A throwaway line, in the context of many films, can serve as a punch line to a joke that never existed or as a means of advancing the plot without the hassle of spending more money on it. Think of the moment in Office Space when Peter tells Samir and Michael that no one else can know about their plan to overthrow their boss and completely unexpectedly, his neighbour shouts “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone either!”
World War Z director Marc Foster has delivered us a film made up along these very lines. The novel of the same name by Max Brooks tells stories from around the globe at different stages of an outbreak similar to that of Soderbergh’s Contagion. Working off a script that has run through no less than five sets of hands (the “too many cooks spoil the broth” adage applies) – including Prometheus scribe Damon Lindelof who was called in to rewrite the ending – the final product is no less than a messy adaptation that no less declares to hell with these stories! We’re introduced to the Lane family from the outset. Gerry (Brad Pitt) plays the doting father to two young girls and loving husband to Karen (Mireille Enos). They’re the typical middle-class family; except Gerry is an ex-Government agent who retired to be a stay-at-home Dad. Once all hell breaks loose however, he’s forced to return to duty in order to save humanity.
The hell-breaking-loose is not identified, per se. The insanity is suggested as being a zombie outbreak but ties aren’t completely formed beyond mere suggestions. A casual day out in the city quickly becomes chaos when the Lane family suddenly find themselves in the beginning of this outbreak and are reduced to desperate measures to survive (arming themselves with whatever can be found).
The opening is the film’s biggest selling point; featuring a police officer playing now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t and a garbage truck ploughing through the traffic jam. The zombies (let’s call them that) that are the fastest-moving parkour zombies ever created in the history of the genre. It’s a terrific sequence that suggested we were about to witness something great.
However, the biggest shame is that soon after it collapses into mediocre regularity and hides cleverly under the guise of a globetrotting spectacular. Gerry heads to North Korea to the site where the outbreak was first confirmed and meets up with a disgraced CIA agent in lockup (a wasted opportunity with David Morse) who, while being initially dismissed, is suddenly full of lucrative information and directs them to Jerusalem and no one questions it. Even the following moment where they backtrack to the plane very quietly so as to not alert the zombies becomes a comedy of errors when Karen calls Gerry on the cellphone, the ringtone serving as a blinding neon light reading ‘Hey, over here!’ What should have been a tense moment reduced this screening into pockets of laughter.
If the plagued screenplay succeeds in any way it’s the portrayal of a doomed humanity. Just as in 1968 when the astronauts, with all the arrogance and stupidity in the world, inspected the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, forty-five years later we still haven’t learned. Here, a young woman decides to sing into a microphone, thus alerting the zombies to the presence of live bodies on the other side of a massive wall. It’s a great moment that adds to the downfall repertoire and could have gone a long way to communicating something along the lines of Terminator 2’s riffing on “It is in your nature to destroy yourselves.” Unfortunately Forster is more excited about tying everything up with a nice red bow than investigating further.
For a film to be based on such an acclaimed novel and to start so strongly, the biggest disappointment stems from its ability to conjure up everything we’ve already seen before. Any solid moments are given little space to breathe; such is the films intention on moving forward without progressing whatsoever. The ending is supposedly meant to stir the audience into rousing applause akin to that of a Presidential speech: instead it trips over itself and falls flat on its own face. Then again, when a film features an actual Pepsi Moment, perhaps it never really got off the ground to begin with.
[rating=1] and a half
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire