so he goes there, and studies a room full of crumbly, ashen bodies. That’s a dead end. Then he hears that a honcho in Israel (Ludi Boeken) got the idea of building a very, very high wall surrounding the whole country, so he figures this chap knew something, and he’s off to Jerusalem. All that develops is that no wall is high enough. The Israelis seem quite confused, because they’re letting people in! “Every person we save from contagion is one less zombie to fight.” Hmm. . . The pulsating mountains of zombies climbing up and over Israel’s high wall is the movie’s signature image. Another striking image is of a thin Israeli child hovering on the ground while a horde of Zombies rush by in the opposite direction, ignoring him. (The suggestion that walls are no solution may be a hint about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.) Not much left but to move on, accompanied by a frail, sensitive-faced, shaven-headed young female Israeli soldier he’s rescued from zombiehood called Segan (Daniella Kertesz), to a big WHO disease research centre in Cardiff, Wales. This movie is in-your-face; don’t forget it’s 3D — so faces are important. The early crowd scenes are completely chaotic, just turbulent masses of bodies, but they’re 3D shock-images.
Guess what happens on the crowded passenger plane? Let’s just say it’s a very, very rough landing. And we’re ready for the final act, which takes place in the WHO disease research lab, a sprawling facility where just one wing contains 80 researchers who’ve already “turned,” and Gerry has to deal with just two men, both played by actors with Italian names, Pierfrancesco Favino, whom he keenly spots as the guy in charge, and Peter Capaldi, actually a Scottish actor, known from many roles, including the TV series “Skins” and the riotous political satire “In the Loop.” A hilarious comic, Capaldi seems quite wasted here; but everyone is just backup for Brad. There are several other WHO doctors (Ruth Negga, Moritz Bleibtreu, from this multi-national cast) who huddle together with Favino and Capaldi and watch as Gerry performs his final risky, brave deed, which somehow, in a way I won’t try to explain that’s too far-fetched anyway, is a significant step toward saving the human population, though “it’s only a beginning.” (Cue uplifting Brad motivational talk.)
And so ends an exciting, hyperactive, continually involving, but not very substantial film, except for the way it portrays Brad Pitt as a soulful, sexy, brave, and still-youthful superstar whose relaxed on screen presence remains undeniably impressive, if only his character had more of a personality and more to say.
DIRECTOR: MARK FORSTER
WRITER: MATTHEW MICHAEL CARNAHAN, DREW GODDARD, DAMON LINDELOF, J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI FROM NOVEL BY MAX BROOKS
STARS: BRAD PITT, MIREILLE ENOS, DANIELA KERTESZ, ELYES GABEL, PETER CAPALDI, LUDI BOEKIN, FADA MAKOENA, PIERFRANCESCO FAVINO
RUNTIME: 116 MIN