Crash Analysis: WORLD WAR Z (USA/Malta, 2013)

World War Zzzzzzzzz is more like it…

Zen and the art of killing zombies

How can an action laden horror like WORLD WAR Z put one to sleep? Simple: Get your     world-war-z  marketing idiots to announce that your lead actor (and producer) will return in the sequel. This means that every scene he appears in, where it seems that he’s cornered, doomed, and screwed will be devoid of suspense, shock, and surprise.

So I sat in the near dark of the theatre, feasting on the CGI laden milieu, knowing nothing bad would really happen to our hero, which lead to a sense of boredom. Then again, the movie was flawed thanks to a multitude of writers and subsequent rewrites, three different directors of photography, and several reshoots, thanks to a story that had remained in “Production Hell” for too many years.

As with most every zombie film ever made: Zombies rise and humanity is at stake. This means Gerry Lane (Pitt) must do his damnedest to save his family. But when the moving walls of the undead close in, he must make a deal with a delegate to protect his loved ones – while he travels round the globe to find a way to stop the plague.

The major problem with WORLD WAR Z is Gerry, and it has nothing to do with Pitt, or the character’s choices, but the character’s profession: United Nation’s investigator. In this situation of potential zombie savior, one could see our hero as a scientist working with the CDC in Atlanta. Better still, since this is war, and we need someone who can fight as well as think, a member of USAMRIID (United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases) would have been perfect. Instead, our Obi-Wan Kenobi, our knight in shining armor, our Neo is a guy who investigates third world post-war horrors. Don’t get me wrong. On the surface, this sounds like a sure fit, but Gerry’s character is far from developed in the movie. Granted, we quickly learn he’s a loving husband and father, and he wants out of the UN’s clutches (never thought you’d hear it like, didn’t you?). Otherwise, we are never given insight into his expertise. Yet, as for his demeanor, Gerry is practically a monk who finds solace within the nightmare, and can pluck out those little bits of information in the stillness to obtain that much needed answer. He might as well be in a Lotus position.

Regardless, wherever Gerry goes, he’s in trouble – after all, zombies are everywhere. And considering his C-130 was 200 miles off the coast of New York City, then traveled to South Korea, and then onto Israel, it had to have been refueled in the air or on the ground on more than one occasion. Apparently, refueling is only an issue in South Korea. And, of course, Gerry happened to be with a few SEALs (not a complete team), who happened to be the worst special operatives on record: They never briefed Gerry and his compatriot, and the whole group walked off the plane without a plan. I’m sure the servicemen watching that segment vomited out of sheer frustration. But the filmmakers could care little about military accuracy (as in most American films), they just wanted action, action, action.

Granted, WORLD WAR Z is not much different from other horror Apocalypse ilk, such as George A. Romero’s THE CRAZIES (1973), RESIDENT EVIL (2002), or 28 DAYS LATER (2002). A virus has spread, humanity is on the brink, and we need a cure – dammit. The only thing different in WORLD WAR Z is what Gerry discovers, and what humans must do to survive. That element was one of only two cool parts of the film.

Otherwise, it’s hard to watch a horror cut down at the knees to meet the Draconian guidelines of a PG-13 rating. Why not an R rating? To do so would have meant small audience turnout. To pack ‘em in, Paramount made a damn “family friendly” zombie picture. And the use of the visual equivalent to purple prose detracted from the story. On several occasions, when the camera should have focused on the horrible and disturbing to keep us in the reality of the moment, it was avoided like an old time sequence where the camera moves away from the blood spatter so only poor Gerry would have to cope with the trauma. Besides those missed opportunities, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when a poor guy is swarmed upon by the zombie hoard. No, he isn’t “mauled” as David Denby says in his The New Yorker review of WORLD WAR Z, but the man turns into a zombie in twelve seconds – with the equivalent of a love bite on his arm. Please. All the fury of a fullblown, chaotic attack and only one little nibble? Those speed freak zombies are revved up for no damn reason.

Besides the unique “cure” to the zombie curse, the movie thrives on one other item: actress Daniella Kertesz. She plays the quiet yet hardcore Segen, an Israeli soldier. Since the actress is an actual Israeli, the casting couldn’t have been better. What Kertesz brings to the role is a master mix of femininity compiled with a well-trained soldier’s nerve, as well as controlled fear – just the right touch to be precise. Kertesz was perfect and honest in her execution of delivering a subtle yet strong character with minimal dialogue. In the sea of the undead, and over-trodden action film mania, Kertesz was the bright, shining star.

I only laughed one other time in the film, and it was due to a cultural faux pas thanks to the filmmakers. In Jerusalem, the Israelis allow anyone to enter the walled state as long as they’re human. While Gerry is in attendance, a group of Palestinians enter by bus, and with microphone in hand, a girl starts singing, and her people rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, zombies respond to noise, and you can imagine what happens next. The creators of WORLD WAR Z failed to notice that audiences may go “Palestinians screwed up the sanctuary.” Hopefully, people won’t come to that conclusion, but the mistake was made. Then again, since noise is the culprit in attracting the walking dead, how did that bus enter the city without dozens of zombies in tow? Again, Forster and the producers didn’t care about covering all the bases and following their own rules, they only wanted action when it suited them best.

As far as zombie films go, WORLD WAR Z is weak in spirit, and I’m sure Max Brooks is in a rage. Then again, he sold the rights to his novel without reading the fine print, or wanting to take part in the production. Too bad. If he had taken a lesson from Tony Burgess, who wrote the wonderful book Pontypool Changes Everything, and who penned the screenplay for the unique and exemplary horror film PONTYPOOL (Canada, 2008), he could have helped reel in any commercial craziness.

But Hollywood cares little regarding plot holes (one can turn into a zombie within a twelve second to ten minute window it seems), real life inaccuracies, or what have you, as long as we pay at the door, buy the DVD, and await the sequel. I have no doubt a WORLD WAR Z trilogy will ensue, though I doubt I’ll be in a seat for the next venture.

Best zombie films to indulge: PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (UK, 1966), NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), CEMETERY MAN (Italy, 1994), DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004), THEY CAME BACK (France, 2004), DEADGIRL (2008), PONTYPOOL (Canada, 2008), and THE HORDE (2009). (Although I love Romero’s THE CRAZIES (1973), some call them zombies, but I’m still mulling that one over.)

A generous 2.5 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Hero Complex/LA Times.)