Movie Review: World War Z- A Bewildering Failure in Successful Adaptation That Results in a Mediocre Zombie Apocalypse Actioner

World-War-Z-screenshot-12It almost seems insulting to name the new apocalyptic zombie film World War Z after the highly acclaimed novel of the same name by author Max Brooks because there is not one ounce of accuracy in the film to the geo-political insight, thought provoking societal adaptation, or intelligent post-apocalyptic scenarios that Brooks’ book contained in every riveting chapter. Mel Brooks’ notably talented son crafted an incredibly intriguing novel that was a retrospect on how the world changed during the ten years battling an unknown zombie outbreak and yet Marc Forster’s film, plagued by notorious rewrites, reshoots, and a relentless production hell, has only borrowed minor details in order to make a rather generic zombie feature. Critiquing World War Z on the merits of adaptation would result in an absolute failure of concept, execution, and character so the only other way of objectively reviewing the film would be an assessment in how well it fits in the post-apocalyptic and zombie genres on its own where it barely passes the minimum of critical standards. With a television show like “The Walking Dead” and films such as 28 Days Later offering superior options for the zombie genre of entertainment, where complex characters and human nature insight give us a fully conceptual and emotional experience, it’s difficult to see desperate, minor efforts as anything but average.  Unfortunately World War Z ends up being a drastically uneven affair with some occasionally solid action sequences featuring one dimensional characters we care almost nothing about and semi-intelligent concepts that are inevitably lost in the chaotic, physics defying fray that is practically relentless. The third act of the film has some uneasy atmospheric merit but the beginnings ambivalence to setting up complex characters and the middle’s illogical and excessive middle make it a laborious trek to get through that has too much brawn and very little braininess for a post-apocalyptic film. Though the opening twenty minutes are hectically confusing enough to be engaging the remainder of the film feels incredibly fragmented in its tonal inconsistency and empty due to its lack of connection to a protagonist that never seems human, vulnerable, or complex. Considering the unevenness of Marc Forster’s direction, the blandness in Brad Pitt’s performance, the abandonment of adaptation accuracy from the original novel, and the crippling production problems the film encountered, World War Z can confidently claim the appropriate description of being mediocre.

Looking at all the writing influences behind the inaccurate adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel “World War Z” there’s no surprise that the entire film feels like an awkward mix of multiple genres, such as science-fiction (Damon Lindelof- Star Trek, Prometheus), political thriller (Matthew Michael Carnahan- The Kingdom, State of Play), and semi-horror zombie film (Drew Goddard- Cabin in the Woods, Cloverfield). Some of the film’s genre blends work more than others, such as the science-fiction twist on how to temporarily combat the spread of the zombie virus or the occasional varying political, religious, and cultural perceptions on the zombie outbreak. But the core of the film is built on following ex-UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) as he’s semi-blackmailed into aiding in the investigation into finding “patient zero,” or the beginning outbreak point, so that his wife (Mireille Enos) and kids can have protection on the fleet instead of being put into a refugee camp. Though generally a man fighting for the safety of his family is an entirely sympathetic and noble endeavor World War Z takes that assumption for granted as they create a family that is stereotypically connected and never has that natural chemistry to warrant our attention or care. This might have to do with the script’s ambivalence towards concocting a deeply complex protagonist and instead has created a relic of the past, a hero with no passion, no emotion, and no layers relating to personality or belief. Brad Pitt’s Gerry Lane is the antithesis of Andrew Lincoln’s Rick on “The Walking Dead,” which is in a word soulless making the entire struggle for survival and the necessity of finding a solution a rather unfeeling experience. World War Z has caught a bit of the modern blockbuster plague where its ambitions always result in more cheap theatrics instead of genuine, substantial character development or intriguing social commentary. Unfortunately World War Z deviates from Max Brooks’ novel in an entirely different way in the sense that the book has much to say about geo-political realities and human nature and yet the film has nothing to say about anything and takes an overbearingly longtime to arrive towards that nothingness. There’s no heart in this lumbering dead weighted script because what’s missing is a sincere sense of loss due to the devastation or tactfully constructed sense of urgency making it quite difficult to endure the rest of the film in its uneven direction and zombie like acting performances.

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Whoever allowed director Marc Forster to head an actioner after his abysmal Bond performance with Quantum of Solace and his last Rambo meets the UN war film Machine Gun Preacher must have been a forgiving planner. Since Forster’s earlier work has been in the heavy to relatively quirky drama department with films such as Monsters Ball, Stranger Than Fiction, and Finding Neverland it just seems giving him a zombie apocalypse film with mild geo-political content and a slant towards horror might be a misguided notion. What results cinematically in World War Z is another uneven element part of the film where the openings chaos, the middle’s excess, and the third act’s moodiness all counteract each other much like the elemental themed action sequences in Quantum of Solace counteracted each other. Inconsistent direction will always result in a fragmented film where some elements might work, such as the latter part of the film’s toned down yet creepy ambiance, but mostly nothing ever functions together for an appropriate whole. Much of the lighting is too murky, the camerawork too sporadic, and the effects a bit too excessive to really engage the audience in a believable apocalyptic surrounding or in basic captivating thrills of which there are a few. The diversity of the sets from a quarantined Israel to the devastated cities of Newark, New Jersey or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to the dark and rainy South Korea gives a semblance of intrigue but they are nothing more than thrown together set pieces used as an excuse for special effects theatrics. Much of Forster’s best work for World War Z can be found in the last third act of the film where he loses the first two-thirds of the films chaos driven scenes and instead relies on horror ambiance, unnerving stealth, and some minor character risk that comes a little too late. Who knows what sort of remarkable film World War Z could have been in the hands of writers who understood the socio-political complexities of Max Brooks’ original novel or a director who could blend Zombie action with a touch of intelligence. Instead we’re left with a final product that is about as dead and soulless as the zombies the film portrays and the dearth of exuberance coming from the actors that are supposedly playing opposite of those very zombies.

Carnahan, Goddard, and Lindelof’s unfocused script might provide some oddly interwoven segments of action, science-fiction, and diverse locations but it never gives a proper foundation of character for the actors to develop any sort of interesting personalities. Perhaps the reason the script has made these zombies the so-called “fast zombies” is because if they were lurking around in the stereotypical zombie fashion they might have blended in with a majority of the performances making it excessively difficult to tell who was a zombie and who was a genuine character. Poor Mireille Enos, known for her moody work on the AMC show “The Killing,” gets lost in this film never utilizing her talent or ability for emotional resonance and never particularly becomes a good enough reason for us to care about Gerry Lane’s struggles to protect his family. Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane has that basic leading man chiseled look but fails to become anything more than a good looking statuette propelling the story forward whenever the necessity for action is called upon. None of the characters possess exceptional qualities which basically impedes the acting but mostly it impedes our willingness to be interested in the survival of humanity because a humanity this boring, this inactive, and this benign doesn’t really deserve saving. Even the passing supporting cast of familiar faces, including David Morse or Peter Capaldi, never injects a sense of energy into this anemic script so characters enter and exit without a genuine sense of purpose. These types of films absolutely need a hero that people can relate to and unfortunately there is not enough developed character or built in sympathy beyond expected family-strife platitudes to keep us involved in the struggle.

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World War Z has to be criticized on two fronts, the first being it’s horribly inaccurate adaptation of Max Brooks’ ingenious retrospective novel on a grand-scale, undead pandemic and the second being its offensively mild embodiment of the zombie and post-apocalyptic genres. Instead of tackling the various geo-political realities and intriguing social adaptations that the book fantastically ponders Carnahan, Goddard, and Lindelof’s disjointed and schizophrenic genre blending script substitutes thought provoking scenarios for ridiculously excessive special effects theatrics. Marc Forster delivers some occasionally passable action sequences but his inconsistent tone, poor acting direction, and uneven pacing makes it incredibly difficult to get passed its fragmented presentation. A saving grace would have been a protagonist with enough charm, personality, and determination to take us along for the blockbuster zombie ride but unfortunately the script has written Brad Pitt and the other zombie-like characters into a black hole where they are merely directional pawns in telling a rather mediocre zombie apocalypse story. Now the question is whether or not World War Z is the worst blockbuster you could stumble upon in the theater this weekend and the answer is a definite no because even at the film’s worst it still has enough cinematic energy to keep your senses appropriately distracted for the allotted time. However, for those seeking the intelligence, the moral complexity, or the post-apocalyptic societal shifts that most zombie films aspire to then you’ll be drastically disappointed. And fans of Max Brooks’ phenomenal novel should steer clear for the risk of incurring a hate filled aneurysm is drastically high. The best advice that can be given if the wandering thought or potential curiosity grabs you to see World War Z is go into your local bookstore and pick up the book because it’s fare more inventive, engaging, thought provoking, and above all entertaining.

Grade: C-

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