Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Wold War Z vs. Pacific Rim, two movies about monstrous threats to human civilization.
PremiseIn Pacific Rim, an inter-dimensional portal opens deep within the Pacific Ocean. Alien life crosses into earth and tries to take out humanity. It amounts to Guillermo del Toro asking the question: “You know Godzilla? What if there were several of him?” Humanity decides that the best way to fight these monsters is to create giant robots that are controlled by people in motion-capture suits and have them get into a fistfight with the Godzilla-like army over the ocean. Seems about right.
The film adaptation of Max Brooks’ World War Z takes a more familiar subject: the zombie apocalypse. Brad Pitt plays a UN scientist in a desperate quest to save his family and cure the pandemic of the zombie disease. There are shots of his family fleeing into a helicopter and soldiers firing automatic weapons into an oncoming zombie horde. There are also graphs of worldwide casualty totals. It’s sort of like Contagion, but with zombies.Advantage: Pacific Rim
Quality MonstersThe monster in the Pacific Rim trailer looks like a bigger, more alien Godzilla—an all-time great monster. The humans pilot robots that look suspiciously like the Golden Army from Hellboy II, only super-sized and with rocket-powered arms; all the better to punch aliens with. Guillermo del Toro is always a safe bet to build a world full of strange and spectacular creatures—think the faun from Pan’s Labyrinth or the tooth fairies from Hellboy II—and this movie seems no exception. Although only one species of monster is on display, the trailer references monsters plural, so we assume more are on their way. Maybe he’ll adapt other creatures from the Godzilla universe. An air force of Mothras? Just spitballing.
World War Z promises a common film trope: zombies. Except it’s more realistic this time. Zombie apocalypse films are always “more realistic” than the last one. At what point will peak zombie realism be reached? How will we know? These zombies look to be of the fast type, as the trailer shows quick-moving mobs descending on buses and moving through populated areas. Good thinking, but at a certain point a zombie is a zombie, and these look like 28 Days Later meets I Am Legend, which will be fine but not innovative.Advantage: Pacific Rim
Oh, the HumanityIn both films, there’s a concerted global effort by humanity to combat the outside threat. They take drastically different ways of making this global effort personal. In Pacific Rim, the humanity comes from Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman dressing in special suits to control giant robots. Those battles look like they’ll be computer-generated martial arts combat, with rocket-powered arms. In World War Z, Pitt and The Killing‘s Mireille Enos provide a more human face and more human danger. If Enos and Pitt fail, we not only lose their two adorable children but also a Brad Pitt, and he doesn’t grow on trees.Advantage: World War Z
Star PowerTraditionally, apocalypse movies feature an all-star cast of superheroes on a quest to save us all. Only the best-looking and buffest of humanity can stop the incoming asteroid (Armageddon), robot assassin (Terminator 2), or alien invasion (Independence Day). Pacific Rim looks to move a TV-famous cast (Idris Elba, Hunnam, Perlman) into big screen stardom. All of those people are fine actors on amazing television programs, but they don’t have the star quality of, say, a Brad Pitt—whereas the star of World War Z has exactly the star quality of Brad Pitt, by virtue of being Brad Pitt. Director Marc Forster throws in some TV stars of his own—Matthew Fox and Enos—so we know he’s not making an Avengers/Iron Man/43 star power monstrosity.Advantage: World War Z
Chances of Humanity’s SurvivalIn both films, there look to be significant casualties. Pacific Rim has the more localized threat—the monsters are interested mainly in laying waste to San Francisco (maybe they hate suspension bridges?). The robots are at the point of attack, and if they fail, it’s game over, but at least the damage will be restricted to coastal cities (unless the seaborn alien-monsters evolve). In World War Z, the global zombie apocalypse will leave fewer survivors and change the course of human history forever. At the very best, large swaths of territory will become destroyed and uninhabitable. A climbing casualty count onscreen is part of the trailer; it’s a global phenomenon, and not one that can be solved by getting on an airplane headed inland.Advantage: Pacific Rim
DirectorGuillermo del Toro is the master of strange and inventive monsters and knows how to scare us. World War Z‘s Marc Forster also directed Quantum of Solace, which was a good-looking if vapid action movie. It’s a safe bet that this movie will be crisp and well-handled, although it might fall short of the spectacle promised by the Spanish auteur’s direction of Pacific Rim.Advantage: Pacific Rim
ConclusionWe’re crossing out fingers that Pacific Rim will be awesome and ridiculous. World War Z will be a competent film about zombies.Winner: Pacific Rim
Trailer Face-Off runs every Thursday. For more, click here.