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The Best & Worst Of 'World War Z'

by The Playlist Staff
June 24, 2013 4:36 PM
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Old Writing vs. New Writing: The Seams Show Through 
"World War Z" was ripped apart and pieced back together, and while the superstar screenwriters that were brought in (J.J. Abrams confederates Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard) clearly had a vision for what they wanted to do with "World War Z," the problem was that it had very little to do with the rest of "World War Z." The scale and scope of the globe-trotting movie is shrunk to almost microscopic proportions and Pitt's Gerry, who up until this point had been observant, rather a participant, suddenly becomes proactive, suggesting a way to camouflage our humanness while around the flesh-eaters. (It makes slightly more sense in the movie.) It's kind of cool, seeing a movie balloon like it did in the previous act and then shrink exponentially, but that approach doesn't always work. At times, "World War Z" zigs when it should have zagged, which is its biggest asset and also hugest liability. The original "World War Z" ending, where Pitt led an army of resistance fighters against the shuffling undead in the streets of Moscow, can be glimpsed briefly in "news footage" they run at the very end of the movie. It certainly looks bigger than the ending we're saddled with.

The "Sherlock Holmes"-y Detective Flashbacks
During the divisive plane sequence (more on that in a minute), Pitt has a number of flashbacks to his previous encounters with the zombie hordes. These are super clumsily handled and the moments Pitt flashes back to have no inherent significance other than "Oh wait this thing happened." It's like something out of a bad supernatural procedural (i.e. an entirely different film) when the twist is revealed and feels even more awkward considering how little motivation or agency the Pitt character has had up until this point. He might as well have stood up, pointed his finger to the sky and said, "Eureka! Ye gads I've got it!" To give him this revelation during a super intense (if nonsensical) moment also rings false – maybe it was the only instance where they could wedge in this kind of revelation? Although couldn't he have come to the conclusion while he was in dreamland following his shrapnel-wound? 

Almost Everything About The Plane Sequence
So there are a number of really fucking stupid things that happen during the plane sequence in "World War Z" (and this isn't even counting the already-covered flashbacks). Among them: a zombie stowaway that happened to be in the little elevator that brings up the food. Wouldn't this area have been checked before the plane took off, with people looking for, oh, maybe, zombies? And wasn't there a reference earlier in the movie about how airplanes were the perfect delivery system for the disease? So stay the fuck off airplanes. Then there's the fact that Pitt's answer for the invading zombie menace is to build a barricade out of suitcases. We had just seen zombies scale a huge wall in Israel, we're pretty sure they can make it past a couple of Louie Vuitton handbags. And then there's the grenade. The plane is being filled up with zombies. People are dying. Do you try and contain or kill the outbreak or, if you're Brad Pitt, do you chuck a grenade into the tangle of human and zombie bodies that insures a) that the zombies will probably be killed but more importantly that b) the plane will definitely crash? The grenade is, clearly, the answer. "Grenading the plane" is as insanely nonsensical as jumping the shark or nuking the fridge, and should enter the pop culture lexicon alongside these phrases. Like much of "World War Z," everything happens so quickly that you're not given time to process how silly it actually is. But thinking back on it, whew, Pitt should have kept that grenade locked away.

Cutting Off Segen's Hand & The Problem With The PG-13 Rating
So during the extended, truly exciting Israel sequence, Pitt's Israel attaché Segen (Daniella Kertesz) is attacked by a zombie and bitten on the hand. Pitt, using his considerable zombie knowledge, slices it off, which seemingly prevents the infection from spreading. (Science, even zombie-science is played pretty fast and loose in "World War Z.") The scene doesn't really work because the movie has failed to give us enough time to establish an emotional connection with Segen, and the brutality rings false especially for a guy who has witnessed and been shaken by all kinds of horrors around the world. What makes it even more hollow is the fact that we don't get to see the hand come off. There's no pain or catharsis because everything happens just below frame. This points to a bigger issue with the movie – it's PG-13 rating, which makes things somewhat boring and antiseptic. There's never going to be anything shocking or gruesome or too scary because of the damn PG-13. We never really get to see the zombies do anything (are they eating people? Crushing their skulls and eating their brains? What?) and in turn we never get to see people's responses (dismemberment, decapitation, bullets to the brain). What makes this even more baffling is the fact that "The Walking Dead" gets away with hardcore zombie violence every week, while "Hannibal" is arguably even more shockingly bloody and that's on network TV.

Dumb, Unsubtle Title Sequence
Can we please call for a moratorium on stock footage of animals ripping apart their kill on screen as type of oooh, ominous foreshadowing. We thought this technique was played somewhere between 1989 and 1993. While it didn’t stop Park Chan Wook in the opposite-of-subtle “Stoker” it also didn’t stop Marc Forster. This fairly dumb and on the nose title sequence is a mix of “Zero Dark Thirty” and well, any contemporary B-movie still unwise enough to show hyenas ripping apart day-old kill because it “sets a mood.” C’mon people, let’s move forward. It also suggests a touch of satire (with images of world catastrophes next to inane platitudes from morning talk shows) that actually isn't delivered in the movie.  

Hollywood Ending Leading On A Road To Nowhere
Obviously, “World War Z” is a compromised effort with new writers brought into rewrite the ending. And while it has tonal issues because of this -- a visceral action-y opening vs. a contained chamber piece ending -- the movie’s “happy ending” is one of its most glaring seams showing through. Clearly rewritten so Gerry Lane could be reunited with his family, the ending is anti-climatic and tacked on; a cynical move stitched on the very end to make way for a sequels. The problem there is it doesn’t leave a lot of sequel room either. The movie ends quietly, or at least with a reprieve; the world has figured out a camouflage technique from the zombies who are now rather dormant with nothing left to chase. What would the sequel be other than clean-up, wiping out those hordes left in whatever city is that they listlessly roam. Or do you make it about clean-up, but something goes terribly wrong? Or do the zombies adapt and no longer respond to the camouflage? (which would be incredibly dumb). “World War Z” trades a safe ending for a conclusion that doesn’t really merit a sequel. The world is essentially “contained.” Do we really need to see the clean-up crew wipe out cities or some stupid human error trigger the whole damn same movie all over again?

Thoughts? While we might skew negative here, we’re all a little bit mixed and in the middle on “World War Z.” There’s lots to admire -- mostly that intense and thrilling first half -- but the movie tends to unravel midway through and some of the choices therein feel pretty dubious making for a uneven experience overall. How did you feel about “World War Z”? - Drew Taylor,  Rodrigo Perez, Kevin Jagernauth

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  • josh | August 11, 2014 11:52 PMReply

    I am so late to this post, but i have to say nice work. I find myself torn with this movie. I in general love it and have watched it many times. However there are certain scenes I think stretch my patience. The plane scene was one of them. Why the hell was a zombie in a dumb waiter and they just happen to survive the crash close enough to walk to the WHO with no zombies to eat them. That and Gerry is so bad ass yet he leaves his stupid cell ringer on when he is in Korea. WTF.

    Regardless, I still love the movie and it is one of my favorite zombie and virus movies!

  • Trax | October 4, 2013 10:53 PMReply

    Uhh did you even watch this movie? For instance, your take on the pharmacy scene. First off, the young man never identified himself as a pharmacist. Second of all, he was holding a pistol, not a shotgun.

    This is why I generally avoid blogs, I wouldn't trust bloggers like you to pump my gas, let alone form a coherent thought.

  • Jerome | September 23, 2013 1:04 PMReply

    Your piece on the plane scene? You are an idiot. Contain the outbreak? With one gun that has half a clip in it? If you believe a human being could truly contain somthing as erratic as that you are a embecile. The grenade IS the only way out of that. (Yes it is extremely unlikely to survive the crash but to choose between getting eaten or dying a painless split second death? Choose wisely.)

  • TT | July 2, 2013 1:30 PMReply

    A decent movie very loosely based on a pretty-good book. I'm also puzzled by a sequel for the same reasons. However, I don't think it's crazy to think that the zombies will "adapt" in some way - especially since they dropped a few clues along the way (virus "turned" people much faster once the plague got going in earnest, zombies become slower and dormant in the absence of prey, etc). With some hand-waving virology, maybe they become slower, book zombies able to see through the "camo." I could see something like Act 1, clearing zombie strategy starts to break down but gives society the time to setup safe zones, Act 2, total war transformation within safe zones, Act 3, humanity goes on the offensive to reclaim the earth.

    Once they decided to go with fast, insta-zombies, the basic overarching narrative in the book had to be jettisoned - no way any military could stand against that. With the camo, the balance swings the other way and the zombies become easy pickings. So it seems the only way to move the story along is too hand-wave some sort of trade-off - zombies can see through the camo but become slow and shuffling. Of course, the stuff about slower infection times and dormancy might not be clues, but rather red herrings left over from rewrites and reshoots.

  • matthew waller | June 30, 2013 9:27 PMReply

    PS: An HBO miniseries that actually follows the book would be one of the best shows on T.V.

  • matthew | June 30, 2013 9:13 PMReply

    The movie was entertaining to say the least. As for the story dynamic and character development it was a little lacking, but remember; it's a fucking zombie movie. I've seen countless zombie movies with no inherent story or purpose ( don't you dare argue 28 days/weeks later, it was the exact same), as for the PG-13 rating, it limited the time of mindless gore and allowed them focus on sci-fi instead of horror. Maybe most people go to zombie movies to watch a stomach get ripped open like rice paper or to see a couple skulls turn into applesauce, but I value the idea over the effects. This film offered a new sci-fi perspective on winning instead of hopelessly surviving; which is the theme for the entire genre.

    As for the events after Israel, the dynamic of the movie was fast paced and mysterious- as it should be. I personally didn't want the movie to just switch from 3rd gear to park in Russia. World War Z was meant to offer perspectives from all over the world, about a seemingly hopeless epidemic; spending 45 min in a evil Russian death camp is fucking retarded. The ending was rushed (like much of the almost 2hr movie) but still sound.

    And As far as a sequel goes I agree with Lexgreen, does a silencer make you invincible, did the invisible predator win against Schwarzenegger, Hell no. One key advantage doesn't guarantee victory, and they still had no idea where it came from. Possibilities: organization bent on world destruction(classic), monkeys getting buttfucked in the jungle( HIV), strain of rabidness translated from similar animals(28 days later), no one knows shit. There is even room for a prequel. Furthermore, the Professor said on the plane sometimes nature's greatest strength is it's biggest weakness; now that the sick humans are off the menu is an entire of species of 4 billion gonna roll over and die. What if they infect animals, start to have weird zombie rape sex or contaminate the water supply; not mention that's a virus that has already evolved to infect faster( it can and will evolve with such a massive host population. What the fuck are the people gonna do then, ( call in super rambo genius gerry perhaps)? It's not over till there is a cure or everyone is dead. I'm sorry but your an bumbling idiot if you believe that life and especially viruses gives up that easily, go watch Jurassic Park (all fucking 3 of them) and then tell me there wont be a sequel.

  • Jd | June 27, 2013 6:25 AMReply

    I really liked this film which surprised me considering all the bad press it got. Initially I thought the part in Wales was odd but it was very tense & quite good, much like the rest of the film. Much better ending then the original which can be found here;

  • lexgreen | June 26, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    Almost Nothing About The Plane Sequence:

    1) The stowaway probably got on the plane by jumping the landing gear before takeoff and
    got on the elevator from the lower part of the plane. The plane took off in a hurry, so there
    was no time to search for castaways. Stay away from airplanes? The only route of escape
    at the moment Jerusalem was being over run. Pitts character was on the tamac because
    his own "private plane" had just bolted on him.

    2) Barricade of suit cases. Only resource available in a moment of desperation. And, like
    the curtain, it could had screened the forward passengers from view for a while at least.

    3) Grenade? 'Do you try to contain or kill the outbreak?' How do you do that, every 10
    seconds the number of zombies increases. You're trapped a few doors away from the
    pilot's door, which is locked. With only a few seconds left, you're on the floor, and a
    grenade roll's by, you might consider the 2 alternatives. Certain induction into the
    zombie hoard, or you've got a chance to stop them all and maybe the plane holds
    together (remember the Hawaii airliner ?).

    Over all, in the context of the movie, plenty of plausibility holds the scene together. Could it
    have been blocked or shot differently, absolutely. The moment Pitt tosses the grenade, he
    should have been on his back with a Zombie drooling in his face . . .

    The title sequence works ok, because it's reasonably short. It's the world as a "ball of confusion" made up of familiar images. And it sets up as "you think *this* looks bad? just wait . . . "

    Sequel: well, we still don't know where they came from... and, like a virus, what if the zombies last long enough to develop a "disease resistant" strain? The anti-virus is no longer stong enough and the only way to be avoided is to give yourself Typhus, Meningitis, and Rocky Mountain fever all at the same time . . . And the sequel needs to bring back Morse, whose first brief appearance in the jail cell effectively steals the show. You want to know more about this guy and his insight could be useful in hunting down the zombie origin.

  • jd | June 27, 2013 6:00 AM

    Would have to agree with Lexgreen on every issue. Sure the plane just landed & took off again, there was no time to check if any zombies hadnt gotten into the holding area. As for the other issues the author has that Lexgreen disagrees with, I really think that the author was nickpicking any tiny issue he saw. However I do agree with the author about the PG-13 rating. We got to see nothing which was a slight pity. Plus no mention of finale in the lab which I quite liked.

  • Nicole | June 25, 2013 3:11 PMReply

    I didn't find the film remotely scary, but it was entertaining, if massively disjointed. The lowest points were Piers Morgan's massive mug and the blatant Pepsi ad near the end.

  • gert | June 25, 2013 3:07 PMReply

    Just came from the cinema - enjoyed it, in fact i thought it was a really short flick which at its running time is obviously a compliment. Time flied by. Plane sequence wasn't that bad, they were putting up bags to avoid being noticed (they also tried being really quiet) and as for grenade, well what other options did Pitt have. Anyhow the only thing missing for me was: at least one scene with Peter Capaldi swearing at some zombies(or anyone else), that would have been brilliant and a great reference to his In The Loop/Thick of It character, in fact he was so mean looking i thought he was gonna start dropping some f bombs :)

  • John Eddy | June 25, 2013 9:53 AMReply

    I thought it was an ok zombie movie and, yes, I wholly agree about the excitement level (although some of the trailers before WWZ scared me more than the movie itself), but my biggest beef was the final act.

    Why in the heck were the Cardiff 'Scientists' so paranoid? I mean, yes, I get tying up Gerry to make sure he didn't turn, but, at the same time the 'Why are you here?! WHO SENT YOU!?!' sort of interrogation he got (while Segen seemed to be given a grand tour and treated like a welcome guest) seemed odd.

    Also... why didn't they try to call any other CDC/WHO locations? They had a sat phone. They had connection to the flotilla. Why not, before just heading into Zombieward, see if someone else is out there with a more ready supply who may, even just possibly, want to run the tests? It could even have been handled with practically 2 lines of dialog.. 'Hey, UN, is there another site who can try this out for us?' 'We just lost touch with the last location. You are the only site we have contact with. It's you or nothing.'

    That said, I thought it was a horrible adaptation. We knew it would be hard. The book doesn't necessarily convert to film, unless you want to do a HBO 10 part miniseries like Band of Brothers. But, that doesn't mean you couldn't interweave the book into the film. I had hopes when they landed in Israel and it was matching the same, most are welcome vibe going for it, but, then, rather than the internal conflict (which I thought was more compelling of a story and could have been just as tense) from the book, they went with zombies and the (likely) fall of Israel where as in the book they apparently survived unscathed.

  • Ben | June 25, 2013 2:12 AMReply

    I agree 100% with the comments on the PG-13. And in discussion after the movie, said the exact same thing about TWD and NBC having more horror. It isn't that it has to be a gore-fest but you can feel them cutting away from things to be ratings-safe and that doesn't allow the zombies to have any sort of cool characterization. I didn't connect with the sequences as much as I should have and that's a shame because there are some genuinely great things here.

    Maybe if they had made a rule that they kept the camera at Gerry's level and only showed the carnage from his perspective, it would've done two things: made the movie more intense and cut the budget so they could have afforded the R.

    I was joking that this would've been perfect as a "28 days Later" prequel ("28 Hours Later"?) and if they could've shot it with those aesthetics and at that budget level, it may have been great. As it is, I was entertained. And would watch again. But can't help but think about the better movie it might have been.

  • Strangerthanfiction4 | June 24, 2013 10:45 PMReply

    You are so on point with this critique. I wish they had filmed two movies, the PG-13 version and an R-rated version.

  • Al | June 24, 2013 9:32 PMReply

    I kinda agree with a lot here but boy was it a thrilling ride. Pretty much liked most of it. The airplane sequence well if I was faced with a hoard of zombies you're damn right I'd do anything no matter how ineffectve to stopmthem getting to me. And Brad was quietly building a wall of suitcases with the hope that it prevents the zombies from seeing him, not from stopping them. Then a uitcase falls and draws the attention of the zombies. The most logical thing to do would be to try and get in the cockpit, since he already gained access once. But then wouldn't everyone try and get in the cockpit if there was nowhere else to go? See, there's no real solution to such an outlandish sitution!

  • Mike | June 24, 2013 6:51 PMReply

    I though Warm Bodies is the sequel where the zombies turned into human again.

  • Bill T | June 24, 2013 5:45 PMReply

    What a great movie. I highly recommend. Brad pulled it off. Bravo!

  • Mike | June 24, 2013 5:32 PMReply

    Totally disagree about the plane sequence. Thought it was terrifying. Also, what else could he have done on the plane to survive? There was no way he wasn't going to be ripped apart by the zombies unless he did something drastic. The dog barking was straight out of the book. In fact, in the book, that's how the Israelis knew who was infected and who wasn't. Would've like to see some of the geopolitical politics involved (class vs. humanity), and why on earth did they kick his family off the boat after they thought he sacrificed himself to save humanity? Seems the least they could so was make sure his family was safe after making the ultimate sacrifice.

    But otherwise, this was a terrific film. Exciting from start to finish. Minimizing it in the third act really worked, because how can you top that Israel sequence? That was masterful.

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