Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Apocalypse? Please...

Ever seen a movie that was both fantastic and terrible? It's a unique experience and one you can have right now a your local multiplex, courtesy of World War Z.

Based on the novel by the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft - no, really! - this flick is... Well, all of you know what it's about. Zombies, armageddon, headshots, if you've been in any way engaged with popular culture for the past seven years you know exactly what you're getting.

An inspiring story of can-do spirit!

But doing the familiar really well is just as important to film as innovation and on that fron World War Z is very... Hold on, this is a little complicated.

I'm going to state right out that I do not like zombie stories but I liked World War Z. The book, that is. I enjoyed how Max Brooks took dozens of little stories to tell one big story that was horrifying, inspiring, and balls-out funny in a number of places. He also injected it with a subtle but clear vein of satire - from an obvious Karl Rove stand-in reduced to literaly shoveling shit in Texas while trying to defend his bosses utter cock-up of the pre-apocalypse, to the description of "LAMOES" or "Last Man On Earth Syndrome" who indulge in the classic lone survivalist fantasy only to pick a fight with the new blue-uniformed US Army and promptly get vaporized. Stick that in your AR-15 and smoke it!

I was also of the opinion that it's one of those books which are simply unfilmable and said so to friends when the first rumblings of a movie adaptation came out some years ago. But two weeks ago I went to see it, ready to give it the benefit of the doubt. And World War Z - the film this time - sidesteps those unfilmable issues by not having much of anything to do with the book at all.

Oh sure, there are zombies and they start in China and there's a wall around Israel and the UN is organizing the survival of the species from a fleet at sea, but that's where the similarities end. Rather than a bunch of little stories forming a greater hole, this is just one big story that's so much hot air.

Brad Pitt plays Brad Pitt, a former UN investigator used to such scary places as Afghanistan and Chechnya, and he's sent by the Black King of the World to find Patient Zero from which a random biologist can hopefully extract an antivirus. Pitt continues in his Patient Z search even after said biologist is killed by a ricocheting bullet five minutes later.

So as an adaptation it's simply not but how does it stand on it's own?


Pitt follows up getting the last hope for humanity killed with a globetrotting adventure - okay, just Israel and Cardiff - trying to complete the search himself and always one step ahead of a CGI zombie horde. It gets a little ridiculous, everywhere Pitt goes, zombies invariably follow to the point you wonder if he's somehow attracting them. Like, if he was launched into space would all the zombies helpfully expel themselves from the Earth like dolphins?

"So long and thanks for all the brains!"

Not that he really has to, since the six screenwriters cram in a deus ex machina conveniently located at a British lab. Turns out sufficiently sick people are invisible to zombie bran-dar and the undead hordes will part like the Red Sea for a single cancer patient or kid with meningitis. At last, a fighting chance for humanity! Roll credits!

...Wait, what? Not at the deus ex machina, but at the credits. I left the theater feeling like the movie ended three hours early. No reconquest of the world by the living, no Studs Terkel wannabe interviewing the survivors, just Pitt taking a paddle boat to see his family.

But what makes the abrupt ending so jarring is that World Tour Z is actually pretty good in spots. The opening of Pitt and his Pitts trying to escape the madness around them is nice and tense, keeping the monsters just enough out of sight to really work the nerves. The later lab sequence is similarly good and creepy - and I swear it's a Half-Life reference inserted by J. Michael Straczynski because he's a huge nerd. What else would you make of people running around a research facility where the doctors and technicians have all turned into shambling monsters and they get whacked with a crowbar?

That's not a dig at Straczynski, by the way. I love that guy's work, he really knows how to take a story on a grand scale and communicate it through relatable characters. And besides Brad Pitt as Token Hero Square-Jaw, the characters in this are really good. The dead biologist, Nelson Mandela Junior, an Israeli soldier girl who accompanies Pitt because he helpfully hacked off her arm. The only wasted talent was Peter "Malcolm Fuckmothering Tucker!" Capaldi and only because there's not much use for his glorious obscenity issuing from a World Health Organization dweeb.

"Zombies? Release the lubricated horse cock!"

Wrapped up in some excellent music and visuals - besides the CGI zeke rush - and it's a pretty good flick... It just feels anemic. And it's too bad this wasn't a vampire film, 'cause then I could end on a really bad pun.

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