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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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