In the realm of the supernatural genre, there are significant differences. There are vampire movies, exorcism movies, demon movies, beast movies (ranging from aliens to homicidal maniacs with some mythology attached), werewolf movies, zombie movies, and magical movies. Of those, it seems that one can quite accurately predict the quality of the film based upon their subject matter. Any can be bad, of course, but the stories that take on original mythological proportions–some kind of evil demon or ghost–are almost never good. I think it’s because the enemy is actually unbeatable but the writers create some kind of nonsense, deus ex machina to allow at least one person to survive. In zombie movies, like World War Z (2013), the danger is great, but so long as you don’t get bit, you’re still in the game.
Odd behavior has been happening all over the world and in a matter of hours, a zombie apocalypse is unleashed. Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family are in Philadelphia, going about their business when it strikes. They flee. People are looting super markets and trying to hide in their homes. It’s anarchy. Gerry was a top investigator for the UN, looking into war crimes in dangerous places. His boss, the Deputy Secretary General of the UN, Thierry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena), gets him onto an aircraft carrier in the hopes that Gerry will help them get to the bottom of this all-consuming danger. Gerry doesn’t have a choice because if he doesn’t help, he’s off the ship and back on mainland in some refugee camp. So Gerry goes on an expedition around the world, trying to find the source of this epidemic and create some kind of vaccine.
How many zombies does it take to build a zombie ladder? Let’s say your average zombie is five foot six–zombies have notoriously poor posture. I estimate that wall to be about a hundred feet tall. That’s about 18 zombies standing on one another, head to toe. To give a strong two-dimensional, pyramidal base, that’s 171 zombies. For the ladder to be effective, you’re really going to want three dimensions. That’s going to be about 1,140 zombies. Now, that’s if we stagger the zombies. If you really want to do the job right, you’re going to want one on top of three on top of five, etc. (Plus, that makes the math easier.) That’s going to be 5,832 zombies to get you a solid ladder up a hundred foot wall. When I saw it, I didn’t think it was plausible to find that many zombies in the greater Jerusalem area, but now I see that that’s quite reasonable.
This movie looked pretty dumb in the trailer. Apparently, they reshot the closing third of the film with an alternative ending written by Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof because the original ending was so terrible (written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and story with J. Michael Straczynski). That’s millions and millions of dollars terrible. The CGI of swarming zombies looked pathetic in the trailer and the promise of the film seemed to be that they would be mowing down those swarms of zombies. Not much of a promise. But I decided that Marc Forster & Co. should be rewarded for reshooting something they knew to be dreadful rather than banking on the ill-founded trust of their audience.
Hey, Peter Capaldi.
The result is an entertaining zombie movie that probably could have been scaled down with beneficial results–I presume that the ending we got was just that. The idea of the movie seemed to be Jack Ryan takes on zombies. Thankfully, Gerry is an investigator with civilian-oriented war experience rather than a virologist who miraculously kicks ass, so they saved on disbelief suspension there. They go from place to place, getting away from hordes of zombies by the skin of their teeth and ultimately come to conclusions that might have been obtained simply by closely watching footage of these attacks. But he’s doing his best and the success of this movie lies in the fact that Gerry isn’t running and gunning, but running and trying to actually investigate. Asking the right questions and moving on, book-ended by large-scale zombie slaughter at the hands of the local military.
What keeps this movie from being memorable is the rushed investigation. This movie comes in at under two hours and it probably needed to be a half hour longer if it wanted to be good. As it stands, I wouldn’t want to have it on my DVD shelf. If you look at my DVD shelf, you know it means something if I wouldn’t shell out $5 for a Blu-Ray. [NB: Not every DVD on my shelf holds pride of place or reflects good decision-making.] Now, if it promised 30 minutes of story-related extended scenes, I might get interested.
Because what it lacked was emotional heft. These swarms are just that. There was a moment where a zombie was running towards the screen and I thought, “Wait, was that that kid’s father?” It probably was because it was one of the few times we looked at a zombie’s face for more than an instant. It’s so impersonal. What makes this a terrible event is that all of these people once had families, hopes, and dreams and are now just zombies, driven by the natural impulses of a parasitical virus. The ending montage only emphasizes that deficiency. The characters, too, were almost never given a chance to breathe. Yes, clearly, this is Pitt’s vehicle and he is a human–though little hints of his hidden demons never materialize–but you’ll notice that I have mentioned very few names here. I apologize to those individuals who were absolutely fine, but couldn’t find their way in here. One exception: those two actors who played the close-up zombies at the W.H.O. facility were way, way, way over the top. People laughed in the theaters, and that’s not good.
And another thing! I love Muse as much and much more than the next fella, but my familiarity with their latest album, The 2nd Law, and it’s finale, “Isolated Systems” was rather like Platoon (1986) and its use of “Adagio for Strings” by Barber. Great tune, but did you have to use it half a dozen times? Interestingly, though, I’ve found that when I’m unfamiliar with the piece, I enjoy the repetition, but when I become familiar with it, I can hardly focus on anything else (in a bad way).
But hey, you don’t always go to the movies because you want to witness film history as it happens. You might just want some thrills that don’t insult your intelligence. World War Z, I can comfortably say, meets this criterion.
If I see something interesting in the theater, I like to tell you guys about it at the top, but I had other thoughts slotted for the first paragraph and had to push my observations down here. It’s a 12:30 showing and today World War Z comes out on the same day as Monsters University (2013). I’ve got nothing but love for Pixar, but I had slated a Monsters University viewing for later in the day. So, when I finally got to my seat, I noticed a few younger folks in the audience. Boys maybe around nine years old. World War Z is rated PG-13 (somehow!), so I’m not too surprised to find a few kids in here on a Friday. Then a couple parents come in, pulling strollers with “Happy Birthday” balloons attached.. This can’t be, one of us must have screwed up. Finally, a family with a little boy and a little girl take the seats to my right. That’s it, I must be in the wrong place.
“Excuse me, is this the theater for Monsters University?” I asked.
“No, I think this is for World War Z.”