World War Z

STARRING: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Matthew Fox, James Badge Dale, David Morse, Daniella Kertesz.

WRITTEN BY: Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard

DIRECTED BY: Marc Forster

The opening of the film features several production companies and studio logos. A lot of hands went into this pot, and usually that means the recipe has been ruined. An original script was written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and then Drew Goddard was brought in to fix it up. Make it pretty, so to speak. Originally, the ending was too bleak, and we needed a happy ending so we can sleep at night. The film is already pretty bleak as a finished product, so it was probably a good idea to add some sunshine and rainbows for the kids.

Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, the man who will be taking up the large majority of screentime. For the first part of the film, he also has a family, with a wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters, and as the outbreak spreads, he must fight to get them to safety. We learn pretty quickly that he’s a badass, and a government trained one at that. An old friend from the UN makes contact, and sends a rescue squad to retrieve Gerry, because he may be humanity’s last hope.

Now that Gerry’s family is safe, he embarks on a quest to find “patient zero” and possibly a cure for the zombie outbreak destroying the entire world. Rumor has it that it started in South Korea, so he heads there. There he gets information from a denounced CIA operative (David Morse), who tells him that Israel is his next stop. Soon, Gerry finds himself globetrotting more than Harlem basketball players. As Gerry plays Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego, his family is left on a floating utopia in the middle of the ocean, hoping that he will one day return.

It’s pretty impossible to divulge much more of the story than that without ruining some serious plot points for you along the way. I’m going to be critical first, and then we’ll get to the good stuff. First, it’s never really said what it was that Gerry did that makes him so invaluable. He worked in some hot spots and survived, and he seems to be well trained, and great under pressure. But what job is that? Samurai? Jedi? Ninja Turtle? He never has a real job title. Secondly, his wife is oddly selfish about her husband’s apparent ninja skills, and doesn’t want him to go find the cure, even though billions of people have turned into zombies. Thirdly, that whole “in case the President dies” chain of command thing goes to hell. At one point, we find out that the President is dead, the guy mentions that the VP is missing, and he doesn’t even seem to know what the chain is beyond that as the Speaker is never mentioned. So, no one is in charge, because no one made it through their high school government class to know who is in charge after the VP. I’m sure they just appointed whoever had the most stars on their uniform while zombies tore through congress and the cabinet.

Things I also learned from watching World War Z. If you throw a grenade on an airplane, it will only blow up just enough to create a hole in the plane, and if you’re a few rows away from it, you’ll be fine. Trained soldiers who are aware that sound attracts the zombies have people riding on squeaky bikes… with zero explanation as to why the bikes are needed. Even though Brad Pitt is the Messiah, only one solider is needed to accompany him, while the rest all have to stay behind. Having a bum leg and being absurdly skinny qualify as “terminal illnesses”.  Matthew Fox is in this film,  but he has less lines than some of the extras. In fact, you might not even realize Matthew Fox is in the movie at all, if I didn’t tell you he was.

Now, it’s not really a bad film, it’s just… I noticed some problems. I actually thought it was really entertaining from start to finish, and even when I’d roll my eyes at a stupid plot device, or the cartoonish zombies clicking their teeth at Brad Pitt, I found myself always anticipating the worst. Largely because aside from Pitt and a handful of recognizable faces, he is surrounded by a cast of unknowns, who seem expendable at all times. We’re trained as a movie audience to not expect much from actors we don’t know, so when a few of them survive for even a few scenes, it seems like quite an achievement. One such character is introduced, rather unceremoniously halfway through the film, and sticks with Pitt all the way until the end.

Director Marc Forster has done a great job of blending an outbreak movie, like Contagion, with a high-stakes zombie film like 28 Days Later. This film is all about the “disease” and the “cure”. It’s not a Walking Dead type universe where we are just trying to find a way to live peacefully with the zombies, but rather we wish to put an end to the virus plaguing our earth. As one character puts it, Mother Nature is a nasty bitch. Sure, World War Z could have been better written, but what can you expect from a script that needed doctoring in the first place. Obviously, Goddard had his work cut out for him, and he just ended up missing some things. It’s still worth your money, as you will find yourself on the edge of your seat several times, even though you know there’s no way Pitt bites it (so to speak).

FINAL GRADE: B+

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