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Is a David Fincher Zombie Sequel … a Good Thing?

The ‘Gone Girl’ director knows how to use Hollywood’s IP fever to his advantage

‘World War Z’ (Paramount Pictures)
‘World War Z’ (Paramount Pictures)

David Fincher has a new project. Per Variety, the guy who brought you Seven and The Social Network is going to direct … the sequel? To … World War Z? The famously troubled 2013 Brad Pitt zombie movie?

On first blush, this feels like the latest unnecessary battle in the IP Wars, Hollywood’s attempt to turn every movie into a cog in a franchise or interconnected universe. (We’re getting a third Jump Street movie — that might also be a Men in Black sequel?) Is directing a zombie movie — sorry, the sequel to a zombie movie, and one that didn’t have an ending when it began production in 2011 — really the best use of David Fincher’s time? Zombies are very … 2013. Sequels are boring.

Except, possibly, when they are directed by David Fincher. Fincher, for his reputation as an ultra-independent filmmaker, makes his best work from preexisting intellectual property. Fight Club was adapted pretty straightforwardly from Chuck Palahniuk’s novel. Zodiac was pulled from real life — and from Robert Graysmith’s books on the Zodiac killer. (Graysmith appears in the movie, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is really, really old IP. The Social Network is really dorky IP. Gone Girl is best-selling-novel IP. David Fincher, among the most creative and visionary directors alive, is a big fan of drawing from popular, well-branded source material.

Tellingly, the book that provides the strongest parallel to the World War Z news is another zillion-copy-selling airport novel with plenty of kink and a strong cult following. The result of that adaptation? A movie with all of Fincher’s favorite grim moods and torture sequences, plus the built-in audience to prevent it from becoming an exceedingly handsome flop.

World War Z was overlong, full of bad-good Brad Pitt hair, and extremely satisfying from an action and zombie-killing perspective. But it was not exactly the source of a compelling (and constraining) mythology. Pitt’s former UN investigator flies around the world, fighting the hastily-CGI’d living dead.

World War Z 2 — World War ZZ? — is pure possibility. Max Brooks’s book is basically a fictional oral history, a sober after-the-fact accounting by those involved of how the world dealt with the zombie apocalypse. It’s about global politics — Israel and Palestine reunify, democratic Cuba becomes the world’s largest economy — more than it is about a long-haired hero killing the undead. Which is to say: there is a lot of material for Fincher to mine here. There’s a zombie movie in World War Z, but there’s also a political thriller, and a straight action film, and a globetrotting road movie. Maybe Fincher makes The Fog of War. Maybe he takes Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion and cranks the volume. It will be big, and scary, and beautifully shot. In short: a David Fincher film. If that requires zombies, so be it. Start hiring extras and get makeup working overtime.