World War Z [2D Version] (Dir. Marc Forster, 2013)
Big budget summer blockbusters are very rarely transcendent cinema, and almost never leave a lasting impression on its viewers, but are usually a good excuse to spend a few hours in an air-conditioned theater munching on candy. To be mildly entertained or even distracted was my only expectation going into one of the first major blockbusters of this summer, and even still I walked out of the theater feeling like I wasted my 9 dollars. World War Z is not scary, particularly funny, well-written, or even enjoyable. It is a movie that was rewritten and re-cut multiple times, and that shines through in its fragmented characterization and plotting. These issues quickly take a backseat to the film’s deplorable thematic racism and its odd, out of place pro-Israel, anti-multiculturalism stance that transform an otherwise benign, forgettable film into a reprehensible piece of cinematic garbage.
Before I get to the politics of the film, it is important to cover why this film fails on almost every basic level of cinema. One of the most basic rules of film is “show don’t tell”, meaning simply that you should use the imagery of your film to clue the viewers into what’s happening, rather than having characters directly hold our hand and tell us what we’re seeing. By ignoring this important edict, World War Z becomes an exercise in tedium. Every single mundane action undertaken by Brad Pitt’s character Gerry is quickly explained by another character as if the director/screenwriters couldn’t trust movie-goers to follow the film’s very basic plot. For example, towards the denouement of the film, Gerry comes to the brilliant conclusion that stabbing himself with a random deadly virus will cause the zombies to ignore him completely. A group of 5 or other characters who serve no purpose in the movie other than to tell us what is happening, are watching this development on a series of monitors. One of them watches as a zombie walks right by Gerry, ignoring him, and declares (verbatim) “He walked right by him! He walked right by him like he wasn’t even there!”. The viewer is fully aware of both what happened and what it means in regards to the plot of the movie, so why is this line necessary? Not only does it insult the intelligence of the viewer, but it is also a waste of precious screen time.
Redundancy seems to be the name of the game here, however, as there are numerous examples of scenes which do not advance the plot, show us something new about a character, or develop a theme further. After Gerry’s plane crash lands in Wales, there are a series of scenes set back on the UN fleet of the Army personnel and Gerry’s family learning of the crash. First we get an awkward 5-second scene in which the Army bigwig who sent Gerry out on his quest in the first place learns of the crash. A man off-camera informs him of the crash and he grimaces. That’s it. A character who’s only other action is to send Gerry out to find a cure is informed of a plane crash we just spent 10 minutes watching. This is followed by yet another turgid scene in which Matthew Fox’s character (who had most of his scenes cut due to re-shoots) informs Gerry’s wife that the UN Deputy Secretary-General has to speak with her. The scene is only around 3-seconds long, but it again points to the problem of bloat in this film. Why did we need to see a character with almost no other scenes learn information we are already privy to, quickly followed by a scene featuring yet another character with almost no other scenes? Why couldn’t it have just cut from the plane crash to Gerry’s wife’s conversation with the UN Deputy Secretary-General?
Insult my intelligence, whatever, waste my time, fine, but one of the worst things a film can do is bore me. And somehow this high-budget zombie action blockbuster found a way to nearly put me to sleep. There are 2 or 3 genuinely exciting set-pieces and each one is prominently featured in the trailers and TV commercials you have undoubtedly already seen. For a movie that is supposedly about zombies, there is almost zero blood or gore (gotta get that ever important PG13 rating!) and very little focus on the zombies. The film decides pretty early on that everyone knows everything there is to know about the living dead already and that it would rather spend its 2-hour run-time making sure that the audience understands the significance of Brad Pitt’s genius. There are a few jump scares in the film, very few jokes (I did find the zombies movements and noises to be pretty funny) and almost no moments that elicited any sort of emotion out of me. I may have laughed once or twice, but I do not recall being scared, excited or worried at any point.
All of this, and I mean all of the above words pale in comparison to the disgusting politics of World War Z. In the United States segment, Gerry and his family flee Philadelphia in favor of Newark, New Jersey, and eventually end up taking shelter in the dilapidated apartment of a Mexican couple and their Americanized son Tommy (who is bilingual, unlike his parents). Gerry quickly decides it is best to keep moving and, with Tommy as a translator, asks if the couple would like to accompany him. Gerry insists that in situations such as a zombie apocalypse it is best to keep moving, but the couple ultimately opts to stay put in their barricaded apartment. Not 30 seconds after the wise white man leaves, zombies burst into the apartment and (off-camera of course) turn the mother and father, but spare the all-american boy Tommy. Tommy is later taken in by Gerry’s family and the message of this sequence of events is pretty clear: assimilate or die. Tommy’s parents refused to learn English, didn’t heed the advice of a white man and were turned into zombies as a direct result. Tommy is spared because he has shed his parent’s reliance on the “old world” and adopted the language and customs of his new home. The boy’s only other scene in the film consists of Gerry telling him how awesome he is. It is impossible to ignore the repercussions of Tommy’s survival (which plays absolutely no part in advancing the plot), as it is a clear message to any and all potential immigrants into the US: we don’t mind if you come here, but you better listen to what we say and you better learn to speak English!
As if anti-immigration racism wasn’t enough, what follows amounts to a 20-minute propaganda piece on how great Israel is. The segment starts off with blustery, bombarding music set to shots of the Israeli flag and overhead shots of the beautiful cities and people contained within. Gerry arrives in Israel curious as to how the country has been so unaffected by the zombie hordes causing chaos around the globe. Shots of giant walls and dialogue explaining that the Jewish people are more vigilant towards threats such as zombie apocalypses due to the holocaust and wars with their neighbors (which were instigated by the Israelis but that isn’t mentioned). Gerry is led to one of the many checkpoints at the walls and is surprised to see that people are being let into the country, an odd sight during a catastrophe. As Gerry watches Palestinians, Indians and various Arabic people gain entrance to the holy land, a fervor of religious singing breaks out. One Palestinian woman picks up a microphone and the heavy, loud feedback begins to excite the zombies outside of the walls. They quickly scale the wall and invade Israel, destroying the Utopian ideal of multiculturalism that the Israelis attempted to establish. That is all well and good, but did you notice what led to the downfall of paradise? A Palestinian woman caught in a religious fit incenses the unwanted’s on the other side of the wall and ruins everything. We’re still in the first hour of the film and we’re already being spoon-fed another ridiculous message: Israel is attempting to get along with their barbaric neighbors, but no matter what they do these savages keep ruining it for everyone! Never mind the fact that the Israeli government is engaging in a modern day apartheid.
This is starting to get really long, so I’m going to wrap up with one last point: the movie ends with a montage of mass genocide. In most zombie movies, there is at least a little lip service paid to the fact that the undead used to be living human beings with families and friends, and that, while they have to be killed for the ultimate survival of the human race, it is not an easy thing to exterminate things that look like your father, mother, neighbor or lover. No such lip service exists here, and the ending extermination montage lasts around 30 seconds and is accompanied by a voice-over of Gerry declaring that it wasn’t a permanent solution to the problem, but it was a good start. Throughout the movie the zombies represent undesirables, usually immigrants or poor people, and the movies ends with soldiers setting them aflame, bombing them and wiping them off the face of the earth. Essentially saying “now that we’re getting rid of all these brown people, the world is going to be a new and better place!”. I will be accused of reading too much into this film, but at every turn in this film you are confronted with racist undertones and troublesome conclusions. I find the disturbing racial themes of this movie impossible to ignore and labeling it as just another silly zombie movie does not mitigate the racism of the film.