Hello Dear Reader,
Back again with another brief film review.
This time I’m going to unpack World War Z — starring Brad Pitt and a lot of CGI (and in all fairness, some really good makeup).
As some have pointed out, this film has little to do with the novel whose naming rights it used — The Oatmeal has really handled this more concisely than I can — but I knew that going into the theater and really didn’t hold it to any expectations (sidenote: big fan of the Max Brooks novel, just for the record — I’ve taught it and written about it and see a lot of value in it).
So, let’s leave the title behind after saying, it fits the narrative fairly well, even if it has nothing to do with the book.
Okay. That out of the way let’s talk about this movie — plot spoilers (but not the ending) to follow.
Firstly, the film moves in three basic acts. The first is a tense setup, one of the — fairly common, now — flight or exodus narratives where survivors try to escape a zombie-ridden city. The pacing, the suspense, and the action are really well done here and the action is pretty solid. Mireille Enos is awesome and her chemistry with Brad Pitt is pretty great — it almost makes the film seem like it is going to be an interesting and unique exploration of one family with two badass parents working together to survive the zombie apocalypse… and then it turns into something else.
The second act is about trying to discover an etiology for the zombie pandemic ravaging the earth, and it sends Brad Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, globetrotting as the U.N.’s only resource and the world’s only hope.
—-Annnnd sidenote, at every mention of his name I pictured Jerry Gergich:
Okay, so, back to act 2. This pretty much covers the journey to a military base in South Korea and a trip to Jerusalem — whose super-touted-zombie-stopping-wall breaks down as good ol’ Gerry watches (don’t worry, he escapes). He makes some friends, saves some lives and ends up in act 3 in Cardiff, Wales.
I don’t have much to say about Act 2. It’s got some cool action scenes and some really impressive zombie crowd-flows (more about that at the end of this post). I will say, by this point in the movie I was beginning to get distracted by a few things: 1) it appears that Jerry is the only human with a family to care about — he gets kinda whiny and indignant and the film does nothing to show us that literally all of the characters have people they care about and want to save — making him seem rounder in a world of flat characters, 2) this feeling is deflated by the fact that we know nothing about this character’s life or his past except that he was a super-awesome U.N. guy in some hot situations and he ‘thought he gave all that up before the world needed him’ or some other b.s., 3) this has the affect of making this hetero white dude hero of the film seem like he’s a bit of a privileged toolbag. That third point made me feel kind of ambivalent when he saves Segen (played by Daniella Kertesz) and takes her out of Jerusalem — at the same time its an extremely compelling moment in the film, as you just have to root for her to live. It felt awkward for me because in all truth she should be way more hardcore and badass than Gerry — and she appears to be at first — but she’s quickly wounded and weakened and the audience is cheated (for the second time) out of a strong female heroine. I also kept hearing a famous Gayatri Spivak quote on loop in my mind: “White men are saving brown women from brown men.” Which understandably destabilized the film for me a bit.
That said, Daniella Kertesz is still awesome and compelling as Segen, and the addition adds some character depth.
I want to pause for a moment again here to explain that, I took issue with some of the race and gender politics of the film, but I don’t condemn it. I think it has some shortcomings, falls into some genre and representational traps, but it also ALMOST doesn’t do that. Granted, I also can’t laud it for that ALMOST factor.
Okay. Act 3. Wales and the WHO research center.
This is the slowest and least glitzy part of the movie — the result of a rewrite and reshoot. This part of the movie nails it in some ways. There’s a great tension and some really fun and original moments — the idea that the end of the movie is predicated on is pretty interesting and originalish. This last sequence is fun and features the old secured lab setting genre buffs are already familiar with. It takes the pageantry of the film down a notch and I think that the tension and the suspense go up a notch in response. The ending is not exactly satisfying — it seems a bit rough, really unresolved, and like fodder for a sequel rather than a polished product — but these movies are really hard to end well.
All in all, I’d give the movie 6 out of 10 stars (maybe 7 if you caught me right after I walked out of the theater). I think it’s above average as a zombie film and it does some original things — which is pretty solid. It’s shortcomings really come in the way it falls into some genre (or is it really just major Hollywood production?) traps — Mill Jovovich in the Resident Evil films notwithstanding.
Before I sign off, though, I’d like to talk a bit more about: zombie swarms, the U.N., and the W.H.O.
Firstly, the title sequence is amazing and unsettling. It primes the viewer with shots of different flock and swarm activities in nature and then primes you view the zombies in this way. And, indeed, they do flow, flock, and swarm like ants on sugar, bees making a hive, or… you get the idea. The film is worth seeing just to watch the zombies move en masse — it’s like the zombies from Zack Snyder’s cover of Dawn of the Dead (2004) on speed… or super-soldier serum?
I don’t know.
Anywho. Medicine. Thematically, I was reminded of Contagion (2011). In that film, the C.D.C. is the real hero, and in this one I felt like the U.N. and W.H.O. were getting a similar plug. It really foregrounds the medicalization of the zombie as a figure (I’ve talked about this enough on the blog and in my recent work so I’ll spare you here).
Those are my thoughts.