Wednesday, September 25, 2013

World War Z

directed by Marc Forster
starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, and Daniella Kertesz
Skydance Productions, June 21, 2013, 123 minutes
Rated PG-13

United Nations employee Gerry Lane traverses the world in a race against time to stop the zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself.

Okay, before we go any further, I want to say this up front, get it out of the way and then never bring it up again: as an adaptation of Max Brooks’ seminal (and amazing) zombie novel, this movie is awful. However, as a zombie film that stands alone apart from anything else, this is an excellent film. Now, until I write up my review of Brooks’ book (which is coming, I promise) let’s not speak of World War Z the novel here in this review.

That’s out of the way.

Now, World War Z the film. I actually loved this film. I have to say, as a zombie-action-thriller it did not disappoint. The storyline is just plausible enough (if you accept the zombie MacGuffin) to keep me interested across two hours and while Forster’s directing style in this case leans a little heavy on what seems to be a Michael Bay influence (the action scenes are cut and edited very fast and at times it gets difficult to follow what is happening), overall it is not too distracting. What really pulls the fat out of the fire, so to speak, in this film is that the characters act with, what seemed to me to be, a very realistic attitude. There is a flat, fatalistic look in most of their eyes that one might expect people thrown into this kind of situation might have. There is a real dead-eye (if you’ll pardon the expression) that everyone carries with them and for me that adds to the realism of the film, or at least helps me to suspend my disbelief for those two hours. This is especially true of the South Korea scenes, the soldiers at Camp Humphreys, they all carry a heavy and bleak tone to their performances that is pitch perfect. Pitt’s Lane is believably weary and frustrated and scared. I wish they had dealt more with his family that is left behind (as he is called back into action), especially since the characterization and development that is delivered in their escape from Philadelphia in the opening scenes is handled very well. There are a number of little quirks and glimpses of his family’s personalities (I’m thinking specifically of the daughter’s and the one’s asthma attack and the other’s insistence on having her stuffed rabbit and blanket with her) that seemed to be pointing in specific directions in terms of their character arcs, but once Lane leaves to hunt Patient Zero, the family pretty much drops out of the picture and is only brought back occasionally but ultimately it is unsatisfying. This also means that Mireille Enos’ performance as Lane’s wife Karin is wasted. There is some steely and dangerous motherhood (think mother bear and her cubs) in the character that is hinted at but never fully developed and that is a shame.

As for the zombies in the film, I cannot say I am a fan of the so-called “fast zombie.” I enjoy such films, but call me old-fashioned, I prefer a zombie that would outlast me rather than outrun me. I find that idea much more frightening. That said, I did enjoy the insectile manner in which the zombies acted, particularly in the Jerusalem section of the film. You know the scenes, the ones from the trailers where the zombies look like ant swarms?

Being overwhelmed by zombies is just as frightening, to me, as the implacable, relentlessly shambling variety. The hoard outside the Winchester in the final act of Shaun of the Dead is a good melding of these two ideas.

The other aspect of the zombies in World War Z that I highly enjoyed was their mannerisms when they weren’t running through the streets in massive swarms. In particular the habit of biting the air and the monotonous and repetitious looping of small actions were especially chilling (this is best seen in the W.H.O. facility scenes at the end of the film).

Overall, I really enjoyed this film, and in all honesty I would even watch it again. Am I disappointed that it does not closely follow the plot of Brooks’ novel? Yes. Would Brooks’ book even be possible to translate to film? Probably not. Do either of these facts disappoint me? No. Not in the least. World War Z is a stellar film, and a really chilling and thrilling way to spend two hours. It definitely deserves a place at the adult table this Thanksgiving.

A fun little geeky side note: in the final act of the movie, Peter Capaldi puts in an appearance as a World Health Organization doctor at a research facility in Cardiff, Wales to which Gerry travels in an attempt to find a vaccine for the zombie virus. Peter Capaldi is better known to geeks everywhere as the Twelfth incarnation of the Doctor in the BBC’s long running sci-fi series Doctor Who (which, incidentally, is filmed in Cardiff). So this means that the Twelfth Doctor in Doctor Who which films in Cardiff, Wales plays a W.H.O. Doctor based in Cardiff, Wales. That’s like serious Inception-style, dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream level there.

Official trailer
World War Z on IMDb

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