WORLD WAR Z: The Summer’s Dreariest Film

World War ZWorld War Z (2013) – Directed by Marc Forster – Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Fana Mokoena, Daniela Kertesz, David Morse, and Matthew Fox.

WORLD WAR Z is an offensively bad piece of cinematic nonsense, an action/horror movie made by people who think they’re too good to make an action/horror movie, yet weren’t smart enough to make the book they bought. WWZ is sprawling and dumb, alternating awful action sequences with awful melodrama. It’s the kind of movie that takes place all over the globe because that’s supposed to show you how big of a threat we’re dealing with, but then intercuts the globe-trotting with a crying wife because the film also wants you to really not have anything close to a good time. In other words, the film thinks you need to run all over the globe to build a threat but that you don’t actually give a shit about your fellow human, so … crying wife.

I like Brad Pitt. I’ve always liked Brad Pitt. He’s always been willing to challenge himself as an actor, and it’s rare that he gives a bad performance. He’s also shown real growth in terms of his comfort level with who he is. In the early days, he seemed much more comfortable in films where he wasn’t Brad Pitt – movies where he didn’t rely on his looks but to channel another, usually darker, aspect of his persona: Kalifornia, Seven, and 12 Monkeys rather than A River Runs Through It and Legends of the Fall. It’s not hard to see the difference, as the first three are “acting” movies and the latter two are “star” movies. He’s long reminded me of Eddie Vedder – when Pearl Jam was one of the biggest bands in the world, I often got the sense that Vedder would have preferred to be fronting the Melvins instead. As he grew older, however, Pitt seemed to become comfortable in his own skin, embracing the ultimate insider Rat Pack-ness of the Ocean 11/12/13 films. Since then, he’s moved back to the “acting” roles, but instead of a rejection of his “star” roles, Pitt seems to want to fold his acting into ensemble pictures and surrender himself to high quality directors.

Which is what makes WORLD WAR Z so odd.

This movie clearly and desperately needs Movie Star Pitt, yet it gets Acting Pitt, and instead of surrounding himself with an ensemble, it’s largely a bunch of unknowns interspersed with a couple of, “Hey, isn’t that the guy from that cab show with Andre Braugher?” The construction of WWZ means it’s largely going to succeed or fail because of Pitt, and in no small part that’s also because this film is Pitt’s baby because it was his company that bought it and its his hands that are all over its development.

It pains me to say that WWZ is a failure, but that’s exactly what this stink bomb is, a festering, pretentious, miserable movie that offers no thrills, no enjoyment, and no reason to care.

Pitt plays Gerry Lane, an ex-United Nations investigator who now makes pancakes and drives his kids to school. Zombies are traditionally used as symbols for the unthinking sheep humanity has become, but Lane symbolizes the over-thinking citizen who becomes so enraptured in his role in the world that his worldview shifts from a guy who’s literally out there, trying to save the world, to an apartment-centered shut-in who probably read 100 recipes on how to make pancakes before he actually made a pancake. On the way to school, the world goes to hell as the first wave of the zombie infestation hit Philadelphia, and before you know it, Gerry and his wife are trying to find a place to hide to blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

I swear, Pitt and director Marc Forster play all of this opening sequence out in a manner that suggests they think they’re doing something new and that you’ve never seen a zombie film set up before. There’s no cleverness here, no high level of skill, no imagination, no drama, no horror. The Walking Dead is too depressing to keep me engaged, but at least that show is made with a fair amount of skill.

Lane leads his family into an apartment building to- oh wait, I forgot. Attempted rape.

The family runs into a supermarket to get some medicine for the asthmatic daughter and the wife nearly gets raped by two guys in Aisle 6. That’s right – WWZ has so little faith in humanity that after several hours of zombies, dudes are like, “Let’s go to the A&P, buy some carrots, stock up on canned beans, and rape a woman in the bread aisle.”

This scene is used, I guess, to show us that 1) things are dangerous (as if that wasn’t clear from everyone running around and getting eaten by zombies), 2) if you try to rape Gerry Lane’s wife, he will shoot you dead instead of being cuckolded (as if that wasn’t obvious by Gerry Lane being played by Brad Pitt), and 3) a cop will not arrest you if you kill a guy in the middle of an A&P when the world is being overrun by zombies.

The More You Know.

They head to an apartment building, where a nice non-white family lets them in. Lane tells them they have to move because people who stay in place always die. Even if the door is locked. The nice non-white family did the decent thing by letting the white family in, but they’re not smart enough to listen to the white family, and so they (minus one son) get turned into zombies while the white family (plus the additional son) gets airlifted off the roof by a military helicopter.

The copter takes them to a Naval aircraft carrier, where Gerry’s old UN buddy wants him to go looking for answers out there in the Big Bag World. And Gerry tells him, No.

Yup, it’s one of those totally pointless, insanely stupid scenes where the hero of the film doesn’t want the rest of the film to happen. Lane wants to stay with his wife and kids because goddamnit he makes the fucking pancakes and who will make the fucking pancakes if he’s not around? The UN buddy convinces him to go because blah blah blah fartnoise chortle we have a movie to shoot, and also a cook who can make pancakes.

Gerry goes to Korea with a scientist who kills himself. Then he meets David Morse in a cell, who rambles anti-Semitic conspiracies. (Morse is the one really brilliant spot of the film). In the middle of all this, Gerry calls his wife back on the aircraft carrier because he told her he’d call once a day.

The wife. God. WWZ commits the crime where the husband is all heroic and the wife is all weepy. She’s totally useless, resorting to sleeping with the satellite phone so she doesn’t miss Gerry’s call, like suddenly she’s a 13-year old girl going through her first crush instead of being a capable, intelligent mother of two. Or maybe she was just weepy because she realizes now that her and Gerry have less romantic chemistry than Papa Smurf and anyone.

Gerry thinks Morse’s anti-Semitism is stupid, but then he goes to Israel and asks all the anti-Semitic questions Morse told him to ask. Israel has built a wall, but the zombies are all Screw You, Wall, because these are super zombies who can run and jump and crochet. I don’t care about any of it. When Gerry’s family gets kicked off the carrier because they think Gerry is dead, I cheered. Not literally, of course, because I was beyond cheering at that point, but definitely figuratively.

Gerry bounces around and it’s all so serious and grim and why spend almost $200 million to make a movie like this that offers so little entertainment? And that’s not just a knock on the film’s lack of quality; Pitt and Forster made a conscious decision to not only not have any fun, but to provide no balance to the dreariness. It’s unrelenting and grim and despite all the running around, there’s no sense of movement. Gerry goes somewhere, gets some information, barely escapes while others die. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

What will not be repeated is me watching WORLD WAR Z again.

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2 thoughts on “WORLD WAR Z: The Summer’s Dreariest Film

  1. Good review overall. I found more to like in the film than you did, but as a zombie scholar I almost always do.

    I had to make a note about this, though:

    “…2) if you try to rape Gerry Lane’s wife, he will shoot you dead instead of being cuckolded (as if that wasn’t obvious by Gerry Lane being played by Brad Pitt)…”

    I know you were in a fugue state writing the bad review, but this line/joke is terrible, Mark. A woman being raped isn’t cuckolding her husband, she’s being raped. Cuckolding is a purposeful act. But even if you’d written “raped” I wonder how you’d preferred he responded.

    Like

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