I don’t know how else to put it -- it’s bad. It’s a mess. It’s barely functional as a piece of entertainment and not at all as a movie. I don’t even know where to start. I could write a thousand words on how it isn’t World War Z, and a thousand words on its narrative failures, and yet another thousand words on the sh*tty filmmaking. But in the interest of word count and not suffering a rage stroke as I write this, let’s run down the short version.
First, it isn’t World War Z. If you’ve read the book, you’ll recognize a few beats in the background, but Brad Pitt basically paid seven figures for a title. Because that’s all that survives intact.
Second, it’s only an effective story in the sense that there are characters who have names that interact as events occur. That’s where the resemblance to proper storytelling ends. The characters are barely even that—at best they’re cyphers, at worst they’re interactive cardboard cutouts shaped like people. Pitt plays Gerry, a former UN inspector who takes off on a round-the-world excursion to try and find out where the zombie outbreak started, leaving his family behind in the military’s care. And that’s all there is.
There is no arc, no development, and Gerry exists merely to run around and kill zombies. His wife—if she had a name, it didn’t register—exists merely to look scared. His kids are there only to be imperiled and whine about being imperiled (they’re intolerable and should have been eaten by zombies). The various people-shaped items that Gerry encounters along the way are window dressing, or else they open their talking-holes and prerecorded expository messages come out. I cannot stress enough how nobody in this movie is an actual person, because no one in this movie is an actual person.
And third, on a basic technical level, this is not competent filmmaking. I’m kind of baffled by the number of reviews letting director Marc Forster off the hook, and the regular movie goers who are shrugging it off as, “Eh, it’s okay, in the end.” I think it’s because pacing is one of the few problems WWZ doesn’t have—it clocks in at just under two hours and moves relentlessly fast the whole time...but that doesn’t change the fact that the action is incoherent, the editing is piss poor, there’s no one to care about (see above: lack of real characters), and the zombie hordes are completely not frightening. Also the acting isn’t bad, but that’s only because no one actually has to act, so much as show up and recite lines.
In case you think I’m coming down hard on a movie I was prepared to hate, here is what is wrong with this movie—it’s a horror movie that isn’t scary. It’s a procedural that isn’t interesting. It’s a drama that isn’t compelling. Yes, it moves quickly and there’s a ton of action. But those zombie hordes? They’re all CGI. Even in close up, they are CG zombies with that unmistakable mannered look and barely-drawn faces. They’re instantly rendered un-scary because they’re patently fake. And that fast pace works against the dramatic elements as we blow past otherwise intriguing scenarios so quickly they barely have time to register. Ditto for would-be interesting characters.
The plane crash sequence that you see in the trailer is mostly effective, and also the most coherent action set piece in the film (which isn’t saying much, but you take what you can get). It’s sufficiently tense and frightening, until it ends in a frustrating way that even the most dedicated Pitt fan is going to have a hard time swallowing. And then the movie concludes in a similar fashion, with a wide open, beggy, “please give us a sequel”, open-ended non-resolution. It’s an unsatisfying ending for an unsatisfying movie.
But it’s not going to matter. WWZ cost too much to make and market to be able to achieve real blockbuster status, but it’ll break even (though Paramount will undoubtedly write it off as a loss anyway). Even though domestic projections aren’t good and China, the second-biggest market in the world, won’t be releasing it, Brad Pitt’s name is still enough to get butts in seats. And man, Pitt is hustling. He’s making surprise appearances at advanced screenings, bringing his family on the press tour, cranking up the Pitt Porn—he’s throwing all the spaghetti at the wall. WWZ won’t be a home run by any means, but he’s going to avoid getting egg on his face. And with these lowered expectations, that kind of counts as a win.