It just came out, and in no way is it worthy of being the supreme focus of my attention right now, but damn if I can’t get the third act turnaround of World War Z out of my head. It seemed like a completely different movie, and while some people think the drastic changes made to the script were for the better, I am not among them.
Let me be clear, since there seems to be some confusion. The final sequence where Gerry, Segan, and that nameless W.H.O. Doctor played by that guy from Prince Caspian sneak through an infected laboratory teeming with undead is super tense, well shot, and produces a handful of sweet moments. And that scene where Pitt stares down the zombie on the other side of the door is aces. But, the reason they are there in the first place is beyond stupid! Now, I know that all zombie movies where it’s quickly established that it’s viral have plot twists like this. 28 Days Later… had the infected starving to death since they weren’t dead to begin with and Resident Evil is all over the place with different types of strains and possible cures and whatever. But, for those two, the third act macguffin that renders all zombies inert made sense because it was, at the very least, adequately set up throughout the rest of the movie. In World War Z, it’s not the case. In classic, Damon Lindelof style, the virus ignores those who are terminally ill. Why? It just does. Why? Because! And don’t give me that whole, they need a healthy host to ensure its spread. When the virus kills the host in 12 seconds and turns said host into walking husk, than terminal illness shouldn’t matter. In fact, those who are terminally ill would be perfect targets for the virus, since their immune systems are shot to begin with.
But that’s not important. The mythology of the world is the mythology of the world. But another dumb thing, as I see it, is that the movie spends a good hour and a half setting up, and following through with a pervading sense of hopelessness and apocalyptic hysteria. This thing is moving too fast for anyone to stop, and no amount of governmentally administered meningitis is gonna fix that. Further more, the ending that we have doesn’t really present a whole lot of room for an adequate sequel. Pitt’s character muses in the final moments that, “Our war is just beginning!”. Well, it’s gonna be a damn short war considering your opponents can’t see you and won’t attack you anymore. A sequel dealing with the aftermath of the war, a la the actual book this movie is supposedly based on, would be cool, but there’s no way Paramount is going to green light that.
How should the movie really have ended? Allow me to direct your attention to an article posted at Comic Book Movie, where the full breakdown of the original third act, before Lindelof came on board, would have played out. For all the details, go there. For a quick synopsis, keep reading.
Basically, Gerry leaves Jerusalem with Segan like he did, but rather than go to Cardiff, he goes to Moscow. Immediately after departing the plane, (which lands safely. No mid-air massacre here.) Gerry is conscripted into the Russian army to help fight the zombies. His satellite phone is taken as well. Fast forward a few months into winter and Gerry has become an expert in zombie killing and soon discovers that zombies freeze in the bitter cold. Realizing that this will give the humans the upper hand, he implores the Russian leaders to extinguish all fires and lead the zombies into the open so that they can freeze. It works, and Gerry takes this opportunity to escape, having reacquired his phone. He calls Karin, who is actually in a safe zone in the Everglades. You know, one of those camps where people have to trade something in order to survive. In Karin’s case, the thing she is trading is herself, and she has traded it to, of all people, the soldier who rescued them from the rooftop in Newark. This prompts Gerry to fly into a rage and the film ends with him landing on the coast of America ready to fight for his wife and daughters.
Now that’s an ending. Ambiguous, ballsy, and one that perfectly sets up a sequel with much higher stakes. It also begins to deal with a lot of the political and philosophical themes that Max Brooks brought up in his book. The lengths that governments and people will go to to survive the end of the world is not really touched on in the movie we have, but it is everywhere in this original final act, from the practically fascist tactics of Russia to the super dark implications of what Karin does.
But really, it’s just not as happy and hopeful an ending. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for happy endings. Optimism is great. But name one zombie movie (except 28 Days Later…) worth its salt that ending on a particularly happy or hopeful note. Every Resident Evil movie ends with shit way worse off than it was, Dawn of the Dead ends with the survivors finding that the supposedly uninfected island was teeming with zmobies, Land of the Dead ends with the survivors fleeing the horde of now intelligent zombies, and 28 Weeks Later… ends with the infection crossing the English Channel and spreading through Europe. Did we belittle these films because they had the stones to end on a dark, ambiguous, even sad note? No. On the contrary, we celebrated them? And if any zombie movie were going to end on a dark note, it would be World War Z! The world ends! The zombie plague destroys us. The film shows us that explicitly! It takes us to our darkest point well before Pitt even gets on that plane. Why can’t it have the balls to actually explore it.
The sequel for the original ending would be really cool. Seeing Pitt trekking across an America still trying to fight back, only this time he will have to fight humans as well? Yeah, that would be… wait, never mind. They just did that story. It’s called The Last of Us!
Really, the handling of the third act is my only real gripe with World War Z. The film is still super intense, really inventive with how it portrays a zombie pandemic, and does, admittedly, stay true to the spirit of Brooks book even if it doesn’t really have anything in common with it. But it could have been great! Whether or not the original ending would have made it so or would have sunk the film even more remains to be seen. Guess we can only surmise on what might have been!