Brad of the dead – World War Z review

WWZ

By Simon Miraudo
June 21, 2013

There is no evidence of World War Zs troubled production history on the screen, which is perhaps the biggest compliment I have for Marc Forster‘s zom-pocalypse thriller. Though technically an adaptation of Max Brooks’ book of the same name, the screenwriters (too many to mention) have jettisoned its oral history structure and turned it into a balls-to-the-wall chase movie.

Brooks’ tale was set after the events of an earth-engulfing zombie plague; Forster’s takes place at the beginning. Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former UN investigator tasked with figuring out the origin of the outbreak, and not getting chomped by the CGI hordes of walking dead in the process. As he traverses the globe, meeting new “people” (a more charitable description would be “inevitable zombie-fodder”), we are gifted glimpses of increasingly exotic terrains. It all looks very expensive. That would be my second biggest compliment.

WWZ

It could have been a thrilling procedural like Zero Dark Thirty, or a fascinating case study a’la Contagion, or, hell, if it wanted to drop the veneer of ‘smarts’ entirely, Forster could have just replicated 28 Weeks Later on a larger scale. Instead, the result is something totally uninvolving. Certainly the least scary zombie film I’ve ever seen. Not a particularly enthralling mystery. Very mechanical and inhuman, despite Lane’s quest to find a cure and save his wife (Mireille Enos) and family.

There were issues behind the scenes. On-set discord between Pitt and Forster is now part of Hollywood lore, courtesy of an incisive Vanity Fair article. Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard were brought on board to rewrite the third act, resulting in the scrapping of a Russian battle sequence, and the shooting of a new, more intimate climax inside a W.H.O. facility in Cardiff (employing that classic screenwriting maxim, “When all else fails, head to Wales!”).

WWZ

As mentioned earlier, those unaware of these dramas would not notice it in the final product. The constant tinkering, however, goes a ways to explaining how Brooks’ source novel was watered down from a thoughtful, chilling, geopolitical cautionary tale to a nearly bloodless, inoffensive blockbuster. There is such an opportunity, when making a zombie movie, to question what the differences truly are between those shuffling, brainless beasts and us, supposedly soulful, beings. Even Zack Snyder‘s refried Dawn of the Dead managed to squeeze that in between head-choppings.

World War Z never really takes the time to explore those bigger ideas, relying instead on action sequences that, frankly, Forster doesn’t have the abilities to execute. His choppy style of direction is dizzying, and not in the good way. Emulating Paul Greengrass and Kathryn Bigelow is a great way of proving that you’re no Paul Greengrass or Kathryn Bigelow.

Pitt relies on his vast supply of charisma to carry the feature on his back despite not having much of a character to cling to. Enos is excellent, as is Daniella Kertesz as a bold Israeli soldier, and James Badge Dale as a brave American jarhead, but none of them get all that much screen time. The same goes for the great David Morse, and The Thick of It‘s Peter Capaldi (the latter amusingly credited as a “W.H.O. Doctor”). Their casting is the third biggest compliment. That’s three then, total.

2.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

World War Z is now showing in cinemas.

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