'World War Z' Forgets the Most Important Horror Element... Zombies!

This was supposed to be the zombie movie to end all zombie movies. Foster and company only got the last half of that sentence right.

World War Z

Director: Marc Foster
Cast: Paramount Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Stephen Mckeown, Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove, Fana Mokoena
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-06-21 (General release)
UK date: 2013-06-14 (General release)

You can almost tolerate the lack of characterization, the missing ancillary star power (apparently, with Brad Pitt in the lead, you don't need another name actor on the marquee) or the hyperactive action sequence style of filmmaking mistake Marc Foster. But if you are World War Z, Paramount's troubled Summer tentpole, do you really need to forget... the zombies!?!? That's right, this overdone example of sloppy spectacle, measured out over continents without a commitment to science, logical, or legitimate storytelling, offers few examples of the walking dead. Oh sure, there are throngs of CG humanoid 'things' that swarm like excuses for more and more super computer processing capacity, but until the tacked on finale (reconfigured after audiences hated another last act all out Russian battle royale), there's no real undead threat. It's just smoke and minor macabre mirrors.

The incredibly simplistic story sees Pitt's former UN something-or-other Gerry Lane being swept up in a worldwide zombie (?) pandemic. He is brought out of retirement by his former boss (Fana Mokoena), because, well, because he's Brad Pitt. There's also the promise that his family -- wife Karen (Mireille Enos) and young daughters Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) and Constance (Sterling Jerins) -- will be kept out of harm's way. Lane is first paired with a Harvard educated scientist who believes a trip to Korea will help discover the source of the plague. When that fails, Lane is off to Israel. Another dead-end (and over the top action scene) leads to a plane ride, another stunt sequence, a plane crash, and a visit to a WHO center in Wales. There, Lane locates a possible answer to the growing issue of how to handle the outbreak. Sequels are then promised.

Patterned after the elephantine epics that run ramshackle over audiences ever Summer and having little or nothing in common with Max Brooks' beloved book, World War Z is a fraud. It's a film that can't provide any of the elements it keeps promising while hiding its intent in Marc Foster's flaccid cinematic style. You'd think that after the horrors of Quantum of Solace (easily one of the worst directed Bond films of the last ten years) studios would remove the man's resume from their Roladex. Instead, the mediocrity behind The Kite Runner, Machine Gun Preacher, and Stay showcases his inability to shoot action with one shaky, poorly edited entry after another. Sure, the plane attack is interesting since the closed quarters add a nice bit of suspense-inducing claustrophobia (though the endgame is given away in the trailers), but then everything after that becomes an exercise in patience as we basically watch people whisper for 30 minutes.

Indeed, the new ending, replacing the former Soviet smackdown, involves walking quietly and trying out potential diseases (don't ask). The illogic of what happens (you just finished contacting the US military to tell them what's happening -- how about asking for a little help?) is only equaled by what it means to the movie. We are told that when the "dead" no longer have viable hosts for their virus, they become dormant, and easier to kill. Apparently, the use of mass incineration devices or any other violent alternatives is just too rote for this monster mash-up. The battles here are handled so poorly, bereft of risk and the ebb and flow of same that it really just becomes wallpaper for future fanboy smartphones. Is it cool to see hordes of unidentifiable 'its' functioning via a hive mentality to scale a wall or topple a barricade. Um... maybe? Should it be the only thing a movie has to offer? No.

Indeed, when you go back and look at the evolution of the zombie film, World War Z's failures become even more apparent. George Romero's take on the concept has always been underscored with some solid social commentary. None exists here. Even the most mediocre walking dead dynamic offers a clear critique of the whole "they are us" ideal. Don't think Pitt and company even come close to covering that. When Zack Snyder introduced the idea of a the aggressive, sprinting undead in his Dawn remake, he took the idea of hope -- always central to even the most routine horror film -- and smashed it to smithereens. In its place he proposed an amplified sense of survival, one that World War Z avoids like a gallon of gore. Oh yes, this is a PG-13 piece of MPAA propaganda, a weak-willed work where the one thing that usually satisfies fans - blood - is left lingering on the cutting room floor.

So, where's the fear? Where's the sense of urgency and undeniable dread? Why is there no angst in what Lane is doing, just random "BOO!"s followed by more country hoping? World War Z could have been retitled 'World War Why?' with the amount of unanswered questions and insipid moves it makes and the alphabetical step backward is completely apropos considering how regressive this film is to the genre. This was supposed to be the zombie movie to end all zombie movies. Foster and company only got the last half of that sentence right. If Night of the Living Dead proved a new approach to the whole cannibal corpse dynamic, World War Z shows just how shopworn and redundant the premise has become (except for something like The Walking Dead, which is what this movie wants to be...and can't).

Even worse, this is a global apocalypse, one which could signal the end of civilization as we know it, and yet nothing here feels that grave or grim. As the men in military garb wring their hands and make stern, concerned faces, everyone else just kind of sits around. Even the workers in the WHO facility, who apparently still come into the office every day (how is that portion of England dealing with such waves of walking bodies?) show little or no concern. Why didn't they come up with Pitt's plan? Why is it a layman who has to tell a scientist what to do and why did he have to show up personally to do so? None of it makes sense and frankly, it doesn't need to. World War Z is hoping to get by on its subject matter and its style. It should be enough to earn a bountiful box office. The respect of the true horror fan? That won't be happening any time soon.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.