I was nervous about World War Z. Let’s face it: the zombie genre has been done to death at this point, and a measly 68% on rottentomatoes.com did not bode well. But I approve. I mean, sure, I have some problems with the movie: aside from a striking performance by Danielle Kertesz, this war on zombies (like so many other battles against the undead) features disappointingly few women. Brad Pitt’s wife, Karin (who spells her name wrong), is an impressively collected and competent female counterpart to her special ops-ish husband, but both of Gerry’s (Pitt’s) daughters are hysterical messes for most of the film while a second-generation Hispanic boy that they pick up along the way–who witnesses major trauma–remains calm enough to comfort Gerry’s girls. But, okay, I can look past gender issues inherent to standard Hollywood fare.
The ending is also weird. There’s some fluffy, freeze-frame big message thing going, and I didn’t quite get it. The politics of the film are complicated and for me contradictory in the way that zombies films usually are. After all, zombies themselves are contradictory figures, both the enemy (symbolic of the mindless madness of mankind, the inanities of consumerism, etc.) and yet often themselves the unwitting victims of the wrongs of some larger force (mad scientists, irresponsible governmental agencies, the general carelessness of the world, etc.). People don’t change into zombies of their own volition, after all, yet they are still horrible beasties quite deserving of a crowbar to the head.
What I give the film credit for is originality. As the trailer (stupidly) revealed, some of the zombie horde attacks are spectacular. (P.S. I’m through watching trailers; they give too much away, and I want to know what it’s like to watch a movie without any expectations. I just watched the trailer for Insidious 2, and I’m sure I saw all the scary bits. Poop.)
What the trailer doesn’t show (in its favor) is how well the individual zombies are portrayed. Kudos for that.
And the film did add something new to the monster manual entry on zombies. Again, I won’t give it away, but there’s some new stuff here. I’m not surprised, considering that its author Max Brooks (holy crap, the son of MEL BROOKS) also wrote the Zombie Survival Guide.
My main interest is in the depictions of fatherhood. I’m trying to submit something to a collection on fatherhood in popular culture, and this film convinces me that something new is going on in the apocalyptic film as far as fatherhood is concerned. They used to offer bad fathers a chance at redemption. Think of Dennis Quaid’s character’s transformation in The Day After Tomorrow (2004) or Tom Cruise’s in War of the Worlds (2005). Crappy fathers make good in their battle against extreme climate change or alien invasion and earn back the love of their children as they learn how to love and nurture.
But Gerry is already a good father when World War Z starts, so devoted, in fact, that he has willingly given up the dangerous excitement of being a UN special envoy to make pancakes for his family each morning. But as the movie suggests, proper citizenship demands something more than simply caring for one’s immediate family; Gerry needs to save the world so that his daughters have a future, even if it that means endangering his own life and therefore his own potential to be a father. Seems to me that Gerry’s turn from good father to good Samaritan might be more than the feature of this single film: I’m seeing something similar with Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead, and now I’m going to have to shell out movie fare to see if the same thing’s going on with real life father and son Will and Jaden Smith in After Earth.
Anyway, that’s it. I think it’s more than worth the price of admission.