I should be sick of zombie movies by now. While I'll never tire of the ones I love, there should probably be a moratorium on shoehorning zombies into every crevice of our culture. They're supposed to be a reflection of us, not the other way around.
But after reading Max Brooks's 2006 zombie apocalypse epic, World War Z, I couldn't help but be interested in what a seriously big budget stab at his incredibly ambitious novel would look like. Especially a book as compulsively readable as his Studs Terkel-inspired, deeply drawn and awesomely subtitled, An Oral History of the Zombie War.
That interest only grew once the production began to take shape. And take forever.
Rumors of constant rewrites, reshoots and a hemorrhaging budget fueled pessimism toward the seemingly hubristic notion of distilling (and diluting) a sprawling, multi-character, vastly detailed fantasy narrative into one, standalone film. Early trailers underwhelmed, and the prospect of a PG-13 rated version of the often gruesome novel only heightened the sense of watching a rickety supertanker on a collision course with artistic and financial disaster.
￼Handsomest Zombie Killer Ever. You heard me, Norman Reedus. Brad Pitt faces the horde in World War Z, the best movie adaptation of an unfilmable novel in years.
So it's somewhat of a relief that World War Z isn't awful, though the experience is still only a sliver of its visceral source.
Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a former U.N. envoy who retired from his job of infiltrating unstable countries so he could spend more time with his wife (Mirelle Enos, Gangster Squad) and two kids (Abigail Hargrove and Sterling Jerins). After finding out that they're all adorable and that Gerry is great at cooking pancakes, shit immediately hits the fan when their hometown is quickly overrun with "infected" -- boiling masses of fast-moving zombies who turn everyone they bite into the undead, within 12-seconds.
Since Gerry's former job makes him important to the U.N. and the military, he and his family are rescued and brought to a flotilla in the Atlantic Ocean. Gerry's mission, should he choose to accept it, is to accompany a virologist, (Elyes Gabel, Game of Thrones) to find the source of the outbreak and ultimately create a vaccine to cure the growing millions of undead. Should he choose not accept it, Gerry and his family can kindly go back to Philly. It's an offer he can't really refuse.
World War Z is nothing if propulsive, though unfortunately, the choppy execution leaves one with the sense that a lot of material hit the cutting room floor. That unevenness is augmented by a clear case of too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen. WWZ boasts a screenplay with no less than three credited screen writers (and likely more) including heavyweight names like Damon Lindelof (Prometheus), Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods) and Matthew Michael Carnahan (State of Play).
The result, as directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, which is similarly shallow in considering its source material) is a mixed bag of memorable scenes and on-the-rails plotting that dumbs down Brooks' masterwork into a straight ahead, Brad Pitt-starring action film. Again, this is not awful. But it glosses over the stunning detail and world-building that made the book so great.
"The book is better than the movie" is as usually true as it is a cliché, and it's rarely a fair comparison. World War Z, taken on its own merits, is entertaining and never really drags. The first act is the strongest, wasting no time in almost immediately throwing Gerry and his family into the creepiest moments of the movie as they seek refuge in a slummy, Newark tower block from the growing hordes of infected. Gerry's arrival at an overrun, rain-soaked North Korean airbase in the search for Patient Zero, as well as his escape make for some of the film's more tense moments -- and quietest. That's not a coincidence.
But the script only suggests the coolest elements, since the book was never about one person or country. Israeli foreknowledge of the coming undead Apocalypse (a hat tip to 9/11 Truthers) helps keep the Jewish State safe -- somewhat allegorically -- from the masses at their border. North Korea is saved from decimation after the regime systematically pulls the teeth from every uninfected citizen. Elsewhere nukes are deployed in desperation. But those snippets of the book, shades of its most ominously haunting moments, are drowned in a rote story about a fairly clueless (if capable) guy who is really just trying to save his own family.
The first two acts build decent tension. But you'll be checking your watch once you get the feeling that there will be no time for the Battle of Yonkers or even any real telling of how the war was won. No mention of the underwater Zekes or the blessings of the frozen undead that turn the tides of war in wintertime. Instead, the film devolves into a third act that narrows the scope and results in a sort of non-ending. World War Z becomes an adaptation best looked at as a reason to read (or reread) the book.
It's not for lack of trying. Pitt turns in a fine performance alongside a deeply concerned ensemble cast. It's not gory but gore isn't everything if you have atmosphere, which World War Z intermittently achieves. The scope of its intentions is admirable even as the execution is humorless and constrained by weirdly limited ambitions that somehow didn't include the budget.
Because World War Z could have been an amazing HBO mini-series, especially for 200 million dollars -- one that would happily make The Walking Dead obsolete. Sadly, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are busy with Game of Thrones.
Much Ado About Nothing
Following on the heels of the record breaking success of The Avengers, writer/director Joss Whedon's adaptation of William Shakespeare's 16th-century rom-com Much Ado About Nothing feels like a left field use of the uber-geek icon's time. It's as if he took the "one for commerce, one for art" adage as seriously as possible.
But when you really look at his filmography and his operatic, serial sense of storytelling; one that often reinvents well-worn tropes within the genres of horror, sci-fi and comedy (and the big, grey area in between) that it makes perfect sense for Whedon to adapt The Bard. He's earned both an ensemble troupe of actors that he knows how to direct and his reputation for infusing classical storytelling with a distinct and gleefully smart signature still has people pissed off that Firefly got cancelled over a decade ago. His rapid fire, mirthful character exposition; his subtly detailed storytelling style and his easy sense of world building in multiple genres really make him a natural fit for a romantic comedy-of-errors, whose last incarnation by the talented, yet obsessively traditional Kenneth Branagh could use an updating.
Finally, Whedon Tackles Aquaman. Actually, the Avengers director just needed something superhero-y in Much Ado About Nothing, now playing.
Essentially the story of two guys who can't connect with their women, Much Ado About Nothing tells the stories of Claudio (Fran Kranz, The Cabin in the Woods) and Hero (the lovely Jillian Morgese) as well as their siblings, Benedick (Alexis Denisof, The Avengers) and Beatrice (Amy Acker, The Cabin in the Woods) as they bumble their way to romantic bliss.
Claudio seeks the hand of Hero, the daughter of Leonato (Clark Gregg, The Avengers) though he doesn't really have the balls to woo her properly. He gets his family friend and war comrade, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond, Moneyball) to do the leg work of asking for Hero's hand in marriage -- the google-eyed success of which inspires Don Perdo's illegitimate brother, Don Jon (Sean Maher, Serenity) to sabotage the nuptials -- believing that Claudio is marrying below his station.
Meanwhile, Benedick, a wisecracking bachelor and Beatrice, Leonato's neice and cousin to Hero are manipulated into love by Hero and the rest of the family. From this series of comedic misunderstandings (and a little skullduggery) will both couples find bliss? Sure.
But, of course, there's more to it than that. Distilling the charms of Shakespeare's rapid-fire, iambic pentameter would make an article of itself, much less when it's filtered through the talented lens of Whedon and his game cast.
Set in the modern era, Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing celebrates its anachronistic nature -- be it with the contemporary, proto-European setting, the choice to shoot in black and white (which reflexively feels Allen-esque, for all of his bumbling rom-coms) and with all the verve and humor you'd expect from Whedon's dexterous imagination. Even more enjoyably, he never lets the anachronism become a stylistic bludgeon -- a la Baz Luhrmann. Whedon's Ado has more to do with indie transposition than bombastic reinvention.
The performances are suitably game and funny, with Kranz, Denisof and Acker standing out amongst a raft of fine actors handling The Bard's machine gun dialogue like champs, though it must be noted that Nathan Fillion, as Dogberry, a local cop, steals every scene he's in -- which is not so surprising if you know Whedon. They're like Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, just not as played.
Funny, sexy and adept, with Much Ado About Nothing Joss Whedon has crafted a low-key, stylish and delightfully entertaining take on an oft adapted tale that, thanks to its timelessness and the muse of great filmmakers, will never grow old.
Send all comments and feedback regarding Cinema to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Share this article: