World War Z (The Z is for Zombie)

Don’t run out to see World War Z. Don’t run out and see any movie. It’s customary to walk or drive to see movies, so you’re not sweaty when you get there, ruining the movie for yourself by worrying about whether or not you’re gross, and others by actually being gross.

But you should walk or drive see it. I really liked World War Z, and I didn’t expect to.

This is a weird first movie for me to choose to do this with. I wasn’t so moved by World War Z that I just had to tell people about it. I’ve wanted to take a stab at doing some reviews on this site for a while, and this happens to be the first movie that I’ve seen since that desire took a deeper hold.

Also, I think this is going to feel weird tonally, because I’m not going to labor over the prose or try to guard myself. I’m going to sound a little more hysterical and fratty than would otherwise make me comfortable, but it’s part of my self-administered therapy. Also also, can you sound that fratty if you’re actually sitting down and writing? I submit that you can, and that these sorts of posts will.

This piece is going to be spoiler heavy. I know the trick with reading movie reviewz; you want to figure out if you care about seeing the movie, but you also don’t want to “spoil” the movie, so to speak, by knowing too much about what happens. Guys, you’ve read movie reviews and seen movies before and judged your relative enjoyment of the experience, made hypotheses, adjusted your behavior, and tried again, right? You don’t need me to go over how this works do you? Let’s pretend I didn’t just treat you like you don’t know how movies and their reviews work and move on.

You’d want to see this movie if you like seeing Brad Pitt do most things. People complain about major stars in action movies phoning it in, but most of these guys are stars because we’re willing to watch them do just about anything. I saw Oblivion on the hope that Tom Cruise would run it, which he did. Not even getting to see Tom Cruise run made Oblivion worth watching. Sad but true. But Brad Pitt is fine in this movie. He’s smirky and long-haired and you believe that he loves his wife and kids and could handle the zombies.

You’d want to see this movie if you’re not a huge zombie movie fan. I’m guessing on this one, because I’m not a huge zombie movie fan, but through the power of empathy I’m able to make a guess that people who like watching zombies make a mess of human bodies, aren’t going to be that into this one. It’s PG-13, and leaves most of the gore out-of-frame. That’s not to say that it’s doing something terribly different with the idea of zombies. They work in the ways we’d expect. But the movie’s not interested in exploiting their gore potential, which leads to the next point.

You’d want to see this movies if you want to exercise whichever chakra it is that handles the body’s response to suspense. The zombies aren’t used here to evoke feelings of horror. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of horror, but this movie wants to co-opt that horror to enhance its suspense. And they push it hard for the first 15 minutes.

You’d want to see it if you like watching the stakes for every situation in a movie pushed a little further than you think the characters can handle. Most recently (this is a lie, I don’t keep up with movies well enough to make claims like “most recently”—I mean “most recently for me”) Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol did this really well. I didn’t appreciate Ghost Protocol my first time through it; I thought it was fine. Then I watched J.J. Abrams’ MI:III—not a piece of shit, but nearly a piece of shit—and watched GP again (I call it GP), and it (GP) shot way up in my estimations. This is nearly spoiler material, but almost no situation in World War Z is so bad that someone can’t lose an eye (not something that happens) and make it worse.

You might want to see it if you don’t like your summer blockbusters especially original or inventive, but still want them to operate with a high degree of craft. Only one moment for me really knocked it out of the park, and moved beyond workman like competence. However, if the rest of the movie had been subpar, the moment that got me wouldn’t have landed. Besides, why do we have to be so complainy about workmen?

SPOILERS

Most of what I want to handle that includes spoilers revolves could probably rightly be understood as me trying to figure out why I liked this movie, and wanting to not worry about whether or not a given detail spoils the movie.

First, I liked the movie because I’ve regressed in my movie taste. I’ve probably regressed in most of my tastes, but with my son’s engagement with movies, I’ve regressed markedly. He’s eight years-old and a full member in the cult of Spielberg. I don’t know how to not support that. This means that I watch adventure movies with almost total exclusivity. I don’t mind it. I don’t really watch smaller-budget character-driven films anymore. I’m sure I will in the future, but I tend to watch things my son can watch right now.

An interesting fact of watching a bunch of Spielberg: I’ve realized that his approach to causal narrative is very loose. He’s great at the sleight-of-hand that forces you to accept plot moves and events for which there’s no well-defined cause, or at least often not a compelling one. Examples: Tyrannosaurus Rex killing the Velociraptors at the end of JP (I call it JP), or Indiana Jones as a compelling hero in Raiders, regardless of the fact that in the climax of the movie his only heroic act is to tell Marian to close her eyes, so she doesn’t get YHWH-lasered by the Ark of the Covenant.

In World War Z the narrative works well causally. I’m not saying that every move is completely watertight, but there’s not a ton to complain about. I think that watching a bunch of Spielberg where he handles this sort of thing loosely, predisposed me to appreciate a narrative that holds this line tight.

The ratcheting up of stakes felt really satisfying for similar reasons. WWZ wasn’t afraid to cut off character’s hands, impale them, blow up the plane they’re on, destroy Jerusalem. Everything thing that a character gets in this movie, they’ve earned. That feels really satisfying.

The movie teaches you how to feel about its zombies pursuing the humans. It drops you into the full vulnerability of Brad Pitt protecting his family in a situation where the infection could break out at any time. The end of the movie gives a master class in “B Wing” about exactly how it feels to be pursued by zombies and the type of things they’re not going to miss. Then it gives you the opportunity to feel the relief of a man who’s become a master of both worlds.

When Brad Pitt injects himself with whatever deadly virus it is he finally chooses, he takes death on himself so that death can no longer touch him, and then does the equivalent in this movie of walking through walls.

The movie weakens somewhat from that point on. There’s no central character that can operate as the locus of all evil, so that we can see BP (I call Brad “BP”) whoop ass. But we do get to see a resurrected savior meet his people on the shore.

Ultimately, I think that our entertainments work best in two nearly diametrically opposed fashions: we can go for nuance and care and empathy, or we can go for mythic, elemental power. I’m not saying that some works aren’t capable of both. But I do think it’s rare to find both of those two situated in the same space. WWZ works best when we just let go and let the mythic, elemental side of things have free-reign.

It’s not Christ-typing that made the movie work for me, though. Christ-typing happens naturally in stories with a mythic bent. Its mere presence shouldn’t get anyone excited. But when a movie makes us feel what it means to be released from bondage to death, gives us a moment when we can feel that relief in our bodies, that movie does a good thing.

World War Z (The Z is for Zombie)

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