A film review by Craig J. Koban July 3, 2013
WORLD WAR Z
2013, PG-13, 116 mins.
2013, PG-13, 116 mins.
Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane / Enos as Karen Lane / James Badge Dale as Captain Speke / Peter Capaldi as W.H.O. DoctorDirected by Marc Forster / Written by Mathew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon LIndelof, based on the book by Max Brooks
WAR Z is based on the best selling 2006 zombie apocalypse novel written by
Max Brooks (son of Mel), which is still unread by yours truly.
Alas, my job here as a film critic is to review the film on its own
merits and not how well it adapts its literary source material.
Considering the relative smorgasbord of zombie-plagued films that
have been unleashed on us for so very long, WORLD WAR Z certainly has its
work cut out for it in terms of being novel and unique.
Thankfully, and rather refreshingly, this Marc Forster directed
film does score points for ingenuity and daring to go against the grain of
its genre. Considering all of
the controversy surrounding the project (more on that in a bit) WORLD WAR
Z is a cohesively sustained, frighteningly immersive, and epically staged
and intense end-of-days thriller.
WORLD WAR Z absconds away from the more insular look and feel that has
dominated so many other zombie horror films.
Countless others in the past have dealt with the consequences of
such a plague on small-scale levels, but Forster’s film wonderfully
opens up its story to span most of the world and how such an outbreak
would affect…well…everyone. Secondly,
zombie films have always been known for their hard-edged R-rated gore, and
the PG-13 rating for WORLD WAR Z was, initially for me, a damning red
flag. Fortunately for us,
Forster and company work around this typically watered-down rating by
establishing and fostering a mood of escalating dread throughout.
Any film can throw repetitive brain bashing carnage on screen, but
this film lets nail-biting tension and scares fuel its apocalypse, which
oddly makes its undead monsters even more terrifying of a menace as a
result. Scaring audiences, I
have always maintained, is harder to do than disgusting them.
scenes of the film are its finest, as they establish the relative
normalcy of a family’s day that then rather quickly descends into panic
when the world around them rather quickly succumbs to a virus that makes
its victims savage, unthinking creatures.
We meet an ex-military investigator named Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt)
that has a loving wife, Karen (Mireille Enos) and two young daughters.
He’s driving the family through the crowded streets of
Philadelphia as he has countless times before…but then all hell breaks
loose when ordinary people are taken over by a rabies-like pandemic that
turns them into rampaging flesh-eaters. Using
his military and political connections, Gerry manages to get his family
safely away from Philadelphia and then to Newark, NJ, after which they are
escorted to an offshore aircraft carrier.
Philadelphia, Newark, and most other American cities are now
overrun by their new ghoulish menace.
Not everything is
stable on the aircraft carrier, though.
Gerry and his family are given safe haven, but only if he decides
to head up a military and epidemiologist team abroad to discover the
source of the zombie plague and a possible solution to this
ever-escalating worldwide crisis. Begrudgingly,
Gerry agrees to his task, and boards a cargo plane that first goes to
South Korea and then to other countries, including Israel, where he
discovers that certain people are indeed immune, so to speak, from zombies
ever attacking them. From
here, Gerry’s investigation takes him to Wales and the offices of the
World Health Organization, where he hopes to uncover the secrets of
Patient Zero once and for all. Unfortunately
for him and the few remaining survivors there, most of the WHO doctors
have already been turned.
There has never
been, to my knowledge, a zombie film with the large-scale, globetrotting
scope of WORLD WAR Z, which gives it a freshness of approach.
If anything, the film almost becomes more of an elaborate and
enthralling who-or-what-dunnit medical mystery thriller that just happens
to have hordes of the undead in it. The
film is also spearheaded by Brad Pitt’s pitch-perfectly underplayed
performance. One of the key assets of WORLD WAR Z is that Pitt does not
play Gerry as beefed-up, uber strong, and blunt force action hero.
Instead, he’s more intriguingly a man of cerebral action that
uses his wits, attention to finer details, and keen deductive prowess
really stand out. The way
Pitt allows for Gerry to emerge as an inwardly strong, but nonetheless
frightened and vulnerable figure allows for our easy dramatic engagement
in the film’s narrative.
This is not to
say that the film is meek minded when it comes to zombie action, and the
German-born Forster – a director that struggled, I think, with action in
QUANTUM OF SOLACE and
previously directed films as far-ranging as FINDING
NEVERLAND and STRANGER THAN
FICTION – stages the frequently massive scenes of terror with a
real gusto, combining cutting edge visual effects, editing, and pacing to
sell the intensity of these moments.
The zombie menace has never been portrayed with such an awe-inspiring
enormity as it is here: In Israeli, for instance, thousands of the
creatures swarm up like a giant ant-colony to make it over a large
fortified wall into Jerusalem and, when inside, a swarm bowls over a huge
bus like it was fly paper. The
film even manages to niftily explain why some zombies are ultra-fast
moving monsters whereas some are slow and lumbering Romero-esque ghouls.
Later scenes – showcasing Gerry trying to find a way to get past
the infected WHO staff to what may appear to be a solution to the
infestation – are wickedly realized moments of fingernail-biting
WORLD WAR Z has
had its share of controversy, especially when it was revealed that its
originally shot third act was dumped, requiring cast and crew to return to
shoot up to 40 minutes of additional Damon Lindelof written footage,
which subsequently made the film’s already large budget swoon to over
$200 million. Even with this
knowledge going in, I was pretty hard pressed to notice any glaring
incongruities between the first two-thirds of the film and its newly
minted climax. It’s a
testament to the filmmakers here that WORLD WAR Z does not feel like a
patchwork assembled and troubled production.
The transition from Gerry’s global investigation and finally to
the overrun government lab is remarkably seamless and unobtrusive.
Any visible signs of expensive reshoots are virtually null and void
here. For those blissfully unaware of the film's production woes,
you'll be hard pressed to notice at all.
Alas, WORLD WAR Z
will most likely anger and frustrate die hard fundamentalists of Brooks’
book, which, from what I’ve heard, greatly diverges from the more
episodic and eye-witness account centric source story.
The film’s ending seems more interested in setting up sequels than
with providing for a satisfying conclusion.
The 3D upconversion is also one of the shoddiest I’ve seen (skip
it and see it in 2D). Yet, if
you are willing to overlook all of that, then WORLD WAR Z emerges as a
fiendishly ambitious, surprisingly gripping, and efficiently and sleekly
rendered zombie scare fest. It
generates nerve-wracking shivers in just the right moments and is smart
and imaginative with its presentation of how our world would react to such
a calamitous and nearly unstoppable undead danger.
WORLD WAR Z may drastically diverge from its literary material, but
it’s still a thrillingly and skillfully made addition to
our long-standing zombie film canon.