After a recent bout of illness nearly had your ZRC President joining the ranks of the Undead a bit earlier than planned, I recovered, and the ZRC Madison staff saw ‘World War Z’ on Thursday.
Naturally, we were appalled at the treatment of the Undead in the film. That in and of itself wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was just how boring, uninspired and thoroughly derivative ‘World War Z’ turned out to be.
It’s impossible to review ‘World War Z’ without saying how obviously, and heavily, it borrows from and tries to exceed ’28 Days Later’. The opening 10 minutes break ground in the Annoying Shakycam arena, without managing to convey any of the tension and sense of panicked movement of ’28 Days Later’. ‘World War Z’ also blatantly steals the patented 28 Days Later ‘Fast Zombie Transformation Countdown’, but feels that 20 seconds is too long, so they cut it down to 10 seconds from bite to wanting to bite others. When Pitt is standing on a rooftop counting up to 10, pondering if he’ll have to jump to avoid becoming one of the Undead (which we resent, by the way), it takes some willpower not to shout ‘JUMP ALREADY’ at the screen.
World War Z is also extremely tepid and bloodless for an action horror movie, no doubt in pursuit of the coveted MPAA PG-13 rating. At times the film is a self-parody of self-censorship, struggling to keep the violence against the Differently Animated just out of frame. At one point near the odious climax it feels like you’re watching an ancient VHS Pan-and-Scan presentation, as Brad Pitt gets one of his melee weapons stuck in a Zombie victim and attempts to dislodge it for a good 10-15 seconds, all while avoiding the audience actually seeing a drop of blood or gore.
That’s impressive pandering to the censor board. I kept expecting a laugh track or some zany sound effects.
The movie has problems beyond Zombie-hating, lack of creativity and avoidance of depicted violence which might fill the MPAA fainting couches. Both the Art Director and I observed that the gender politics of World War Z are extremely conservative. (This, is a substantial deviation from the book). Women are not characters in the World War Z movie, they are props, things to be protected from the Undead Other, to motivate the almost-universally male characters.
There is only one noteworthy exception, an Israeli soldier named Segen (who is rescued by Pitt’s protagonist, Gerry Lane, but also rescues Lane on occasion). She, however, is a masculinized soldier archetype, a sort of gender neutral cipher. Meanwhile Lane’s wife literally spends most of the movie curled up in bed, huddling with the terrified kids. In fact her clinginess to her globe-trotting husband nearly gets Gerry, and presumably the human race, wiped out via an ill-timed satellite phone call.
Women and phones, amirite?
The movie’s gender relations are mirrored by its at-times very uncomfortable racial and national politics. It made me squirm in my seat a bit more each time the soft-spoken white man was undermined, betrayed or failed by the various Ethnic Others in the course of this film, whether it be a Latino family who turns down his sage survival advice, his apparently African boss at the UN who is utterly incapable of command, the vaguely South Asian virologist who gets a bit too trigger happy despite more sage advice.. and the list goes on.
Then there’s Israel. In ‘World War Z’ the book, Israel survives the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ scenario better than most with a combination of militaristic preparedness, wall-building and self-discipline. They also, notably, have to put aside ancient racial and religious prejudices to do so. The Israeli government in the book even has to take violent measures against conservative religious elements attacking Arab groups within its borders. The movie turns this precisely on its head, positing that Israel survives due to its exclusion of the Arab other, along with paranoia from constant external threats of extermination, and even limited tolerance leads to… well, let’s just say, disastrous consequences.
In the end, of course, Lane’s globe-trotting leads to a solution of sorts, and the film closes on a treacly sermon about togetherness and cooperation that flies directly in the face of the movie’s earlier Integration is Death scenes set in Israel.
World War Z runs almost two hours and feels every minute of it. Rated ‘Living Supremacist’ for its Anti-Zombie hatred, Tedious for its sleep-inducing powers, and Squicky for its race and gender politics. Not recommended.