World War Z

World War Z photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgA family sits in their car waiting out a huge traffic jam in some major metropolitan city. A motorcycle zooms by and knocks off the side-view mirror of Brad Pitt’s car. He gets out to retrieve the fallen ornament, his wife and two girls concerned inside. Suddenly an explosion goes off in the distance. So unfolds the trailer for World War Z. I had no idea what the unforeseen threat was to the population, but it had me curious. It was a powerful tactic that had me wanting to see more. It de-emphasized gore, instead focusing on some unforeseen menace.

Ultimately the smart strategy was a good one because the rest of World War Z is similarly restrained. The danger in this case is a universal zombie outbreak, but it could have been anything really. The drama is about survival of the human race. Brad Pitt is a United Nations inspector adept at problem solving. He’s contacted by the powers that be to help join the fight. Philadelphia, Newark, N.J., South Korea, Israel and Wales: as we follow Brad Pitt across the globe, these various locations heighten the situation. Like Stephen Spielberg’s Close Encounters or War of the Worlds, it affirms a global scale. This makes the calamity all the more dire and real. The response of the governments of the world is a fascinating detail that the narrative effectively exploits. It’s ambitious in scope.

Turns out World War Z is not perfect. Thanks to 28 Days Later, spastic camera work is practically de rigueur in these types of films. Can we please retire this gimmick? It’s meant to emphasize the speed and intensity of the zombie attack., but it just had me reaching for the Dramamine. The plot occasionally drags. It could’ve benefited from some judicious editing to tighten up certain scenes. However other scenes do captivate. A spectacle aboard an airplane is an absolute knockout that creates tension in a setting that already has people on edge in this day and age. It’s spectacularly ridiculous and fun. We don’t really get a clear look at the zombies until much later, but when we do, it’s unnerving. The bulging eyes of one that pierce through the glass wall of a research facility are hard to forget.

World War Z separates itself from many other zombie variations in that it mines thrills out of skillfully staged action. The chronicle has some very compelling sequences, particularly the opening and closing set pieces, the moments you remember most. Along the way the script favors paranoia and claustrophobia over cheap scares and gore. Special effects are restrained and used only sparingly making their occasional appearance that more striking. It creates a thrilling mood. I also enjoyed the score which makes inspired use of the song “Isolated System” by Muse. Marc Forster directs this very loose adaptation of Max Brooks’ 2006 novel. The screenwriters basically threw out everything but the name. Despite the troubled production, the end result is a memorable saga that finds a way to tie the United Nations, the World Health Organization and world governments in with the zombie apocalypse. Forster has finally created his most enjoyable picture since Finding Neverland – a tale that couldn’t be more thematically different.

40 Responses to “World War Z”

  1. Very well put! Even though you saw no problems with the PG-13-ness of it all like I did, I still think you have many valid points as to why this works 🙂 Hopefully WWZ 2 will be better.

  2. Man…..I’ve been railing against seeing this one, but this is an excellent review and is the closest to convincing me there is something worth checking out in this new flick. Nicely done Mark. I thought I was safely going to steer clear of this. Now, not so sure. haha

  3. Good review Mark. It’s suspense was killing em after awhile, but even I will admit that it began to go away once I realized that the script just blew.

    • I liked the script and the tendency for the film to give us smaller moments filled with real emotion in this age of Michael Bay influenced CGI fests. (Man of Steel).

  4. Cheers Mark, a good review. As I (and others) have said its like a 2012, but zombies movie. It was actually quite refreshing to have no gore and if you see it as lightweight popcorn action cinema you should have a great time. (I know its the zombie movie zombie purists love to hate, but so what?)

  5. i didn’t love it as much as you did, but i did appreciate it for what it was trying to do. there were certainly some genuinely thrilling moments.

  6. That’s a really good point about how the impending doom could have been due to anything. It just happened to be zombies. I will say, though, that the CGI was striking. Strikingly awful. But I like the flick, it’s tense the whole way.

    • There were some admittedly shoddy CGI moments – the zombies climbing over one another to scale a wall or attack a helicopter. However those displays didn’t happen very often and it was at such a distance that I was able to forgive it.

  7. Nice review. I thought this was going to be a train wreck, but it’s gotten better reviews than I expected. I’ll probably watch it over this weekend.

    • This was such a troubled production. Sometimes it’s best to ignore all the bad press before a film is released and just go in with an open mind. Everyone seems to have done that as this has become a decent hit.

  8. The reviews on this have been all over the map. I have yet to see it, and to me it feels like a “wait to dvd” movie.

    I would agree the shaky camera work needs to be retired. It’s been driving me nuts in action movies that don’t really employ “action” stars. He can’t really fight, what do we do? Shake the camera!

  9. This is a film I was actually waiting to watch on DVD, but your review now has me curious about checking it out while it is still on theaters. It had to overcome so many production issues just to be released: from budget, to problems with the locations, re-shoots, you name it. Glad to hear the final product is good.

    • I enjoyed it. I will say that is bears little relation to the source book so if you’re looking forward to an adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel, you might be disappointed. However, just taken as a work judged on its own merits, I think the film was entertaining.

  10. Great review, Mark. Just got home form seeing this. I really liked the film. It had some amazing action set-pieces, particularly during the first half, but I found the ending to be totally anticlimactic.

  11. martin250 Says:

    nice and thorough review. we pretty much agree on this.
    you liked it a bit more.

    the airplane sequence was quite tense. It really gets the viewer concerned about how the situation will get resolved.

    In the end, the film accomplishes its mission. it starts reasonably well, then holds your attention most of the time, and finishes with some excitement and a nice narration.

    *wether it is worthy of a sequel, it’s kind of hard to say. But usually that means no.

    • Seems like everything that’s mildly successful these days gets a sequel. They’re already talking about The Heat 2 and it opens today. Ridiculous.

  12. Nice review. I think we largely agree on this and how enjoyable it is. It’s not so much a movie about a zombies as it is just a disaster movie with zombies in it, keeping the focus on Pitt’s character and his search for the source. Some very nice ideas and handled in an even better way. My review:

  13. As a huge zombiephile and fan of the book I hated that the movie had nothing to do with the novel. That aside it’s a decent flick that reminded me more of Stephen Soderbergh’s Contagion than a zombie movie. Like you said, the threat could have been almost anything, but it works. It’s incredibly tense and unsettling right up through the plane sequence, and then they kind of lost me after that. Also like you, I’m so burned out on the shaking camera, which was exacerbated in my opinion by this film’s 3D. There were a couple of decent scares, however I was incredibly annoyed with it as a whole because I felt like it couldn’t decide whether to be full on thriller or a zombie flick. I would have preferred the latter, obviously. Great review Mark.

    • I’m unfamiliar with the plot in the book. The fact that this wasn’t a true adaptation is a valid critique for fans of the book.

      I enjoyed the film quite a bit. Many similarities to Contagion. Good reference.

  14. Also, on your last line: What about Stranger than Fiction? Didn’t he direct that?

    But I haven’t seen Finding Neverland, so I can’t quite compare the two, I guess.

  15. Thought I’d left a comment earlier. Appears I didn’t. Hmm.

    Well anyway, great review, as always. 🙂 Been meaning to see this.

  16. Was meant to see this yesterday, but plans fell through. However, I’m still eager to see it.
    Glad you liked it, and nice review 🙂

  17. I kind of knew that I was gonna like this movie. I was expecting typical guts and gore, but didn’t mind that there wasn’t. The movie was exciting and intense enough. I also loved the music by Muse. Overall, I also give this movie 3 1/2 stars

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