Brad Pitt chasing zombies should not be boring to watch, especially if you like Brad Pitt, which I do, and zombies, which I'm perfectly OK with. Improbable though it sounds, Marc Forster's World War Z is dull and pretty easy to dislike, partly because it so slavishly follows the tired and increasingly tiresome formula of summer action movies: family in danger, hero springs into action, then we're all bludgeoned with an hour of uninspired special effects.
As anyone who has even glanced at a story about the movie
knows, Pitt's production company is behind the film, in which he stars as a
former UN investigator and family man trying to track down the cause of a fast-moving,
world-wide, probably viral outbreak of zombieism. One overrun budget ($175
million is one of the more conservative budget guesses, up from a planned $125
million) and one reshot ending later
(the current ending is based on a rewrite from Lost's Damon Lindelof) we get not the smart, politically aware thriller
Pitt set out to make, but yet another overwrought dud in which the action wears
you down more than entertains.
It's hard to say that World War Z is disappointing when even the start is formulaic. Gerry (Pitt), his wife (Mireille Enos from The Killing, with a lot less to do here) and their two daughters are caught in a zombie-infested traffic jam. Much has been made – mostly by the filmmakers – about how fast these zombies run, but apparently a family of four is still faster. The action is briefly fun, as the family escapes the streets of Philadelphia while zombies vault headlong into windshields. From then on every invasion looks murky at best. Seeing the film in 3D only enhanced the darkness, but the scenes were not composed or edited with much clarity. (Ben Seresin was the cinematographer, and Roger Barton and Matt Chesse the editors, all experienced enough to know better.) Action may not be Forster's true gift even if he did direct the Bond film Quantum of Solace --- oh, right, the action wasn't great there either.
As Pitt travels the world – Korea, Israel, Scotland – searching for the outbreak's cause while trying to escape the bite that will end it all in a matter of seconds, he picks up a sidekick, a young woman in the Israeli army. She's tough and doesn't have much else to be in the film.
It's pointless to imagine what a smarter, better version of World War Z might have been, even if you could. The episode in Jerusalem holds the only hint of politics remaining. The city has enclosed itself in a wall to keep out the invaders, and those scenes add a thin layer of thought. Isolationism: good or bad, and will it really protect you from a zombie-bite? But those theme-driven scenes aren't especially interesting either, so it's not as if more politics would necessarily have helped things.
At the start of the summer, when I saw Star Trek into Darkness – not really my kind of film - I would never have imagined that it would be more entertaining than Man of Steel and World War Z. It's true that J.J. Abrams and his swooping-into-space camera kept me dizzy almost the whole time, but I wasn't bored at Star Trek. Maybe if World War Z had come along first, it wouldn't have felt so lethally filled with action-movie deja vu. But I would still have recognized its self-defeating by-the-numbers formula.