As far as zombie movies go, World War P is pretty messy. Yeah, the film’s actually World War Z, but in this movie, the whole world is truly about its star/producer Brad Pitt.
One of the ultimate no-no’s for the genre is casting an A-level star in the lead role. Sure, our protagonist may make it through without becoming dinner of the undead, but with random semi-famous lead actor there’s just enough doubt they could get killed at any point.
Clearly that won’t be the case with a four-time Oscar-nominated actor and that lack of suspense kills the film faster than any zombie army.
Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a retired United Nations employee sent on a globe-hopping mission to try and stop a worldwide zombie outbreak. Apparently he was the only one capable of doing this in the entire world.
He’s got his own stake in finding a solution though as his success keeps his wife, Karin (Gangster Squad’s Mireille Enos stuck as the worried spouse again), and daughters, Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) safe.
Characters come, they go and occasionally, we’ll even learn their names, but early on it’s clear the story is all about Gerry — the absolute worst kind of lead character — perfect in every situation to the point he’s boring.
Too bad we couldn’t spend more time with Captain Speke (James Badge Dale, Iron Man 3) and his soldiers in South Korea or the paratrooper (Matthew Fox, Alex Cross) and his numerous rescue missions as they seemed to provide more compelling takes on the zombie war.
Pitt delivers his steadily reliable performance, but while he may be able to save mankind, even he can’t save this movie.
It’s probably a bit unfair to label the film as a ‘zombie movie’ since the infected don’t actually make buffets out of anything with two legs, nor chug blood like it’s a keg. Instead, they simply bite to infect another victim. So while the zombies act like they’re famished for fresh meat, they really just want more playmates.
Director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) works hard to keep the film as gore-less as possible in order to preserve the film’s PG-13 rating — zombies fall to gunfire, just don’t expect any massive Tarantino-style blood sprays or decapitations — but he seems far more out of his element than Gerry ever does.
Forster handles the small-scale moments well, creating a measure of tension and suspense. If only he could deliver when the film needs that shot of adrenaline for the action scenes as he fails to connect us to the immediacy of the moment as characters get overrun by avalanches of poorly-animated CGI zombie hordes while keeping the focus on Gerry, the one character we’re all but assured is safe. Skip the film’s 3D version as Forster doesn’t provide enough in-your-face moments to make it worthwhile.
Forster doesn’t get a lot of help with the plot, which constantly shifts tones and lacks cohesion due in no small part to the film’s massive rewrites — four screenwriters (including Damon Lindelof, who botched last year’s underwhelming Prometheus) are credited and you get a sense of the confusion.
It’s too bad they didn’t just use the premise that attracted Pitt to the project in the first place — Max Brooks’ 2007 novel, which dealt with the environmental, religious and class fallout a decade after the zombie war.
World War Z wants to be a little bit of everything — a tense, edge-of-your-seat thriller, a star-powered summer blockbuster and chaotic zombie epic, but ultimately like the film’s antagonists, I didn’t leave out feel very satisfied at all.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Jaap Buitendijk/Paramount Pictures