World War Z is probably the most solid zombie flick we’re going to get for a while. The characters are well-defined, the acting is better than it needs to be, the look is good, and the story is constructed as a pretty compelling mystery. That’s both a plus and a minus for the film. The detective aspect is an innovative take on a genre that already has, within its endless sub-genres, the romantic comedy (this year’s Warm Bodies), and the movie wastes no time getting straight to it. On the other hand, its commitment to the mystery narrative makes the action sequences feel like they were brought over from another movie.
When Gerry (Brad Pitt), the ex-UN agent (his original job function is never made explicitly clear) gets a lead that takes him to Israel, he meets up with an official who apparently foresaw the zombie outbreak and constructed a massive wall around Jerusalem. The guy’s reasoning is simple: “We ignored warning signs before and suffered because of it, this time, I figured, ‘What the Hell?'”
As soon as Gerry’s finished asking questions, someone in the crowd starts performing an impromptu song. No reason, just because. And the static from her microphone alerts the zombies outside the city, who form a massive pile and (SPOILER, though it’s in the trailer) spill out over the wall and overtake the city.
Later in the film, a zombie sneaks aboard an airplane, again waiting until Gerry’s business with the pilot is finished to expose himself (also in the trailer), and still later, Gerry ends up in a science lab, where The Something That Will Save Us All is buried deep within, yup, zombie territory. Now it’s not that I don’t want creepy, filthy zombies in my zombie movie (it’d be hard-pressed to calls itself such without them), in fact I do, but every time they show up, it feels like a burden on the story.
Would the city officials in Jerusalem really allow someone to randomly burst into reverberant song when they know that the zombies are attracted by precisely that kind of noise? Would a zombie really just lock himself in the bathroom of an airplane and choose to attack at the time most convenient to the protagonist? Did the writers Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof have an executive hovering over them while they wrote, pointing to each place in the script where they could include a zombie-fied action sequence?
And let’s go back to the microphone. It’s established early on that the zombies are attracted to loud noises and will herd toward the sound’s source. Now Brad Pitt, er, Gerry, is tasked with uncovering the origin of the zombie virus so that a cure can be manufactured and humanity can be saved. While he was doing that, and seeing the zombies scale the walls of Jerusalem, did it ever occur to him (or the military for which he’s working) to use a loud noise and herd the zombies away from everyone else? Sure, it’s not a cure, but as a temporary solution, it would work a lot better than what they eventually end up doing.
And back to the first hand, sure, the action sequences may be contrived, but they’re still good. And sure, the fact that Gerry’s working for the government solely because they’ve agreed to protect his family if he does so, has a twist late in the film that doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t take up too much time. And sure, Gerry adopts the child of another family who’s overcome by zombies, but he’s forgotten about soon after.
And sure, Gerry’s daughter’s asthma looms large early in the film but it, too, is ignored. And sure, Gerry teams up with a feisty Israeli (Daniella Kertesz), but she doesn’t serve any real purpose in the story. Sure, all those questions pile like zombies up, but fortunately these ones don’t quite spill over the wall. Sure.