Of all the films coming out this summer, “World War Z” has the most potential to be a disaster. After all, its production has been a loudly publicized series of reshoots, conflicts and ballooning budgets, not to mention the film’s total departure from the fascinating and intelligent book it takes its title from. Unfortunately, “World War Z” isn’t the kind of notoriously bad movie that history loves to scoff at, but settles instead for being bland, forgettable and wholly uninteresting – arguably the worst sin a film can commit.
“World War Z” chronicles the beginning of a zombie apocalypse, seen through the eyes of Gerry (Brad Pitt), a former UN field agent with an undefined skill that makes him essential to thwarting the zombie threat. After escaping Philadelphia with his wife (Mireille Enos) and daughters, Gerry deposits them on a military ship (one of the few safe havens on Earth) and sets off on a globe-trekking quest to find the cause of the zombie virus so he can cure it.
“World War Z’s” biggest problem is easily its script, or lack thereof. The film is built around a handful of sequences of large-scale zombie chaos, and the story stringing them together is little more than Pitt running from country to country asking questions. Anything more, such as character development, stakes or anything for the audience to care about are apparently expendable, and half of the characters don’t even have names, much less personalities. This extends all the way to the top, and the script gives Gerry so few characteristics and so little depth that Brad Pitt is basically playing Brad Pitt throughout – he even adopts an orphan at the end of the film.
If the action scenes were impressive enough to overshadow the film's flaws, the film might be passable. Unfortunately, director Marc Forster’s last big-budget film was “Quantum of Solace,” and that film’s action was the universally acknowledged weak link. Forster has improved to a level of basic competence with “World War Z,” but his CGI-heavy take on zombies as a high-speed hivemind bent on infecting humanity rather than consuming it simply makes the film harder to swallow. Even when the moments of spectacle work, especially in a fairly harrowing opening scene, there’s no tension, no personal investment, and nothing to latch onto except watching Brad Pitt run from zombies … again.
Even disregarding how “World War Z” departs from its source material, it’s easy to see how thoroughly the film fumbles in the way it tells its story. There’s potential here for an interesting study of humanity under duress, or simply a big-budget celebration of undead chaos, but the film is constantly undercutting itself, either through its lackluster storytelling or the execution of pivotal moments. “World War Z” lifts plenty of tropes from standard zombie films, but the PG-13 rating absolutely flattens the tension and impact of these beats, and moments that should be horrifying are rendered inert, or worse, nonsensical by the film’s pussyfooting.
“World War Z” is far from the kind of incredible train wreck that demands to be watched, just so you can see how terrible it’s going to get. Films like those are usually entertaining, either in spite of or because of their audacity, while “World War Z” is content with simply existing, devoid of any personality, emotion or compelling material. That lifeless shamble from one set piece to another, combined with the film’s low scare quotient and bloodless zombie attacks, renders it akin to entering a steakhouse ready to chow down on a bloody-plate porterhouse, only to be served a large helping of flavorless tofu.
Director: Marc Forster
Runtime: 116 minutes