Since the World War Z film adaptation had been announced a couple years back, fans of the Max Brooks‘ zombie-pocalypse film felt that the project would have some impossibly large shoes to fill. After seeing the film last night, it’s easy to see that the producers agreed, taking those large shoes, throwing them down an incerator, then opting for some nice comfy Crocs instead.
World War Z serves as unabashed comfort to the filmgoer. In every instance when The Walking Dead chose to examine the group dynamic and psychological toll of the struggle instead of some grade-A zombie-killing action, World War Z opts for the action, leaving such existential hand-wringing to works that have more than 110 minutes to state their case.
In fact, the action doesn’t stop long enough for the audience to develop many feelings about anything in the film. Backstories are meted out as convenient plot devices – it’s never really clear why Brad Pitt is so important, or why a journalist would be so high on the UN’s hit list of people to save during the zombie-ocalypse. He loves his wife and kids, because that’s what movie heroes do, and he’s brave, but not so brave that he’s not a reluctant hero.
But when stripped of those pretexts for having Brad Pitt do the things he does, World War Z plays out like a video game that consists of about six levels, and it proves borderline impossible not to draw a connection to Nintendo 64’s Goldeneye when Pitt and Co. are tooling around a laboratory, with a clear assignment and strolling villains abound. These levels have distinct goals, and when those goals are completed, the team hops on a plane to the next global locale to solve the mystery of “how do we stop all these fucking zombies?”
The approach is surprisingly effective, shunning all that end of days fatalism for zombies that can run really fast and climb up on each other to scale walls. The tremendous design and thought put into the five or six “levels” throughout the film seems to be the only touchpoint that the film maintains from the book. The settings are scary, well-designed, and exist on an impressive scale.
However, where this approach causes the film to regress is in its PG-13 rating, which relegates us to a zombie-geddon environment in which there is virtually no blood or gore, which lowers the stakes of the film and has the ultimate effect of making the film even seem more like a video game, albeit one from 1993 where the backstory is thin, and zombies have to die because zombies have to die, dig?
After reading Max Brooks’ masterful novel that manages to paint a globe in crisis using an efficiency and narrative, it’s hard to not want to put training wheels on this film, telling it should just go out there and do its best. So the problem faced with reviewing this film is not being TOO forgiving when the film sprints away from anything resembling gravity to offer up more PG-13 monster violence.
Nothing much in World War Z matters except for the successive tasks at hand, and while they’re watered-down trials of what we’ve seen in more sweeping serial works, they remain compelling and different enough from the well-worn genre to keep us engaged, if not caring.