Do you have a favorite pizza place? Probably some little, out-of-the-way, neighborhood joint that does the sauce just the right way, or they generous pile the cheese on without having to ask for extra cheese? Then you have Pizza Hut. Every city has one. They advertise all the time. But then you actually have one of their pizzas… and it’s just meh. The sauce is a little flat. The crust is a little dull. They may add a little gimmick like CHEESE IN THE CRUST or something ridiculous. But ultimately, it’s a pizza made by a large company, and it lacks anything to make it memorable; Pizza Hut isn’t anybody’s favorite pizza. Well, World War Z is Pizza Hut.
World War Z is the first big budget zombie movie by a major studio, and you can tell. In an effort to recoup its mammoth production costs (between 175 and 200 million dollars), it tones down the requisite gore that movies in the genre provide by the barrel load in an effort to get a less restrictive rating and allow all the kiddies to enjoy the rampant carnage! Another problem with the movie, it doesn’t quite know what type of disaster thriller it wants to be. And these subtle shifts in style only call to mind better movies.
At times, it wants to be a straight-up zombie movie, but it’s no 28 Days Later; it lacks that movie’s soulfulness and true sense of horror. And other times, with its long dissertations on what’s causing the outbreak, it feels like a viral-outbreak movie, but it’s no Contagion; it’s missing that movie’s cool detachment and chilling dread. But then it begins to feel like an action-horror hybrid, but it’s no Aliens, lacking that movie’s escalating suspense and superbly staged action sequences.
But the biggest problem with World War Z is its size. If you look at the quintessential works of the genre (Romero’s Dead movies, 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead), all of those works suggest a large-scale, but they’re small-scale. They focus on a small group of people (emphasis on group) and create characters we get to know and hope to see survive and not succumb to such a horrible demise.
World War Z doesn’t want to suggest scale, it wants to show it. Two scenes into the movie, we see a zombie riot in downtown Philadelphia. Buildings explode and cars overturn and trucks careen into everything! But then the actions shifts to a large carrier in the middle of the ocean. Then we’re off to South Korea, where the first report of a zombie epidemic was reported and we get a shootout at a military installation. Then Jerusalem, where they believe they have found a stop-gap measure (a giant wall) that is eventually breached and leads to another chaotic action sequence. And finally, after a horrific flight that results in a giant hole being blown out of the fuselage and hundreds of zombies sucked into the sky, we end up at a nearly deserted WHO lab in Wales.
In its zeal to take us all around the world, the movie feels frantic, and not in a good way. And we never get to really know anybody other than Brad Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane. Every scene of the movie, he’s the primary focus. So all the other characters in the movie are basically Star Trek “red shirts”, only existing to be eventually taken out. One character who seems to be important meets such a sudden and ridiculous demise that it doesn’t even register; we just sit there and say to ourselves, “Really?”
One of decisions the movie makes is to present the zombies like swarming insects, which in a strange way almost neutralizes their effect. The threat of the post-Romero zombie is so intimate; you’re literally being consumed. And it’s not by some monster or supernatural being, it’s by that guy who works at the gas station. The lady at the checkout counter at the grocery store. Your neighbor. By having thousands upon thousands of zombies running over each other as they descend on their prey, they just look like a fast-moving blob.
World War Z is just too busy to develop any sort of personality. It wants to use its enormous budget and infinite resources to WOW you. But zombies aren’t built to WOW you. They’re built to scare you. Bigger doesn’t always mean better.Follow @filmbyfelix