Bloated on its own reportedly $400 million budget and logy with an odd inertia for a globe-trotting tale, World War Z is the most flavorless sort of blah that Hollywood regularly vomits out.
Z cannot decide if it's a horror movie — albeit one with the squeamishness dictated by a need to recoup those outrageous production costs by trying to draw in younger teens — or a medical thriller, one that knocks off the only "character" who's a doctor or researcher almost as soon as he's introduced.
In both cases, the camera turns away at the first hint that even a peek of blood might be forthcoming. Z has no guts of any kind. It has absolutely nothing to say, and it cannot even manage the slightest bit of urgency that one would imagine Armageddon to inspire.
There was potentially potential here, and I'm not even referring to Max Brooks' magnificent novel, from which this borrowed a title and little else. For one thing, there's the start of a motif about our indifference to looming disaster. The opening credits play over a montage of TV clips in which the first hint of news of an unknown virus spreading among human populations is lost among a cavalcade of screaming pundits and crap TV.
But that satirical thread is lost when the film turns into urban disaster, as former United Nations worker Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family witness Philadelphia fall to fast-moving, rabid zombies. There's some momentarily intriguing stuff here, but the terrifying fury and speed with which civilization collapses then gives way to the half-cocked medical mystery, as Gerry heads off with a military team to seek out the source of the virus, in hopes of finding a cure.
Z is so flat it's scary. Gerry is the most insipid sort of Hollywood Hero, about whom we know nothing beyond that he worked for the U.N. doing something vague and dangerous, which is what he continues to do as he hops around the planet. We learn nothing about Gerry except that, shockingly, he is worried about the family he left back on an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic, a sort of floating military base and refugee camp.
Mireille Enos plays Gerry's wife and spends the entire movie hugging her children and making beds, which is tedious and offensive but also makes no sense. Surely there are urgent jobs that need doing when too many terrorized people are crammed into too small a space with too few resources. They couldn't come up with some dramatically interesting work for a supposedly major character to do with the survival of the human species apparently at stake?
World War Z offers us disaster on a global scale; it's sketchy, but it's still more than other similar films have achieved. But that scale means nothing without human characters to care about, not in a film that seems to want to be taken primarily as drama.
My real fear is that Z is just bland enough to spread around the world quickly. God help us if this is successful enough to suggest to Hollywood that the strategy here should be repeated.