World War Z (2013) – Marc Forster (Dir.), Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Danielle Kertesz, and a whole lot of unfortunate, expendable bastards. Also Malcolm Tucker, for some reason.
Alright. I don’t think I’m going to win any friends with this post. In fact, after this devastating first paragraph, I’m probably going to have to spend the rest of it backpedaling, explaining and apologizing faster than a senator who’s just been asked why there is a hooker in his trunk and why in god’s name would you use a sailor hat that way. To add insult to injury, unlike most of my other summer films, I have scoured reviews of this movie for the past two weeks begging the gods of cinematic art that there is a shred of dignity left in this mangled corpse of a summer blockbuster (no coincidental metaphor intended). It had everything working against it. A director responsible for the worst Bond sequel since someone said, “You know where Bond hasn’t been? The fucking moon.” It’s an adaptation so far from its source material, a book that I have an undying love for (stop it with the undead puns, Andrew), that it might as well have been made by Baz Luhrmann (BOOM, Gatsby burn). There were reshoots, delays, rewrites, spit takes, facepalms, big meetings with men with massive cigars (which totally isn’t a dick, it’s just a cigar, Freud) using words like ‘synergy’ and making sure that Pepsi products are used as plot points. It had more fiction writers working on this than on a Sarah Palin memoir. And one of those mutherfuckers was Damen “I Am Slowly Hunting Down Your Dreams And Murdering Them in Front of Your Weeping Eyes Like the Guy Who Killed Bambi’s Mom” Lindelof. It had a purported budget of upwards of $200 million. This thing was whirling itself into a shitstorm more rancid than that time a tornado hit Mr. Magorium’s Feces Emporium. A cock-up of biblical proportions…and none of that wimpy New Testament BS. I’m talking ‘don’t screw with the jews’ angel of death levels of terrible.
Well, that being said…I think this is might my favorite movie of the summer so far.
Okay, okay, boo all you want. Go ahead, throw your popcorn at me, your rotten tomatoes and, was that a wrench? Is Rip Torn in the audience? Is Rip Torn still alive? If not…RIP (sorry. I couldn’t help myself). No, honestly, I have not been more glued to the screen this summer. It’s not the greatest movie. It’s not necessarily even a good movie. All I know is that I didn’t just have to change my underwear, I had to change the theater’s seat (for some reason, the manager did not accept my ‘I was marking my territory’ argument. Racist). Quickly, for those of you who don’t know, World War Z is a brilliant novel by Max Brooks (Mel Brooks’ alter ego after sucking out the souls of the innocent), examining the history, the terror, and the ramifications, social, emotional and militaristic, of a zombie uprising. Through oral essays told by a cast of colorful, sometimes horrifically stereotyped, characters, we see the initial infection, the spread, the survival, and the fight back. On the other hand, World War Z: The Movie tells the tale of a mildly invincible UN investigator sent to find a cure for the zombie menace while the entire world collapses under the onslaught of the swarming undead. Like humans and monkeys, the book and the movie share similar DNA. However, while one is intellectual, expansive, and imaginative…the other occasionally pees into its own mouth (no prizes for guessing which one is which). The movie is kinda dumb, but there is never a boring moment. We leap from Philly, to Newark (which looks largely the same as usual just with slightly more looting), to the ocean (less exciting), to South Korea, to Israel, to…Cardiff? Sure. Why not? All the way, Gerry Lane (Mr. Pitt) is racing to save his own skin more than looking for a handy cure-all. Its scope is impressive, if reductive in places, and a few of Brooks’ best lines are stolen in placed in the mouths of excellent actors offered little more than five minutes of screen time before turning into zombie chow.
But, that all said, I really enjoyed this movie. Instead of being a frankenstein’s monster made of dead dicks (I stole that from Veep), this was a solid blockbuster, weaving set-pieces with talky scenes that hold a little more water than your average bear. Forster is shockingly deft at juxtaposing the widespread panic with the one-on-one horrors. It’s clear that the zombie genre works best in close quarters, though it’s novel to actually see, for once, what is usually left to expository dialogue in any other film. What brought me to this positive conclusion was a long, arduous process usually experienced by bereaving family members. And so, because I’m a melodramatic ass, I am going to denigrate every grieving member of the populace by appropriating their sadness for the purpose of my summer filmic entertainment. Due to my rabid (stop it with the metaphors, Mooney) adoration of the source material, I followed the life of this project from its cradle, to its sickly adolescence as a proposed miniseries, to its untimely death at the hands of studio execs and its subsequent resurrection. Who was the messianic figure who raised this Lazarus? Why none other than a man who seems to attempting a fairly convincing Jesus impression himself, Mr. Brad Pitt. He fought to keep this thing alive and, by golly, it is…well, coughing up blood a little, but it seems okay! However, when the trailer was released, my horror was almost more suffocating than when I saw Phantom Menace for the first time.
First, I denied it. I assumed the trailer didn’t exist. Such a choice was simpler than accepting that some studio big wig had slobbered all over my love with his herpes-infected mustache. Second: I was furious. I was ready to burn my laptop in effigy…and then I realized I was about to burn my laptop, my divine portal to the infinite god that is the Internet, and hugged it instead. We cuddled for a while and, after apologizing to Andrew’s Little Helper (no joke, that’s my computer’s actual name), I shifted into the third: bargaining. I wanted to start a Kickstarter to maybe shift the movie towards my tastes. Perhaps an Upworthy campaign? What about an online petition; people listen to those, right? When that inevitably failed, I just got depressed. I watched Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later on a loop while force feeding myself Americone Dream, wishing I could awaken from this living nightmare of a world with a terrible WWZ adaptation. And, finally, I reached acceptance. I knew it would be more ghastly than a pustule on the tongue. It would be a hemorrhoid of a movie-watching experience. Knowing that kept me safe from harm.
But then that fucking trailer with the attack on the plane appeared and my hope was reignited.
Why did I like this movie? Well, the most terrifying moments of most zombie tales occur in the first act. Its the panic that spreads through the crowd where suddenly human beings become stampeding cattle with no way to tell the infected from the healthy that unnerve me to the core. While 28 Days Later forgoes this stomach-churning, seat-wetting, calling-for-mommy insanity, World War Z sticks you in the shit. Also, Pitt’s adorable daughters are on the fucking menu. I don’t want to see a little girl zombie. Do you? Shit is fucked up. Anyhoo, the movie skillfully slips from tension to tension, offering us more suspense than murder mystery night at the Hitchcocks. 90% of the time, it’s the moments before the zombie attack that keep you nibbling your nails. P.S. by the end of this movie, I’d chewed them down so far, I now need artificial fingers. I’m typing this with gnawed stumps. Forster, who’s resume consists largely of that 2 hour exercise in utter ineptitude that was Quantum of Solace, knows what this story is about. It’s about Brad Fucking Pitt. And I know what you’re thinking, “Andrew, didn’t an entire planet get destroyed by a plague? Aren’t billions dead?” to which I say, “His daughters aren’t. So go fuck your billions. HE’S FIGHTING FOR HIS FAMILY.” And you all agree with me because he is Brad “Golden Ray of Sunshine if It was Super Stoned” Pitt. Much like Will Smith before him, Pitt can carry a picture in which he fights obscene numbers of awfully CGIed beasties. Luckily, Pitt has a decent enough script on his side. In favor of immediate drama, it pretty much glosses over every astute implication set forth by its source novel. We barely hear any word about the corners of the globe untrotted by Pitt. There is no attempt at existential conversation. This thing is a freight trail headed off the rails and it will run down your ‘humanistic examination of a world dragged into chaos’ like the wimpy intellectualism it is. But goddamnit it’s exciting.
I think I reached a point of diminishing returns on the stress front when they reach Israel because, of course, the zombies break into the heavily fortified Jerusalem and, of course, it happens at the exact moment Pitt is hanging out at the main gates and, OF COURSE, it’s because of muslims. At that point, the movie devolves into an underpaid CGI minion’s worst nightmare…so they shaky cam the fuck out of it and try to get Pitt out of the chaos as soon as possible. This leads to what could have been an iconic moment in zombie movie history, the plane attack…though anyone who has seen the trailer knows that it’s coming and all suspense goes the way of the dodo. The ending, however, takes a bizarre tonal shift. But not in a bad way. Usually all zombie movies fall apart at the seams in the final act. From the ‘greatest overreaction to attempted execution’ in 28 Days Later, to the ‘Zombie Doom-Mobile’ in Dawn of the Dead, to the…whatever happened at the end of Land of the Dead, I don’t give a flying pig’s anus. However, Forster brings the action to a quiet, vicious simmer, having already proven that a full boil would result in EVERYONE’S death. We have a few nice narrative shifts and the final moments wrap the whole thing up in a messy ‘We really thought we were going to have sequels’ kind of way. But as the red-headed-stepchild-of-the-studio it redeems itself to earn a place on the ongoing and sacred hierarchy. It may not be the Bodhisattva of the genre like its literary counterpart or Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, nor is it on the level around the redefining zombie-Ghandi of 28 Days Later. It does carve out a space slightly higher than Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake (which dipped into zombie-Hitler territory with that stupid undead baby section) as a sort of shambling, moaning life-challenged Winston Churchill. It did great things during the war, but it ain’t sticking around for peacetime.
Honestly, the most enjoyable additions to World War Z come from the supporting cast, who, on average, last about five minutes each. From James Badge Dale, who has recently recovered from his Extremis treatment in Iron Man 3, to an inexplicably non-swearing Malcolm Tucker (watch The Thick of It or In the Loop right now, plebs), to David Morse, who when reading this script apparently ordered the ham with a side of ham all wrapped in more ham, to the obligatory skin-headed Israeli badass lady warrior, Danielle Kertesz. Also, if you look veeeeeery closely, you can see Matthew Fox fire his agent for getting him a role usually reserved for the dude helping with Kraft services who happened to be around when they needed someone to stand in for a minute. Dude is in the movie for a collective ten seconds. No joke.
Is World War Z great? Not by a long shot. Is it an adaptation of the novel? Don’t make me laugh. I still need to cry a little. But it’s solid. Shockingly so. Anyone who expected a hot mess on par with the Melanie Griffith Botox accident that was Man of Steel will be disappointed. Also, scared shitless. You will be. Sanatoriums will use this bad boy as a non-invasive enema, you mark my words. Go see it. You will not regret it. Unless you don’t like having minor heart attacks for 2 hours…then you probably shouldn’t.
Does this obliterate my hope for an actual adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel? Luckily, we live in the age where we had two separate Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movies in three years. Hopefully this mess will earn its money back and then some and Pitt can fulfill his dream of a miniseries. I mean, honestly, AMC has the still lumbering Walking Dead, which seems to be mentally decaying faster than most of its characters; and Game of Thrones can’t last forever, HBO. I mean, come on; George R.R. Martin is old and looks as though he probably ate Paula Dean. Option it and make what we all know will be the Band of Brothers of zombie tales. You know you want to…