PLOT: A former UN investigator, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is forced to leave his family when a Zombie pandemic threatens the population with annihilation .
REVIEW: Anyone who follows movie news can tell you that WORLD WAR Z has been an exceedingly troubled production. We’ve all heard the stories about how the ending of the film was gutted in favor of a scaled-down, re-written (by Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard) and reshot final forty minutes. Everyone expected this to be some kind of disaster, but the early reviews were surprisingly positive, making it seem like whatever they did to the movie worked.
Having finally seen the finished film for myself, I can say this. Two-thirds of WORLD WAR Z are pretty damn good. By that I mean everything up to the part that was re-done. While this Vanity Fair article suggests the original ending was a disaster, I’m not so sure they were better off with their pricey fix, as the current version of the movie absolutely deflates once the new material begins.
To be fair to Goddard and Lindelof, it’s not like WORLD WAR Z is by any means a great movie prior to their new ending, but I’d certainly say it’s a good one. I read Max Brooks’ novel “World War Z” a few years ago, and I thought it was pretty amazing. However, I also remember thinking to myself that it would be almost impossible to adapt into a film unless it was done as some kind of limited cable anthology miniseries (the audio book version, done in the style of a radio drama, is awesome). Bits and pieces of Brooks’ book have made it into the film, with Pitt’s UN investigator occasionally meeting up with people who tell him stories that aren’t necessarily faithful to the book, but are in the same spirit. Of these sequences, David Morse’s cameo as a turncoat CIA agent who just escaped North Korea (who’ve come up with a brutal but ingenious solution I won’t reveal here), and James Badge Dale’s bit as a macho Navy SEAL come the closest to Brooks’ style. I guess the filmmakers were less interested in making this a geo-political thriller than a budget-busting action movie. Any attempt at infusing the script with the social commentary present in Brooks’ book is absent. While infuriating to fans such as myself, to a point the film still works.
The key to the movie’s initial success is Brad Pitt. As Gerry Lane, Pitt makes a believable, thinking man’s action hero. His main goal is to keep his family safe- with his wife played by THE KILLING’s Mireille Enos- something we can all relate to, and a staple of the zombie genre. One he leaves them to embark on his globe-trotting adventure, the film loses its emotional undercurrent, although it still delivers in spectacle. In its current form, WWZ has three big action sequences, with the initial outbreak in Philadelphia being the first. The most spectacular of these is the second- where Pitt finds himself in a walled sanctuary in Israel being overrun by a horde of thousands- which provides most of the eye candy we’ve seen in the trailers. The scariest and most ingenious set-piece is the attack on-board a plane, which occurs about an hour into the movie. So far so good, right?
Mostly. Even here, WORLD WAR Z is not without its problems, most of which stem from the shoehorned PG-13 rating. The zombies are incredibly generic for a $200 million movie, easily dwarfed by anything from an episode of THE WALKING DEAD. Again, this is probably due to the rating, as they can’t look too scary. Even still, WORLD WAR Z is incredibly tame (MAN OF STEEL is more violent). The attacks are cut so fast you never get a clear idea of what’s going on (the same problem as director Marc Forster’s Bond-flick, QUANTUM OF SOLACE), which isn't helped by the 3D, which reeks of a hasty post-conversion. As most of the movie takes place in the dark, often the action is hard to make out. Still, for the first two-thirds it’s entertaining, and I especially liked some of Pitt’s ideas on how to survive a zombie attack, which are taken from Brooks’ own “Zombie Survival Guide”. WWZ also has a terrific score by Marco Beltrami, which is partially performed by Muse, giving this an interesting sound that differentiates it from your typical action score.
However, once the re-shot footage begins the movie absolutely goes into the toilet. Without giving away too much, what had previously been a large-scale action movie suddenly turns into a claustrophobic thriller, which it simply doesn’t have the smarts to pull off. Lindelof and Goddard come up with a MacGuffin to bring the film to a speedy conclusion (while leaving the door open for a sequel), but it feels so convenient and undercooked the audience I saw this with at the premiere could help but chuckle here and there. Some critics I respect have told me they thought the ending works as it is, but to me it kills any momentum the film has going, and ends the film on a rushed, sour note. While I’m sure the original ending must have been bad if it was scrapped at such a huge expense to the studio, from the way I’ve heard it described it sounds more in keeping with the rest of the film and even somewhat true to Brooks’ novel (the “lobo” or “lobotomizer” was apparently introduced). The new ending is cheap and all too convenient considering what came before.
To me the ending is an absolutely fatal flaw in what up to then had been an unremarkable if entertaining tentpole action movie. At its best, it’s never all that great, but it was more than decent. Had the ending been consistent with the first two-thirds, I would have given this an easy 7/10. But, the ending is bad enough it ruined the movie for me, and I find that I can’t really recommend two-thirds of a good movie. Maybe one day Paramount will release the original version, and we’ll be able to see for ourselves whether or not the original ending was a bad as it was cracked up to be.