Z-Movie (“World War Z”)

Where’s the outrage, the concern, that another staple of a so-called “minority group” has been taken over by the “mainstream?” First it was jazz, then rock and roll, then rap, and now, the zombie has been appropriated.

Back in the day, zombies were dead people resurrected by arcane supernatural rituals. They were under the control of the person who brought them back, usually for some evil purpose. Then it all changed in 1968 with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which pretty much set the pattern for what a zombie “is” today:

  1. They just show up one day; nobody knows where they came from or why they’re here.
  2. They have no mission statement, aside from killing anyone who’s not a zombie.
  3. They used to shuffle along, occasionally breaking into a dance, but most of the time you could outrun them. Easily. Now they move so fast even Usain Bolt wouldn’t stand a chance.

The undead (well, as far as I could tell, they never really died) in World War Z fit firmly into this mold. It seems that whatever turned them into zombies spreads like a virus (or something); once they bite you, you’re one of them—unless you’re one of the lucky five present of the population who are, for some reason, immune to… whatever was causing this. There’s a lot of ambiguity in this movie; the protagonist, Gerry Lane, used to do something in dangerous places for the UN, but then something happened and he was forced out—but they keep him on speed dial.  When the zombie plague hits Philadelphia, the government pretty much blackmails him into helping out—which seems kinda unnecessary, seeing as how he’s (a) he’s used to doing dangerous stuff and (b) he’s seen what’s happening first hand. (This either makes him a Reluctant Hero or a Selfish Pr*ck, you decide.) Gerry sets off to find the source of the plague.

And that’s pretty much it, plot-wise for World War Z. Contributors to the story and screenplay include J. Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5) and Damon Lindelof (who’s been involved with a lot of stuff, including Prometheus, Lost, Fringe, J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies…) so the story has some surprises and good lines, the action doesn’t drag and you actually see people thinking about stuff rather than just reacting to events. There are thrills and chills and moments when you want to yell at the screen “Uh-huh, you better stay outta there!” Yet for every smart thing about the story, there are at least three things that are inexplicably dumb. And while these are movies, not documentaries, and their primary purpose is to entertain, not educate… The dual lessons here are (1) if you keep your eyes on the prize, you will succeed (2) provided you are luckier than anyone has a statistical right to be.

They say in South Korea, soccer stadiums sell out with people watching champion gamers play videogames. This hasn’t made it stateside yet but movies like WWZ are not far from the experience: you watch characters go through increasingly difficult situations, gaining power buttons or whatever along the way, and then they reach the last level of that game and you reset for the next one.

World War Z is not the worst way to while away a couple of hours, you won’t be sorry you paid for a ticket and popcorn, but… If you want to watch what I think is a better zombie movie, try Shaun of the Dead (2004), available on video.

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