Movie Review: World War Z


Brad Pitt’s World War Z is an adaptation of the Max Brooks novel of the same name in the sense that a Japanese speed metal band’s cover of the first 20 seconds of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” is an “adaptation” of Combat Rock. 

Also, I liked it.

In no specific order, here are my thoughts and reactions:

  • The zombies were fast.  They were also a force of nature.  Literal waves of zombies crashed against the screen.  I had never seen this before.  The CGI wasn’t a choice.  It was necessary.  I generally don’t like fast zombies, but I respected this artistic choice.
  • The zombies were powerful.  (In an editorial in a British newspaper a few years ago, Simon Pegg quipped “Being dead shouldn’t be a superpower.”  The makers of this film respectfully beg to differ.)  Not only do these zombies run at top speed, they propel themselves across citiscapes like Batman navigating Arkham City in a video game.  Be ready to accept this.
  • The zombies were not individually memorable.  There will be no Tarman or Bub to recall.  These zombies are, rather, a force of nature.  I believe this is intended.  This may be more a disaster film than a horror film.  In fact, pains are taken NOT to show gore in many instances.  (I felt this did not only have to do with avoiding an R rating…)
  • This is the first zombie film I’ve ever seen that dealt so deeply with the relationship between a protagonist and his/her family in an outbreak.  New ground in the genre is broken with WWZ, certainly.  And nowhere is that more clear than in the relationship of the protagonist to his wife and children throughout the work.
  • Bob McKee was not consulted until the very end.  (If he was consulted at all.)  That’s to say, for the first half of the film I did not understand what the characters wanted.  Characters want things.  That is essential to good drama.  As McKee points out, 99.9% of all stories are the stories of people trying to get something they want.  Sometimes they fail and sometimes they succeed, but they always want things.  Sure, Pitt’s character and his family want not to die for the first half of the film…but that is true of virtually all characters in all works of fiction everywhere.
  • McKee comes through in the climax.  Pitt’s character clearly wants something by the end of the film.  He also understands how to get what he wants, and that it will involve a risk on his part.  He will risk his life.  (Well done, screenwriting team!!!)
  • While I liked it very much, I did not think the film was perfect.  My main criticism is that Pitt’s character is often nonsensically uncooperative, and this is never explained.  General guys are like: “C’mon, help us save the world!”  And Pitt is like: “No, sorry.  I don’t do that anymore.”  Why doesn’t he do it anymore?  Why doesn’t a zombie outbreak convince him to make an exception to this policy (at least initially)?  Such things are never explained.  Sure, there’s a tradition of the reluctant hero, but you have to give the hero a REASON to be reluctant.

In conclusion, if you like dark zombie fiction you owe it to yourself to see this film.  It avoids the pitfalls that plague so many works of zombie art.  It never overexplains or underexplains.  Brad Pitt does a very good job with the lines he is given.  (And ALMOST makes the 1990’s grunge band haircut work.)  The supporting performances are likewise solid.  The film does not insult you with a saccharine ending.  It does much very, very right.

And it is, of course, only the first attempt at a cinematic interpretation of Max Brooks.  I daresay that if we are lucky, and if the good box office numbers hold, there may yet be others to which we can look forward…

5 thoughts on “Movie Review: World War Z

  1. Good review, Scott. Two minor quibbles — first, I’d say they do establish why he doesn’t want to help with the investigation, at least tangentially, in the discussion of the horrors he saw throughout his time as a UN “investigator.” Second, I’d say the family issues are at least as solidly explored in 28 WEEKS LATER, even moreso perhaps

    1. As usual Brendan, your discerning eye has found things that I have missed. I ought to re-watch 28 Weeks Later and give it another consideration…

  2. I recently saw the movie after having read the book twice. the only thing it had in common with the book were zombies (and maybe the wall around Israel). I was disappointed. I thought the beginning was decent, good set up, scary zombies…. but the zombies got over the wall in Israel, I felt that the story resorted to the usual plot lines I see in horror films. I did try to go in with an open mind, but the stories told in WWZ the book, just kept running through my head. Maybe if I hadn’t read the book…..

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