The Good: Decent effects, Good concept, Generally good plot progression
The Bad: No real character development, No truly stellar acting moments
The Basics: Marc Forster creates yet another massive infection movie that is entertaining, but hardly compelling with World War Z.
With the dramatic success of The Walking Dead (Season 1 is reviewed here!), books and graphic novels focused on infections and zombie-like plagues have become a proven cash cow for television and movie studios. The latest most successful mass infection movie with results that seem to be mindless humans is World War Z. World War Z is a Brad Pitt vehicle adapted a novel that I have, admittedly, not read. I caught the film in its unrated form and the Director’s Cut would have been “R”-rated as opposed to the PG-13 version that aired in theaters.
Regardless of its theatrical rating, World War Z is a procedural film that is much more plot-focused than it is a character’s journey. World War Z actually bears a number of similarities to 28 Weeks Later (reviewed here!) and is yet another film that features a rabies-like viral outbreak with victims who move lightning-fast. The film is very much a realist piece for how a single person might try to track the origin of the biological infection and that makes it a niche film; Brad Pitt’s role is one of his less-memorable characters because his Gerry Lane is more of a medium for plot exposition than it is a unique or compelling individual.
Opening in Philadelphia, PA, Gerry Lane and his wife and two daughters are caught in traffic when an outbreak of a rabies-like virus sweeps through the population. Escaping the carnage and chaos in a stolen RV after Gerry witnesses the speed of the virus (twelve seconds after a victim is bit, they leap up as a mindless killer chomping to sink their teeth into anyone nearby), the small family makes it to Newark, NJ. Gerry and his family are rescued from death from the swarms of infected people by the United Nations, which Gerry used to work for. Drafted by his old boss, who is now the effective leader of the United Nations flotilla that rescues refugees from several countries, Gerry is extorted to search for the origin point of the outbreak when his compliance is leveraged against his family’s presence in the limited bunk space on the UN aircraft carrier.
Gerry and a small team accompany a brilliant scientist to South Korea where the word “zombie” was first associated with the victims of the outbreak. After the surprising death of Gerry’s expert virologist, Gerry is left to search for “patient zero” and he is told by a mercenary in custody that North Korea has halted the plague (by pulling the teeth of all its citizens) and that Israel has become a safe zone because walls went up a week prior to the outbreak, effectively sealing off the small nation. Gerry’s team makes it to Jerusalem where Gerry continues to piece together why the effective anti-zombie techniques work and when he witnesses the overflow of zombies into safe zones, he notices behaviors he finds suspect. Following a hunch, Jerry and an Israeli soldier whose life he saves head to Cardiff on a desperate mission to get access to a World Health Organization facility that might hold the key to humanity’s survival.
World War Z gets good marks for the realism of its situation and the somewhat random nature of the search Gerry ends up on. His attempt to find ground zero for the viral outbreak is a mildly-focused series of strike-outs that nevertheless provides him with random information that might be useful in managing the global epidemic. The nature of the search is more frustrating and random than it is a dogged scientifically methodical search for a scientific link between viral outbreaks before and the fast-moving terror that is destroying the world.
The concept of a UN flotilla is a good one and it makes the peril of the survivors of the global outbreak take on a different tone; problems of overpopulation and strained resources pop up in World War Z in a way that such issues do not usually crop up in similar films.
At the other end of the spectrum, World War Z features some truly ridiculous conceits. Chief among the film’s plot faults is how an infected man manages to remain dormant on a flight for several hours, trapped in the bathroom, without anyone ever noticing. Unless the bathroom was surrounded by infections held by the world’s most important research virologists, that zombie should not have remained dormant at all.
The concept of how the zombies in World War Z might be thwarted was an interesting one, but it comes after the film has expelled most of its worst ideas. Thierry Umutoni is one of the least credible characters ever established in the viral outbreak genre film. Umutoni seems to be the de facto world leader following the outbreak and the death of the leadership in the U.S., so his ability to extort Gerry makes some sense. But, when Gerry goes missing, Umutoni acts like a hapless victim of circumstance when he authorizes the expulsion of Gerry’s family from the carrier.
On the character front, World War Z focuses on a vague protagonist whose skill set is not entirely clear. Gerry has survived areas torn apart by political strife and chaos. But what makes him ideal for going into areas overrun by zombies is not clear, especially when the military forces in the film are depicted with equal to greater survival skills for the altered world. Gerry is utterly lacking in personality quirks or unique character traits. He is given a power couple wife and two liability children, but quickly mortgages their presence in the film for a sleeker team dynamic that allows Gerry to run more credibly from the masses of zombies.
Because the character is vaguely rendered, Brad Pitt is not given sufficient material with which to shine. Pitt is adequate, but not exceptional as Gerry and he is surrounded by performers who are given equally little to work with.
That said, World War Z is entertaining and has a good pace, at the very least. Fans of zombie or other invasion/contagion genre films are likely to find World War Z worth watching at least once, but not worth adding to one’s permanent library.
For other movies about widespread infections, please check out my reviews of:
28 Days Later
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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