Wednesday June 19, 2013 12:00 PM
World War Z is your typical mixed bag of blockbuster mediocrity. As John Hammond would say, they obviously "Spared no expense" in bringing a genre usually reserved for low-budget horror films to the yearning masses via the casting of Brad Pitt and shoehorning as many over-CGI’d set pieces as humanly possible.
As summer action fare, it’s executed with an expected level of professionalism and you can definitely do a lot worse (After Earth, cough). But as a genre effort, it’s too timid and safe. For the generic Brad Pitt fan who thinks George Romero is the name of that pervy Italian prime minister, it will offer some genuine shocks and thrills. But if you’re a giant horror fan like me, or even have certain standards when it comes to zombie films, bring your pillow and prepare for naptime.
Let’s first talk about the elephant in the room: The PG-13 rating. Does it affect the enjoyment of the film? The answer is a resounding yes. I don’t know if World War Z was planned to be PG-13 from the start, but it looks suspiciously like it was a last minute decision made by the bigwigs in order to squeeze an extra dollar out of the young demographic.
I’m not glib, at least I hope I’m not, so I understand the target audience for this film is not the hard-core genre fans such as myself, but the general audience who still think Paranormal Activity movies are scary. That being said, they could have at least tried to throw us a bone.
It didn’t need to be a borderline NC-17, Hard-R gorefest, but when hordes of zombies are shot in the face and nothing splatters as they fall down like late 90s PC game characters, it’s a buzz kill.
This is not only about mindless blood thirst. The awkward editing choices taken to make the film more family-friendly really stick out like a decapitated sore thumb and negatively affect the flow of the storytelling. For example, a scene shows Gerry (Brad Pitt) trying to pull a crowbar out of a zombie’s skull as another zombie approaches.
Since we can’t see the crowbar lodged inside the zombie’s noggin with fear of nabbing that terrifying R rating, the entire suspense of the sequence relies on Pitt’s expressions. We don’t get a point of reference as to how close he is from liberating the crowbar from the undead cranium so any suspense is sucked straight out of the scene.
Perhaps hiring the director of Monster’s Ball and The Kite Runner to helm a genre effort wasn’t the best idea. Yes, Marc Forster also directed the 007 entry Quantum of Solace and it’s obvious he can handle action really well, but that’s kind of the problem.
The so-called zombies in the film, once again adopting the 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead remake style sped-up, meth head undead, can be easily changed into any other type of monster. As far as Forster is concerned, the zombies are convenient McGuffins, pushing the protagonists from one overblown set piece into another.
In the hands of an experienced genre director, it could have provided the glue to bring together the general audience with horror fans, the way The Matrix did with adult anime. Unfortunately I don’t have a clue as to who that could have been, since American horror cinema is in an abysmal state. Perhaps Matt Reeves who helmed Cloverfield and Let Me In?
I haven’t read Max Brooks’ source material but my research clearly shows that we have another I, Robot on our hands. A bloated action movie that borrows pretty much nothing but the title of a popular book in order to bring in more gullible members of the audience. At least the abysmal Will Smith vehicle tried to incorporate Asimov’s three laws of robotics into the pedestrian story. World War Z couldn’t even present the classic, slow-moving zombies depicted in Brooks’ book.
Most of World War Z plays out like a mediocre survival horror game. Gerry’s mission is to find a cure to the epidemic, so he has to move from one disease-ridden country to another, narrowly escaping the zombie attacks in between. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Not so interestingly, the only part of the movie that really works is the cheapest one to produce. During the final act, the thousands of copy-paste monsters disappear and our heroes are tasked with safely making their way around a handful of zombies without getting noticed. This is when genuine suspense takes over the cheap thrills.
The main reason I think Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is still the best horror film ever made is because it delivers the bloody goodies and the social commentary on equal footing. Even if you don’t want expertly handled symbolism in your genre fare and just want some zombie blood splattering every which way, watch Zack Snyder’s superb remake. Visit World War Z if the most shocking thing you’ve ever seen on screen is Brad Pitt getting hit by two cars in Meet Joe Black.
Also, this is one of worst films to see in 3D, since it employs a lot of pointless Bourne-style shaky-cam. If you pay the extra $3 for the 3D experience, bring a barf bag.