It’s been a disappointing year for movies, according to noted film authority Me. Star Trek Into Darkness filled me with shrugs, Iron Man 3 was shiny but who cares, and the two movies I saw recently were epic, expensive and not very good. At this point, the best movie released this year that I’ve seen has been, no kidding, Behind the Candelabra.
Speaking of gay haircuts, Brad Pitt co-produced and stars in World War Z, based on a book by Max Brooks, son of Mel Brooks. Disappointingly, World War Z didn’t feature an epic campfire farting scene like Blazing Saddles, but it really could have used one. WWZ is one of those movies where nobody is really a character. Everybody just kinda talks, but you don’t give a damn about any of it. We follow Brad Pitt across the globe as he tries to find a zombie cure, and the only reason to give a crap about Brad Pitt’s character is because he’s Brad Pitt and he’s the star of the movie.
WWZ had a rather troubled production history, but unlike true fiascoes like Gigli or Baby Geniuses, the reshoots managed to widdle the film down to a bland nub. (“Bland Nub” is also one of the nicknames of the film’s director, Marc “How Am I Still Getting Work?” Forster.) It plays exactly like a video game, with Pitt going from
level to level country to country, facing challenges, defeating the Big Boss and moving on to the next lev–er, country. In fact, the ending, where Pitt has to sneak around quietly in a lab in Wales, plays out exactly like a level in Metal Gear Solid.
I concede that part of me is sick of zombies. I’m already looking forward to NOT watching this season of The Walking Dead, and the genre needs to take a break for a while. Of course, I watched my Blu of Shaun of the Dead just last night, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. Correction: I definitely don’t know what I’m talking about.
Back to the movie, the ending does feature a very funny moment: The final battle culminates in a long hallway, with Pitt on one end and a bunch of zombies on the other. Pitt stops to compose himself, and he’s standing in front of a Pepsi machine. (We know this because the word Pepsi is on all the cans, and facing the camera perfectly.) Pitt then grabs a soda and takes a big swig. This may be the first movie to feature a Pepsi commercial as part of its climax. I half-expected Pitt to turn to the camera and wink. It was hilarious.
Two other things about WWZ: Mireille Enos plays Pitt’s wife, continuing Hollywood’s streak of useless wife characters. Apparently, even during a zombie apocalypse, a woman’s main role is to look concerned a whole lot, and that’s it. The camera closes in on her concerned face a lot, but somehow, this move still doesn’t turn her into an actual character worth caring about. Also, the 3D in this movie nearly made my wife throw up.
World War Z and Man of Steel both play the same way: Massive setpieces linked with connective tissue that’s impossible to care about. It’s doubly frustrating for Man of Steel, because it’s playing with characters and archetypes that have been established for decades, yet it decides to remove a lot of that and make everyone involved a bland cipher.
One big issue I have with Man of Steel is its bland color scheme. It was blue-tinted and flat, not the big bold primary colors that denote FUN and, you know, FREAKING SUPERMAN. I really liked James Cavill as the Son of Krypton, and would have been interested to see him work with a better script. Man of Steel, more than any recent film, that this whole idea that all superhero movies need to be grim and gritty is stupid, ESPECIALLY for Superman.
In fact, I can say that for the whole movie. The cast is superb, some of the action is mind-blowing and every dime spent on the movie shows on the screen. I wish all of these elements could have been transferred to a different script, which is weirdly schizophrenic: The first half is q re-jiggering of the Superman origin, and the second half is pretty much straight-up Transformers 2, with seemingly the entire U.S. destroyed by its supposed protector. And just like Michael Bay’s movies, it just keeps pummeling the viewer over and over and OVER until you don’t care about anything and just want some aspirin.
Maybe the issue is with Zack Snyder, who has always been able to make great moments in a vacuum, but they never seem to cohere into a great movie. Along with Michael Bay, he’s one of our current great second unit directors, with camera moves and shots and techniques that few others can pull off, yet it’s hard to give a damn about any of it.
Man of Steel may be the most mind-blowing film of the year. Somehow, it’s still not very good.
World War Z – **
Man of Steel – ** 1/2