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Monsters and Monster Disappointments

Zombies go global and Pixar goes back to school




WORLD WAR Z. When Max Brooks' novel World War Z came out in 2006, the avalanche of zombie-related entertainment was just beginning to gain momentum. Shaun of the Dead had just obtained cult status, Zombieland wasn't even a twinkle in Woody Harrelson's eye and The Walking Dead had yet to be adapted for television. Wisely, Paramount Studios quickly scooped up the rights to Brooks' story; his critically acclaimed book was bound to be a goldmine. Teaming up with Plan B Studios (Brad Pitt's production company), Paramount began the arduous process of converting the seemingly un-adaptable book into something befitting a guaranteed blockbuster. Six years, two scripts and one option renewal later, World War Z finally made its debut on the big screen. You'd think that after all the time, build-up and effort, it would be a masterful, post-apocalyptic un-deadfest; regrettably, the film bears absolutely no resemblance to Brooks' original brilliance, and generally fails to impress.

In its original form, World War Z was a cleverly woven oral history of the great zombie war; more than 20 characters give their individual accounts of the progression of the war, ranging from the incredibly personal to the extremely tactical. The film adaptation tells a typical story of the zombie apocalypse from the viewpoint of one central character: former United Nations employee/action hero, Gerry Lane (Pitt). The zombie outbreak happens in a flash, and spreads incredibly quickly. Lane sacrifices his own safety, using his connections to secure the safety of his family in exchange for his help getting to the root of the zombie outbreak. With his wife and kids stowed away on an overcrowded aircraft carrier, Lane takes off on the sort of adventure only a high budget, disaster film can provide: car chases, rain-drenched foot races, blockade collapses, plane crashes, etc.

Even if we sever the connection World War Z has to Brooks' original story, it fizzles as a zombie film. The writers, Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom), Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) and Damon Lindelof (Lost) took Brooks' title as a basic foundation, and then built a completely different story on top of it. Though they took great effort to create their own story, the end result was nothing more than a bastardized amalgamation of previous zombie movies. The few tropes that the writing team chose to tamper with should have been left alone. Take, for example, the choice to make the zombies run rather than walk. Rather than increase the tension, their speed takes the undead-ness out of their presence. There are few hand-to-hand battles, no grizzly images of zombies feasting on the weak and relatively few close-up shots of the flesh-eating menace. The zombies move in throngs, rushing and stampeding their way through major cities and over large barriers; they easily could have been replaced with swarms of bees for the same effect.

Though action-packed, World War Z fails to build tension or surprise. It's the embodiment of "too little, too late;" even if it had been released at the height of the zombie craze, it would have failed to compare to the originality and spectacle of other films. Hollywood, you're kicking a dead horse. Leave the zombies to AMC's The Walking Dead, where they eat the dead horses instead.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. Even at its least fantastic, Pixar has never really let me down. They re-invented the concept sequels with the Toy Story franchise, and I didn't hate either of the Cars movies (despite their overuse of Larry the Cable Guy). So, I didn't bat an eyelash at their venture into the world of prequels with Monsters University. Years before Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James "Sully" Sullivan (John Goodman) revolutionized the scare industry in Monsters Inc., they were nothing more than cocky freshmen in the Scare Program at the prestigious Monsters University. Like the multitude of collegiate films before it, Monsters University follows a basic formula: a frat full of unlikely outcasts must excel and outshine the popular frat in a contest of epic proportions. It's a family friendly frat-fest, full of familiar faces, but it fails to follow in the footsteps of the first film. Monsters University is still better than most full-length, animated features, but it lacks the iconic chutzpah and charm of other Pixar films.

Mike and Sully begin their higher education as adversaries, both battling their way to the top of the class. Their overly competitive antics lead to their expulsion from the Scare Program, and their only chance for redemption is winning the university's annual Scare Games. In order to compete, they have to join a fraternity. Enter the unlikely outcasts. Statistical likelihood aside, the underdogs prevail and everyone learns something valuable and wholesome about themselves. In the realm of children's movies, there's really no reason to veer far from the traditional path of the underdog story.

The constant cacophony of children's cackling confirmed the cartoon's capacity for charisma. A few chuckles and guffaws escaped my mouth, as well. All in all, though, Monsters University left me yearning for adorably heartbreaking character attachments I formed with Monsters Inc. The sweetest and most endearing moments of the first film were the scenes with Mike, Sully and their toddler stowaway, Boo. Monsters University needed more moments of emotional connection like these to truly pull in the adult audience, hold their interest and ensure repeat viewings. Pixar, I still put more faith in you than I do Disney, but you need to get back into true form if you're going to keep me. With heavy hitters like Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me) and Blue Sky Studios (Epic), you're not the biggest fish in the little pond anymore.


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DESPICABLE ME 2. Formerly villainous Gru (Steve Carell) returns with his girls and his hyperactive minions to battle the evil Eduardo. How evil? He's voiced by Al Pacino. PG. 98m.


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MAN OF STEEL. Is the latest Superman re-boot too big to fail? Maybe not. PG13. 140m.

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THE PURGE. In near future America, there's almost zero crime or unemployment because, one night a year, society gets to hunt and kill the deadbeats. Starring Ethan Hawke. R. 85m.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. J.J. Abrams injects more action and knowing winks in this second outing in the rebooted series. PG13. 132m.

THIS IS THE END. Seth Rogen and friends go out with a bong and a whimper in this uneven stoner's tale of the apocalypse. R. 107m.


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