We found ourselves pleasantly surprised–moderately shocked, actually–at the movie theater Friday evening: World War Z wasn’t a complete piece of shit. In fact, for a PG-13 rated Hollywood-commandeered adaptation of a violent zombie novel, it was an above average summer blockbuster and a possible honorable mention on our Best Zombie Movies of All Time list.
Make no mistake: World War Z is more of an action/suspense movie than it is a horror movie. And it is more of an apocalypse/disaster film than it is a zombie film. But it’s reasonably entertaining, remarkably lacking in eyeroll-inducing schlock, and offers a few innovative tweaks on the zombie genre.
First, let it be said that this is one of the first major zombie movies to openly acknowledge that there are zombies. Usually, we’re poked and prodded with linguistic equivocations about ‘the infected’, ‘the crazies’, ‘the undead’, ‘the living dead’, ‘the walking dead’, ‘walkers’, etc. It’s refreshing to hear Brad Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, come right out and basically say, “Okay yea, whatever, they’re zombies.”
Reminds us of the great exchange in Shaun of the Dead when Shaun admonishes Ed for using the Z word. When Ed asks why, Shaun replies: “Because it’s ridiculous.” Well, it is ridiculous, but a zombie movie is about zombies, so let’s call them that for God’s sake. At the very least, World War Z acknowledges a real world pop culture in which the word ‘zombie’ exists.
The film also doesn’t equivocate much with a narrative setup. Gerry, his wife Karin, and their two daughters eat pancakes for breakfast, get stuck in a traffic jam and…what was that, did something explode over there? Aaaand here come the zombies….!
We do get a bit of a backstory about patient zero (which in Max Brooks’ novel is way more fleshed out) but the story pushes quickly toward getting United Nations sweetheart Gerry in a position in which he can lead first a military operation in Israel and then a scientific operation in Cardiff, Whales.
In between there are a few ‘pulse pounding’ sequences. One truly great scene stands out in this writer’s mind: Gerry, worried that a drop of blood from a freshly eviscerated zombie may have fallen into his mouth, starts counting to ten while standing on the ledge of a building. He’s waiting to see if he will start to turn, presumably to then immediately plunge to his death and prevent himself from killing his family. The logic of this is wonderfully realistic, and yet you rarely see blood-splattered characters in zombie movies stop to ask: ‘uh geez, I hope I don’t have any open sores.’
There are a few more great lines, some unintentionally hilarious. “Mother Nature is a serial killer” is pretty good in our book. But a military commander looking around at his technicians and proclaiming: “Everyone here serves a purpose….” that’s just hilarious. You are correct there, Commander, yes, absolutely, our federal military complex doesn’t waste a dime on unnecessary expenditures–it all serves a purpose.
As you probably saw in the latest trailer, there is a pretty nifty plane crash scene. What that trailer doesn’t explain is that apparently, though the plane crashes mid-route in a barren landscape, it happens to be in walking distance of the World Health Organization research facility in Whales. It’s relieving to know that during the zombie apocalypse everything will be perfectly convenient.
This is where the film’s climax and resolution takes place and we don’t want to say too much about it because it contains World War Z‘s best sequence. We’ll suffice it to say it riffs rather nicely off of a similarly spine-tingling premise from an early Walking Dead episode.
Our favorite moments of World War Z are the ones in which we get to see the zombies not in action—meaning when you get to witness their full spasmatic creepiness as though on exhibit at a zoo. Our least favorite moments are the ones that depicted two national flags—the only two flags shown in the film—those of the United States and Israel, shining heroically in the glistening sunlight. Give us a break.
Another dry-heave inducing moment, which has already drawn the attention of a legion of conspiracists, comes when we get an eerie definition of martial law from Brad Pitt. His daughter asks him: “Daddy, what’s martial law?” Pitt replies, casually, “It’s like house rules, but for everyone.” Yes!!! Predictive programming – 1 Sheeple – 0
It’s also interesting how the film depicts other countries reacting to the global crisis. North Korea pulls the teeth of all 23 million citizens in less than 24 hours in order to prevent zombie bites–guess they’ll find out the age-old question as to whether zombies can gum their way into your skull. Israel builds a wall around Jerusalem to protect it from the zombies. They do start admitting ‘outsiders’ at some point, but, ironically, it is at this point that the wall is breached by the zombies. If only they had stuck to their isolationism!
The biggest complaint we have with World War Z is the PG-13 rating, which prevented the film from delving into the kind of hideously creative gore that makes great zombie movies great. The other complaint is with the ending—it’s about as abrupt as an ending can get. Remember Stephen Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, an otherwise fabulous science fiction film blemished by an absurdly truncated conclusion. Well, World War Z‘s screenplay got bit by the same narrative ghoul.
We expected to hate this movie. Far from hating it, we enjoyed it. We like to be scared and there were definitely some scary moments. This writer jumped in his seat twice, one of them by what felt like a 3D shotgun blast to the face.
So World War Z is a good time. But alas, just as Brad Pitt’s character somberly croons near the end, “Our war is just beginning”, so too do we feel that we’ve only seen this summer’s opening salvo of geopolitically insipid Hollywood blockbusters conditioning us for mass chaos, global catastrophes, and UN militants ushering us to safety with assault rifles pointed at our heads.
UPDATE: World War Z made out Best Horror Movies of 2013 list!