“Remember Philly!” (No, really; that’s what they got. I’m starting to suspect that the tagline is a dying art.)
Directed by Marc Forster
Starring Brad Pitt
In the wake of a zombie apocalypse, former UN, umm… guy Gerry Lane (Pitt) is sent to track down patient zero in the hopes of developing a vaccine. From Korea to Israel to Cardiff, he tracks the spread of the virus, leaving a trail of zombies and corpses in his wake.
Alternatively, an asymptomatic plague sufferer travels the world, fantasising about a zombie apocalypse to explain the death that follows him without having to shoulder any blame for it.
What’s wrong with it?
Based on a book written as the collected oral history of a zombie apocalypse, World War Z the movie attempts to create the kind of ‘one informed narrator in an apocalypse’ vibe that John Wyndham used to rock, and instead create a global catastrophe that revolves around just one person.
Jumping from place to place, with few ongoing characters apart from Lane and his family, who are essentially off-limits, the film has little in the way of emotional stakes. If the world dies, who cares? Even the death of a family who help the Lanes (because every life that Typhoid Gerry touches is destroyed) barely raises a quiver.
Through a random walk around the planet, following rumours and destroying already shattered lives even more than they already were, Gerry is blessed with obvious revelations that have not occurred to anyone else, and thus saves the day (mostly). His role as a harbinger of doom is established in Israel, where his arrival immediately presages the complete collapse of the country’s entirely awesome zombie defenses, and by his almost psychic detection of a spreading infection aboard a passenger airliner.
The original script, by John Michael Straczynsky, was described as ‘genre-busting’. It is incredibly apparent that this is not that script.
What’s right with it?
The zombies spasms are creepy, and the wall-climbing waves are actually pretty amazing. In addition, the fact that the original Russian-gulag-to-rape-revenge-rampage ending was removed made it a less terrible film.
How bad is it really?
Despite some good set-pieces, the film is lacklustre, with none of the dead characters around for long enough or well-enough introduced for us to get to give a shit about them, and in a disaster movie you have to care. It’s not enough for Jennifer Jones to fall out of the elevator; we care because she saved the children and had a sweet little love story with Fred Astaire.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Probably the ‘ant pile’ as the zombies hurl themselves against the Israeli wall, clambering one on top of the other until the speed of climb surpasses the rate of collapse.
What’s up with…?
- The complete failure of anyone other than Gerry to notice anything?
- Sending a doctor into the field with a pistol and no weapon safety training? Even in a desperate situation, you’d think they’d go over ‘finger off the trigger’.
- The zombies’ psychic ability to sense illness and injury? Given that they are basically ravening corpses responding to sound only, it seems remarkably selective.
Production values – as usual with commercial entries, I can’t fault the film here. 3
Dialogue and performances – There is nary a line of dialogue that isn’t exposition, with the exception of a few semi-coherent references to what Lane used to do. The acting is all good; there’s just nothing memorable to be said. 12
Plot and execution – The plot is basic, but the execution fails on a fundamental level when the film fails to make us care about really anyone. 16
Randomness – Lane’s revelations are not random, but the fact that no-one else sees what he sees (not just Joe Public, but Mossad agents, WHO researchers and other trained observers) is. The plot is also held together by chance in a number of cases. 8
Waste of potential – An interesting idea is not merely rendered dull in the name of accessibility, it is actually rendered inaccessible, as anyone we care about proves indestructible, and anyone who dies proves unimportant. 18