It didn’t make me zzzzzzzz… which considering Man of Steel did inclines me to be kind. Taken as an average cinema goer, which excludes fussy film anoraks such as myself, zombie-flicks aficionados and all who have read Max Brooks’ novel upon which this is based.. so for all you normal folk, this doesn’t suck. It managed to hold my attention, difficult these days, gave me a few jumps and of course there is Brad, who apparently manages to make eye-bags sexy.. not entirely convinced on that..
Once it has passed from big screen to small (ish), in the comfort and security of your own living room, minus all those shifting shadowy strangers and without the scale and popcorn, I suspect the flaws in this film will become glaring.
Because the small screen needs small touches. And despite its pretensions to be the serious zombie-pocalypse, this is pure spectacle with just enough story to hang it all together. It’s nailed the minimal dialogue, grey air, occasionally switched up with sepia – cause you know, this is internationally sombre – and the fuzzy reel of global news reports, but what you will remember this for is the swarming anthill of zombies surging up and over the wailing wall, the passenger plane ripped apart mid- air, bodies live and undead tumbling out, the sweeping panorama of a world slowly overrun and beginning to self- destruct one mushroom cloud at a time.
When examined on the microscopic scale of your average 32” tv, those panorama’s won’t be quite so sweeping, the anthill will be..an anthill and the dialogue not so much minimal as missing. What it failed to give us was those fine brush strokes, the striking robotic quality of Bourne’s fighting, the look of surprise widening his eyes as though he couldn’t quite explain how the gun ended up in his hands either. The panicked surrender of Eamon as his gut fears are realised and there is nothing he can do, cannot shout, cannot strike, but must simply obey and hope. Matched only in its understated sincerity by the inane smile on a dying killer’s lips. Despite the enormity of their terror and absurdity of what was occurring, understated worked. It suited the insidious nature of the threat, the assassin amongst the grasses, but this is the zombie apocalypse, a very different beast.
So why mention the Bourne Identity at all? Because WWZ is undoubtedly part of its legacy. While certainly not the first to try, Bourne represents a modern day pinnacle of physical filmmaking, achieving gritty realism in a genre steeped in cheese and setting a precedent for all who follow. Sadly, most seem incapable of doing anything except offering up pale and increasingly flawed copies, unable to determine which elements to keep, which to adapt and which to abandon, nor where and how they should be used.
Like in Bourne, WWZ offers us a lone figure seeking answers, unlike in Bourne, it doesn’t work. Bourne has someone and something to fight for; both represented by Marie. The family dynamic in WWZ was ripe to be exploited. Our hero is a man who has the rare skill set that could work to protect his family, yet he abandons them. Put in an impossible situation perhaps, though I personally would have left that particular aspect out, nonetheless reason is not most mother’s first port of call when a zombie infestation threatens her children. Conversely, in the first part of the film as order disintegrates there is equally every chance for us to see the frailty in our hero, to have him fail his vulnerable family. Neither of these avenues are taken, instead we are given quiet assurances and lots of back rubbing.
There is absolutely no tension or conflict which is not derived directly from the zombies themselves, which is of paramount importance given that the primary point of interest in any film of this nature is how do we, flawed humans, cope. We have instead a family who never shout at each other, a little boy who we can only presume watches his parents turn into his worst nightmare and yet never even sheds a tear. The stoic perfectionism is bordering on ridiculous.
The director’s constant cutting of the camera away from the worst of the gore has been quite heavily criticised but this stands as a perfect metaphor for his unwillingness to show the true cost of the war. There are some very clever ideas at play here, nice touches which if delivered well could have created their own legacy. In the final scene our hero, eye bags and all, must walk the gauntlet of Zombies in the hope his camouflage has worked. A perfect moment to make that choice to eschew botox work to Brad’s advantage, but there is not even a quiver. Another opportunity wasted is when an Israeli soldier loses her hand. Do we get a close up on the bloody stump, the broken shard of the bone poking out, some other small detail to remind us viscerally how real this is? No, we get to watch her moan and writhe as it is bandaged out of sight. Contrast with Bourne where we can hear the gravel slithering down the stone wall as he inches his way along, a hundred feet up.
In the end this feels like nothing more than a, very, overpriced star vehicle, and as such, fails to give us the star we wanted to invest in. It stands as the definition of a mindless blockbuster, a real shame given the source book desired to bring so much more to the genre, and a waste of some great visuals and interesting ideas. For all those hoping, and I am sure there will be many, to follow in this tradition of physical storytelling, here’s a couple of notes: it is the dialogue not the emotion which is minimal, grey tinting doesn’t affect our ability to recognise absurd logic and the greatest advancement in technology is not the ability to blow the world up but to show us the tiniest ant as it disintegrates in the blast.