(Wall of text incoming) So I recently watched WWZ with a friend. I have friends, r-really.
I thought it was okay. I think that finding a cure was totally a shitty way to end it. And the emphasis on the doings of Brad Pitt–I don’t even remember the character’s name–was misplaced. And him surviving that plane crash was just ridiculous.
Oh yeah, by the way, spoilers.
So, in order to understand why WWZ was such an average story, I think it’s important to look at what a zombie film/game/movie/book can do well, and how most good stories fucking work.
Let us go back to the basics for a moment. Stories usually (usually) happen when a protagonist(s) is faced with an obvious problem. It could be Nazis, zombies, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, or a threesome gone horribly wrong. This threesome problem could involve things like Nazis and zombies.
Most really good stories require that the protagonist(s) deal with a deeper, psychological issue(s), the dealing of which is usually prompted by aforementioned obvious problems: zombies, threesomes, and the like.
And, ideally, the protagonist(s) resolves his or her internal problem. There’s a lesson learned. Or, the character just changes, for better or worse.
The key, here, is that a character reacts meaningfully to a problem. It’s one thing to be upset by seeing your father killed by your uncle. This is going to be mildly interesting for the casual observer. It’s another thing entirely to have this experience upset you so much that your uncle can convince you that you are responsible for you father’s death, and that you should just run away from all of your problems for (possibly) the rest of your life.
And then you have to bounce back, in the process learning to accept the responsibility of adulthood that you’ve been shying away from for so long.
And you’re surrounded by talking animals!
Now that’s meaningful change! That’s putting a character’s psche through a meat-grinder and re-shaping the delicious, meaty goop that comes out the other side into something different.
Now, in light of this, we can see WWZ as being a “story” in which Brad Pitt deals with a zombie problem and doesn’t really change as a result. We see some personality, some bravery–good for him, he’s a cool dude. He suffers some anxiety, sure, and his life is put in danger, but nothing changes for good. He’s the same at the end as when it all started.
In WWZ the book, we watch how the entire world deals with the zombie problem and changes meaningfully. This is made even more important to us because we also see how a handful of select individuals perceive this change, and how those people change, too. It’s an excellent story, well-told, that manages it’s scale in a remarkable way. We see conflict and suffering on a global level, and we see it on the individual level, which is where most stories generally work.
WWZ the movie starts off on the right foot. We watch a city get fucked up by zombies. We hear about how the world gets fucked up. We see the American and Isreali responses. We hear about the possible North Korean response, which was hilarious–kudos to whoever came up with that.
But then the movie focuses in on Brad Pitt the action hero. The end of the film is spent zoomed in on a fucking research facility–just one building, for god’s sake–and we’re given a convenient cure. It’s mentioned, in passing, that the world’s changed, but we didn’t see enough of it. And the problem is solved with some vaccines.
Part of the issue here is the medium. A global issue is going to be hard to adequately flesh out in a two hour long film.
The other part is the emphasis on plot, rather than on character. Some of them are decent characters. Most are merely personalities.
IN CLOSEING (anyone still awake?): Zombies are a good problem to throw at your protagonist, the individual. However, zombies are a problem that is at it’s most interesting when society as a whole is forced to deal with it. Zombies are an apocalyptic issue, one that can bring our society to an end, either leaving it for dead or forcing adaptation. I’m sure that zombies will continue to be a big part of today’s fiction–they certainly are in video games, if The Last of Us and The Walking Dead are anything to go by. Both of those detail societal change, explicitly and by subtle implication, while also showing us meaningful reactions at the level of the individual characters.