MPAA Rating, PG-13
USCCB Rating, A-III
(2 out of 5)
Zombies are among the
greatest MacGuffins in contemporary literature and cinema. Any
thoughtful examination of the subject of the living dead leads
nowhere, but zombies can be a stand-in for any number of important
social issues including immigration, natural disasters, and even
romantic tension (see Warm Bodies
Zombie movies generally fall
into two categories: scary thrillers only interested in seeing
screaming teenagers killed in horrific ways or thoughtful
examinations about society and human nature. World War Z wants
to be in the second category but tries to also placate those who like
the first. As a result, neither is fully realized. Its attempt to say
something productive about life and death is compromised by the
repetitive need to show millions of CGI zombies attacking people.
World War Z makes zombies boring.
Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a
modern day Cincinnatus who once fought third-world conflicts for the
United Nations and now makes pancakes every day for his kids while
his loving wife brings home the bacon. Then the zombie apocalypse
breaks out in terrifying fashion. Gerry’s training comes in handy
as his family fights its way through Philadelphia until they are
rescued and brought to safety on aircraft carrier in the Atlantic (it
is usually assumed that zombies cannot swim).
His family’s lodging comes
at a price; Gerry must travel around the world looking for the origin
of the outbreak in order to make a vaccine. As Gerry chases down
answers from South Korea to Israel to Wales, he is continually
pursued and attacked by zombies. The amount of actual time taken to
move the plot forward is minuscule and many interesting facets of
this story are overlooked in the service of pure, adrenaline-laced
action. The film ends with a discovery that provides humanity with a
sliver of hope but does not solve the seemingly endless problem.
For most of a person’s
life, he assumes that tomorrow will come; safety is the rule, not the
exception. Yet for those who have experienced a serious illness or
been in a significant car accident, an understanding comes of the
truth: death is a possibility at every moment and eternity is much
longer than our lifespan. Jesus explained this by saying, “there
will be two men in a field. One will be taken, the other left.”
World War Z does a good job of demonstrating this sobering
fact. The scientist Dr. Fassbach states that “mother nature is a
serial killer” and explains that the Spanish flu killed nearly 3%
of the world’s population in two years.
Yet all of these
apocalyptic scenarios never ultimately come true. Any individual
person may die, but God promised that after the Flood humanity would
never be wiped out. Time and time again, the world seems to endand
then doesn’t. From natural attacks like the Black Death to the
man-made atomic bomb, humanity has always managed to see daylight.
World War Z sees human ingenuity as the cause of our survival,
but man’s ingenuity comes from God. Our species has a divine
protector who promised he “would be with us always.”
Yet apocalyptic scenarios
and biological concerns are the about the only issues the film finds
interesting. There are a whole host of other issues that could have
been explored and are simply ignored. This is best shown by the most
unconvincing characters in the film: the zombies. Considering that
the original zombie concept itself is physiologically unrealistic,
it’s almost an accomplishment to make them unbelievable. For
example, zombies are not fast.
Any previously dead organism that wanders around constantly without
food for weeks cannot suddenly, in the presence of live prey, run
faster than it did when it was alive. Yet the zombies here are
really, really fast and can jump so far they almost fly. The viral
conversion process from human to zombie also takes only 10 seconds;
even a tuna sandwich sitting in the summer sun doesn't go bad that
bioethical questions are completely ignored. Even simple but profound
questions are pushed aside. Is a zombie of my Uncle Frank still my
Uncle Frank? This is a movie about zombies that is not interested in
The world is a scary place,
and World War Z succeeds in showing that. Yet just when it
seems to open its mouth to speak some great truth, a zombie attacks
and it forgets what it was about to say. Like its antagonists, this
film is too fast for its own good. It has its moments but ultimately
does not live up to the qualities of a good film. More importantly,
it ignores the most basic zombie related dilemmas:
kill a zombie that is not attacking, is it a sin?
zombies are technically dead, are their souls in purgatory?
kills, though perhaps unintentional, add to their time there?
These are important
theological zombie questions that Catholic geeks everywhere ponder,
but World War Z will not provide many answers.