So you can’t have a summer without a disaster movie. The warmer months drive Hollywood a little mad and are littered with cinema fodder that rain down like the asteroids and comets caused by aliens/gods/global warming and whatever other swords of Damocles hang over humanity’s head. All of them are horrible. Yes, including Armageddon though you can enjoy it anyway (leave your comments down below fanboys!). It is just too hard to make a disaster movie that doesn’t become so ridiculous or unwieldy that it won’t collapse under its own weight. Too many characters or CG destruction is often counterproductive to the actual storytelling and it’s anathema to an audience’s enjoyment.
World War Z is less a zombie movie and more a disaster movie. Its infection storyline owes more to H1N1 and movies like Outbreak than to George Romero. To be honest, I’m getting a little sick of zombie movies. It’ll be one of those phases in Hollywood (along with superhero movies <gasp!>) that will be remembered with mostly a bemused fondness and a shaking of the head. “How did they get to be so popular and mainstream?” The recent “Warm Bodies” proves that we are trying to squeeze every last demographic out of this phase before it ends…. hopefully soon. However, that movie, along with most others is forgettable and a waste of time. If you are going to immerse yourself in zombie mythology, there are a few things you should check out before you go slumming with the dregs of the undead silver screen unprotected.
These are in no particular order:
- 28 Days Later (not weeks)
- Shaun of the Dead
- The Walking Dead (the comic not the tv show. See fellow FYMPer review here)
Each of these takes a different perspective of the zombie phenomenon, from ground level apocalypse story to a tongue-in-cheek critique on modern society. What is missing from this list a great high-level zombie apocalypse story – enter World War Z.
Wait. Didn’t I just say WWZ isn’t a zombie movie? Nope. No, I didn’t. Read again. It IS MORE a disaster movie, but there are literally BILLIONS of zombies in it – so it’s a zombie flick. Despite all the rumors of rewrites, internal fights, and giant cost overruns that would be great justification for a disaster-documentary, WWZ pulls together a tightly woven, produced and edited movie that fills out that last piece of the zombie movie pantheon. It is tightly written and quickly paced. At just under 2 hours, Brad Pitt visits 4 continents and an aircraft carrier (actually it looks more like an amphibious assault ship but most people don’t know the difference) and possibly saves the human race. The producers make efficient use of on-screen time, developing characters/scenes/locations with just enough to make you believe what is happening and thrust you to the next plot point. In other films, this is done poorly and keeps you from playing along with the story, but they do an excellent job here. Instead of managing 4/5 different characters, they have us journey with Brad Pitt (still ridiculously charming and good looking) ,the uncommon man, from infection-resolution. This mostly works and is probably the only way to do a movie of this scope without it becoming a 3 hour endurance contest. I’ll look forward to the extra content/extended scenes in the DVD at home. In theatres, movies over 2 hours long try my patience.
As with most movies, it isn’t perfect of course. While there are actually a number of great scenes and even pleasant surprises/shocks, the movie plotline isn’t overly creative. It doesn’t hoe new ground with the disaster movie formula. Where it makes up for this is in the strength of each scene in each locale which serve their purpose and then the movie drops them and moves on. It doesn’t dwell, linger, or brood too much, which I appreciated. It follows a fairly sound logic with how different people and authorities act with a couple of silly exceptions. Forgivable cinema-luck (we just crash landed right where we needed to be!) and other events work in the guise of how limiting a 2-hour movie is for a storyteller. The final criticism here is how underutilized Mireille Enos is, who plays Pitt’s wife. If her work in “the Killing” proves anything, it’s that women characters can have extraordinary depth and intelligence. While there may be more of her story on the editing room floor and Enos does instill her with a visceral reality a lesser actress couldn’t, her character is mostly relegated to the powerless spouse, waiting for word from her world-saving husband. Too bad.
The production is excellent. What could have been a gore-fest, and some will lament its absence, becomes mostly a tasteful cutaway affair, with events meant to be more disturbing than the violence. It is also probably one of the best edited movies I’ve ever seen. There is little excess baggage in any scene and the movie is better for it – if only to spare you too much time to ponder some of the less believable moments in the film. There are quite a few memorable characters (a mostly mute but bad ass Israeli female soldier for one). Brad Pitt does an admirable job carrying the entire movie on his magazine wrapped forearms.
So will this be a FYMP classic? It is too soon to tell. It isn’t overwhelmingly original or thought provoking, but it does enough things really well to make it one of my favorite disaster movies. There are better, smaller, more intimate plague/zombie stories that can be told, but in the realm of end-of-the-world productions, WWZ is mostly in an undead league of its own. Let me know what you think.