I had little hope for this 'adaptation' when the first trailer popped up. Abandoning almost everything from the gripping and terrifying novel by Max Brooks, director Marc Forster (
) instead funnels the story into a singular narrative that amounts to Brad Pitt globetrotting and running a lot. This is OK; on its own merits
could have been a superior action thriller utilizing its locales intelligently and bringing its utterly chaotic premise to a satisfying close. I did say could have been.
Feelings for the film dwindled even further after ScreenAnarchy revealed here
that Damon Lindelof (Lost
) was tasked with rewriting the ending and that seven weeks of re-shoots were required. Following this, so as not to offend the great market of China, the location of the outbreak's source was moved to South Korea, a place not exactly third-world enough to be filled with any diseases. Heading into the cinema with no expectations and these set-backs in mind, surely I would see its merits.
Initially I was pleased as the film starts brilliantly. A smart credit sequence and montage of world media activity forms the credits of the film. This quickly leads to a sensible opening where protagonist Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and family are having breakfast. This is one of those scenes that Hollywood does well, as the audience already begins feeling tense, waiting for the ball to drop. After these introductions the film cuts to a spectacular moment of chaos and anarchy, peppered with genuinely tense & thrilling moments. Unfortunately for humanity, these are 28 Days Later zombies, not the slow dumb shambling kind. In fact the first thirty minutes of World War Z may just be some of the best fictional zombie storytelling to date. Lane's family does not irritate as much as they do later, the people he meets feel genuine, while the danger and scenario are both immediate and concealed.
However World War Z stinks of rewrites and test screenings and this is painfully obvious when this thrilling part of the movie is over. No proper elements from the novel can be found in the whole movie; sure there is a broad mission to find the cure, but unlike the book's expertly scattered fascinating and horrifying short tales from around the globe. World War Z's globe-trotting by comparison is trite and condensed into a mind-numbing insta-trek, where Brad seems to spend merely minutes, barely an hour from place to place destroying everything but himself along the way. He is looking for clues to the virus' origin so they can find the source and put a stop to it. This is a tonally different story to that of the novel, with its emphasis on conflict, survival and, you know, actual war with the undead.
Gerry goes to South Korea, the Middle East and some other intriguing places on his trip. Brad carries the film with a fractured heroic style, but everybody he meets on the way may as well be cardboard cutout check-points that he tags before moving to his next destination. The South Korea segment is particularly offensive not only to fans of the book but to human intelligence in general. As soon as he gets there, a crazed CIA officer happens to be at the same spot and feels the need to provide the next plot point in the most obtuse way possible.
Later, he winds up in Israel - a city that is surrounded by walls and has preemptively prepared for the zombie apocalypse due to a note from an esteemed general in the desert (perhaps the only link to the novel) and the peace is kept as the hordes of millions gather outside. The city carries on its hustle and bustle, refugees file in through protective fences (the zombies can see them), helicopters buzz about and yet as soon as Brad turns up, like a horrible curse, people inexplicably start singing from two loud speakers near the gate. This of course voids all logic and science and the entire zombie force ascends the wall - this is unrelentingly stupid, dear readers.
This segment is partially redeemed by its conceptual strengths. The faceless horror is a far more effective source of fear than close-ups of decaying bodies, and there is a brilliant sense of an unstoppable liquid mass of the undead. Alas this idea is not portrayed long enough to have any impact - unlike the book in which they literally rose up from the ocean floors - truly a scary idea and a brilliant sense of scope that is squandered in World War Z.
Throughout his unbelievable ordeals, Gerry tries to make contact with his family, but by this stage they are also merely a plot point and act to hinder him in foolish ways, while his children have all but disappeared from the film. Other characters and captions explain what is going on, when it is already painfully obvious, but this is the kind of movie that assumes the audience are morons.
As mentioned Lindelof re-wrote the ending and it is unfortunately obvious. The final segment feels more like the first Resident Evil movie and has almost nothing to do with the global madness the first two parts tried to convey. Ultimately the idea to halt the virus is clever but the execution is not. Near the end, the barriers of believability have worn down to the point the audience was laughing at the most tense and thrilling scenes. The end of the film also has one of the worst moments of product placement in many years that will have you pining for a Pepsi.
Needless to say the film gets to a passable conclusion, but by this point the damage has been done. Are blockbusters generally getting dumber? There are quite a few recent reviews on ScreenAnarchy that are less-than-pleased with Hollywood's latest efforts. This is not acceptable and World War Z is simply another example of this scary trend.
World War Z releases on 20th June in cinemas Australia-wide.