Thursday, September 26, 2013

REVIEW: World War Z (2013)

When I hear "zombie movie," I usually expect some things. I expect a story with some degree of social commentary, characters scrambling to survive and lots of bloody action. What I do not expect is for the filmmakers to take the "zombie" part so literally as to make a movie so dead inside and decrepit as World War Z.

Director: Marc Forster
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos

Apparently this movie was based on a book. I haven’t read the book, so this will be about the only mention of it in the review. From what I’ve read though, apparently the book was a collection of interviews and fake documents about what happened after a zombie apocalypse. I haven’t really read up much on it, so take what you will from this, but honestly that sounds really interesting and cool. So how did director Marc Forster (who made fucking Stranger than Fiction, one of my favorite movies of all time, what is he doing with this shit?!) go from that concept to such an asinine collection of soulless cliché?

I dunno. Let’s find out.

We start off with Brad Pitt and his wife Mireille Enos living out a perfectly idyllic Stepford Wives-style fantasy with two little girls who have a debilitating disease: they have no personalities. I guess it was contagious, though, since Pitt and Enos don’t have them either. Pitt says he doesn’t want to go back to his “old job.” I guess that makes sense too:


Anyway, they hear some stuff on the news about “martial law,” and Pitt decides it’s still a good idea to take the girls out for a drive. While they’re stuck in traffic, some guy on a motorcycle breaks off the side mirror on Pitt’s car. His response is about what you’d expect…he just sits there and blankly stares. When they get out of the car and an explosion happens, his reaction is similarly blase. Seriously, did Pitt just take a double dose of Valium before filming? YOUR FAMILY IS IN DANGER, MAN. THE WORLD IS AT STAKE. HAVE AN EMOTION.

Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave!
Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!
"Gee, I sure do like driving..."

On the one hand, I do like how he is seemingly trying to remain calm for his kids – sometimes it comes off as pretty genuine parenting. But it’s not that often, and it really doesn’t come up again for most of the rest of the film. And Pitt still keeps that same boring, generic monotone the whole time, never raising his voice or even ditching that pretty-boy expression on his face. Is this really the same guy who starred in Se7en, Twelve Monkeys and Fight Club? Dude, you’re a great actor! What happened?


Oh. Oh, that explains it…

So they all go on some tirade through the city, running from these zombies, and honestly I have to level with you guys here: whose idea was it to make this scene like something out of a fucking video game? The whole thing is about as nauseating as you can get away with in a movie, with the cameras shaking like the cameraman had a vibrator down his pants the whole time. And the action is constantly jerky and hard to watch – you will seriously have a hard time making out what is going on at any point during this sequence.

Nice lighting; did you steal that from one of the kill scenes in Horsemen?

And that’s one of the main problems with this. So much of the action – which is supposed to be the focal point here – is more like video-game action than movie-action. It’s like I’m watching someone play the latest Call of Duty game, and if I wanted to be bored that much, I’d just go back to my college’s game room and hang out there for an hour. There has to be a certain kind of narrative structure to your action. It has to feel like a movie and have that kind of flow to it – so you can see and understand what’s going on, and so it fits into the whole of what’s going on with the rest of the story. With this movie, it’s just like they stop everything else to throw in a shitty video-game wannabe action scene. I won’t harp along too much about this, but I’ll just say I am glad Pacific Rim came out a little while after this and reaffirmed my faith in action movies. God bless Pacific Rim.

So I guess after that nonsense is over, Pitt thinks he’s been turned and so he stands on the edge of the roof and counts to 12 – the movie’s magic number I guess – and sees if he’s about to turn into a zombie. While this could have been a very touching scene, the movie sees fit to suck it dry of any life whatsoever. Then they go to this military survival compound where the leader, who fits the role of Helpful Black Man for the movie to a tee, tells him the president is dead and the world is in ruins.

"Did I get something that kind of resembles depth and development if you squint? Yes? Okay. We're good for the entire movie now."

Wait a minute. So the president is dead and all we’ve been focusing on is these idiots running around in a shitty building? What the hell? Wouldn’t the president dying of a zombie apocalypse be a little more interesting? I guess not. I also have to applaud the secret service for being so incompetent as to do directly the opposite of what was best for the country – let the president be the first one to die in any situation. They truly are the country’s finest.

"How do I work this computer again?!"

Anyway, so the guys at the military base want Pitt to come back and help them, as apparently he used to work for them or something. He doesn’t want to, but they remind him that they are helping his family. Pitt gives in without any more hesitation and any drama that could have come from this with his wife is safely done away with. Phew. We almost had some character-building moments there. Thank goodness that won’t be happening.

Pitt teams up with the military dumbasses and they have this guy, a doctor who seems to have some rather interesting theories about how nature works…

“Mother Nature is a serial killer. No one's better, or more creative. Like all serial killers, she can't help but have the urge to get caught or what good would all those brilliant crimes do if no one takes the credit? So she leaves crumbs. Now the hard part, is seeing the crumbs, the clues there. Sometimes it's in your thoughts where the most brutal part of a virus is. Turns out to be the chink in its armor. And she loves disguising her weaknesses as strengths. She's a bitch.”


Uh huh. Yeah. And a second later he talks about how long he spent in school – just return your diploma, buddy; you won't need it after all. You can probably still get your money back.

Then they run into some more zombies outside. You know what would be a good twist? If this whole thing was just a big, incredibly elaborate game of that “zombie tag” people play on college campuses. That would be pretty funny. The scientist guy, Mr. Mother Nature is a Serial Killer Guy, is so good with his gun that he runs and trips and somehow shoots himself in the head.


Well buddy, I guess you were right – Mother Nature is indeed a serial killer. Brilliant observation. And you are Mother Nature's most recent victim, in the Darwinian sense anyway.

Pitt and the rest of the morons end up hiding out in this abandoned base type place, where they lament the fall of their idiotic comrade who shot himself. How stupid do you have to be to be in the middle of a fucking zombie war and die not by the zombies eating your brains, but by tripping and shooting yourself? I sure hope they don’t write that on his epitaph. Even the angels would be laughing.

Then as they’re about to leave, they come across a CIA guy who got arrested for selling guns to the enemy. The soldiers tell Pitt to pay no attention to him, but Pitt thinks he could have some useful info. So he sits down and talks with the CIA guy, who tells him that Israel was the first country to know about the zombies somehow, and they have put up a giant wall to protect their city from the zombies. So wait a minute, why did these soldiers even have that CIA guy locked up still? Why weren’t they listening to him? I get it, he was aiding and abetting the enemy with guns – but it’s the fucking end of the world! The enemy he was selling to is probably a rotting living dead corpse by now! I really don’t think the enemies need his guns anymore, guys!

So basically if Pitt didn't have a second thought, that guy would have been left in there and no one would have even thought to ask him about the information he clearly has - wow.

Sigh. This is just another example of what is wrong with this movie – clearly the writers just didn’t give a crap. Because this shit right here? This goes beyond a matter of taste. If you like this, if you can overlook it – fine; I have no problem with that. But it’s shitty-ass writing. It’s the kind of writing that shows that the people making this movie didn’t care enough to give their viewers a good script. They didn't care that they were just serving up the lowest kind of base slop there is. While that may sound harsh, I don't see a reason not to be. There is a difference between a plothole or two and simply not caring about what you write because, hey, nobody really pays attention to the plots in these movies anyway, right? Wrong. You should always try to write the best script you can for whatever medium it is you're writing for. Which these hacks clearly did not, and I cite this scene as well as...well, pretty much everything that follows plot-wise, as evidence.

Now, it may sound like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here. It’s just one plot hole, right? Well, the rest of the movie has about as many more as there are craters on the moon.

For another example of how the writers just don’t care, take a look at the next scene. Pitt is flying in a helicopter above Israel and he and the pilot see a huge explosion break through the clouds. His reaction is to stare blankly and never acknowledge it again. Why start having wonder and excitement now? His wife calls and basically just cries over the fact that he’s in a plane and going to a country without America’s Next Top Model.

I think this is the most dialogue she has in the whole thing - just crying on the phone wondering if he's okay. That...is really weak.

Seriously, SHE HAS NO PERSONALITY. How is this not incredibly offensive to every woman who ever lived past 1970? It’s one thing to have a generally passive wife who takes care of the kids and sometimes cries, but come on – this is 2013 here! Give her a personality! Because as of right now, she has none. She doesn’t even do anything. This whole movie I was like “well, okay, that scene was a bit weak for her, but maybe in the end she’ll…” Nope. She never does a goddamn thing. To pull a character like this off, you need to take a cue from something like Breaking Bad – even if you have a female character who generally doesn’t contribute much, give her some spark, some personality, some kind of stake in what happens. Do not make her just some stock, one-note character there to cry and look beautiful and hug the main character.

To be fair Brad Pitt’s character is just as boring in a stock, generic male character way. But really I’m just disheartened, to say the least, that they took a great actress like Mireille Enos and put her into a role this lame.

So yeah, they get into Israel, where the leader of the country compares concentration camps to the Olympics while trying to explain how they figured out zombies were coming. I thought these Middle Eastern countries were supposed to be the ones chastising us for making low-brow comments about sensitive issues, not the other way around. Then the guy takes Pitt outside and shows him how they open the gates to this big wall they’ve built around the city to let random people in. Apparently it’s because “every person we let in is one less zombie we have to kill.”

Nice stinkeye there, pal. And you're not really the leader of Israel; you're a Borat extra and you know it!

….

Except for the infected ones who make their ways in in desperate moments of panic, you dumbasses! There are so many ways this plan could easily fail! God, this is making Land of the Dead look like Night of the Living Dead in comparison. All that’s missing in this shit-pile is for the zombies to literally do a human pyramid stretching up the entire length of the wall and catapulting over with very little effort…

I love how they're just falling from the sky like lead bricks. So resourceful, yet so clumsy. Also, notice how I can't seem to get any good stills of the action in this film. That's because no shot lasts long enough for the cinematography - which actually features some rather gorgeous scenes - to have any effect on the viewer. Every shot is hyperactive and is gone after just a few seconds. Like a video game, the camera work is jerky and way too angular - giving the viewers really no time to appreciate what's going on. Pretty lame, movie.

Aw, fuck. Oh well, it’s not like I had any hope for this movie at all. Maybe the Israelis should have spent less time letting everyone under the sun into their supposed hallowed fortress, and more time making that wall bigger. Also, who knew zombies were such good cheerleaders? They can really make a human pyramid. Maybe they can cheer on the other zombies as they eat the brains of the last surviving humans…hmmm…


Nah.

Pitt survives in a plane with this one chick whose hand got cut off. He comforts her and what not, and it maybe could have been done well, but again – they skimp on anything even remotely resembling development for these characters. They have a scene with zombies on a plane, which sadly is not an Asylum film starring some cheap Samuel L. Jackson knock-off, but instead a scene where Brad Pitt fires a gun inside a plane and the zombies fly out like a bag of marbles poured off the Empire State Building.

"I knew I should have gone for Shaun of the Dead instead! Nooooooooo!" Oh well. Maybe some of them were professional skydivers in their former lives.

Amazing how boring and lame this movie can make even a scene that silly. Yeah, you keep on doing shitty video game-style action scenes…ya stupid piece of shit.

Then the plane ends up crashing. Pitt somehow survives, along with one-handed chick, and they go find this secret lab place where these scientists are who can, I dunno, help them stop the virus, or something like that. Apparently while on the plane, Pitt was spacing out while a bunch of flashbacks played in front of him, which told him that people who are already sick don’t get infected by the zombie virus. Decent enough explanation I guess, and I do like the way he figured it out – see, I can say good things about this after all!

But the soul crushing disappointment of that revelation comes when we get to this lab place and we hear the scientists’ brilliant idea for how to stop this virus: make people sick with something else and so the zombies won’t notice them. Great, and what about when you run out of that virus for a few days and have to wait for more to be shipped to you? I guess whoever didn’t make that initial run is just fucked. Also, what if the virus just causes more harm to humanity? You’d end up with half of humanity dead and the other half lying in sickbeds waiting to die. Not exactly the most well thought out plan!

And speaking of which, how are the doctors who came up with this plan doing?

This movie really has something against doctors. Every time we see one they're either the first to be turned into zombies or the first to shoot themselves in the head by accident. What's up with the anti-doctor sentiments? Maybe the makers of the film don't agree with the conventions of modern medicine? Or maybe I thought about this way more than the makers of the film did.

I thought so.

So this becomes an excuse for a long, boring sequence of nothing but Pitt and a bunch of nobodies wandering around in the dark. There is literally nothing to say about these scenes – they are about as dry as you can get outside of the bowels of the Sahara Desert. I guess eventually they come across the place where the virus is and Pitt goes in and infects himself with it. Rather than fall down and start convulsing, which I would’ve preferred, he just walks right past the zombie outside, which doesn’t even seem to notice him at all.

Urrrrrrrrrggggg....Mr. Pitt....can I have...your autograph? Urrrrrggggg...

Now wait a minute – who says that means a thing? Maybe that zombie was just a huge Brad Pitt fan in real life.

But no, he gets past them all, and even has time to slip in a quick Pepsi ad:


Yeah, because if you didn’t think this movie was a soulless plastic corporate tool yet, they just go ahead and throw all doubt to the wind by putting in a Pepsi ad; a fucking Pepsi ad, as one of the last impressions your movie leaves on the audience. You couldn’t be more of a sellout if you just plastered the Pepsi logo on the front of your DVD box cover. Or, hell, let me just fix that scene for you:


So they go back to the military base, Pitt reunites with his family and they pose for a greeting card, because that’s all women and children are good for, don’t you know?


Just empty, smiling cardboard cut-outs to embrace when you feel like it and then leave behind whenever something slightly more important, like the zombie apocalypse, comes up. What an awesome message.

Then to close out, we get a voice-over by Pitt that sounds like he was forced to do it at gunpoint. Apparently the world never finds out what caused the zombies but keeps fighting anyway. Gee, isn’t that…basically every end of the world story ever? Humanity keeps fighting? It's kind of like saying "Grass keeps growing" or "The seasons keep changing." While it is an admirable sentiment to say that humanity keeps fighting, it's not really anything new or interesting, and as the last line in the film? Gee, what a bland way to end such a bland movie.

Where do I even start? Oh yeah, this was a fuckin’ piece of shit. Everything about this was painful. The characters are barely characters at all, the story is riddled with holes and clichés and the zombies are so lame – they’re seriously just awful. They make noises that sound more like a hole poked in a Coke can in the middle of a hurricane, and they mostly just stumble around like drunk idiots when they’re not falling over one another like a plague of insane locusts – okay, that last bit sounded cooler than it really is.

Zombies across the globe are writing angry letters to Marc Forster and the movie’s writers and producers every day, complaining about their poor treatment in this film. How could you do this to us, they cry. How could you make us look like such fools; such imbeciles? What did we zombies ever do to you?

But who cares what they say anyway? This movie is the absolute pits. It’s not the most offensive or unwatchable thing you’ll see (well except for the camerawork on the action scenes; that's pretty garish), but for pure unimaginative tripe, this is about the best example I’ve seen in a while. Everything has been done before and there is nothing at all interesting or surprising being done here. If you like this kind of crap, fine; I have no problem. But I think movies are important, and I think caring about quality is important. It’s not about liking or disliking a certain type of film, or about making some ironclad list of what is “acceptable” to like. You can like whatever you want. But don’t tell other people they should lower their standards. Don’t you blame me for thinking the creative process can yield so much more interesting things than horseshit like World War Z.

This whole thing has gotten me worked up - the state of modern horror/thriller movies is dire! Something must be done! But what? Well, tune in next week to find out.

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