Saturday, June 22, 2013

World War Z review

Zombies have had a long and fruitful life on the big screen so far. Even though I haven't watched that many zombie films, I wrote a research paper on them for school and am pretty knowledgeable about the subject. It all began with 1932's White Zombie, and has continued on through 1968's Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead (1979 and 2004), Dead Alive (1992), Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Zombieland (2009). Most zombie films are low budget affairs. Gory special effects, typically inexperienced actors, buckets of blood. So you have to give Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster kudos points for trying something new and original with the zombie genre. With World War Z, they have created an epic so big that it takes a global look at the zombie apocalypse. Now, the film had a troubled production and extensive reshoots. The question was: Can this film be any good?

World War Z tells the story of a former UN officer named Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), who has retired for an unknown reason and is now making pancakes for his kids (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove) and wife Karin (Mireille Enos). When the Lanes are headed somewhere on a normal day, they learn that the zombie apocalypse has spread to their hometown of Philadelphia and the world falls to chaos. They escape to a Navy ship and find refuge after thirty minutes roaming the East coast. Soon after, a Navy Captain tells Gerry that he must go to South Korea with a doctor to find a cure. Soon, Gerry is off a journey to discover the origin of the virus that is dropping the population and causing chaos.

World War Z is probably among the most intense, dead serious things you're going to see this summer. However, the tension and gravitas of the screenplay demand it be that way, unlike other films that take that approach (hi, Superman). It maintains a level of chaos, tension and intrigue throughout and has a pretty high standard of quality. The only real problem with this film is that it settles for a level of mediocrity in its second act. It picks up speed in Jerusalem, but the mid-section isn't as tensely terrifying and fun as the other two acts. The second act feels more like something in a solidly entertaining March thriller than a big blockbuster. But the other two acts provide enough thrills and chills to outweigh the mediocrity of the scenes in Korea and some of the early stuff in Israel.

Now for the first and last acts. They are amazing. The film jumps right in at the start which can be startling but it ends up working for the films advantage. It puts you immediately in the action with an effective opening credits scene and it works up to the chaos of Philadelphia. Most zombie films take place in locations. World War Z is probably the first attempt (maybe 28 Days Later as well) to show a full on zombie apocalypse. And it is terrifying. There's looting, attempted rape, shooting, theft and general, frightening insanity. The first 30 minutes move so fast, it can be a little daunting to keep up.

The third act. It's is what saves this film from a few mediocre scenes in Korea and on a Belarus airplane that would have brought down its eventual grade. I won't say what the final act consists of, but it is full on horror. There's tension, zombie murders and a lot of cool, nice atmosphere. To fully understand why this final act is so spectacular, you need to know the history. The final act of the original cut of the film had Gerry Lane as like a zombie avenger, killing all of them. They realized it didn't work for a satisfying ending to the film. They got Damon Lindelof to rewrite it. Yeah, Damon Lindelof, the guy that screwed up Prometheus. But he benefits this film. It really is a killer finale and it concludes this film while setting up a sequel, which is going to happen based on the films opening weekend. I'm a born-again Lindelof fan.

The acting is pretty standard for an action film. A lot of this film is big action scenes and atmosphere so it doesn't really need great or colorful performances. There isn't much humor. However, Pitt gives a good performance and sets up Gerry Lane as an action hero that is going to be around for a while. He also has good chemistry Daniella Kertesz who plays an Israeli soldier named Segen.

Another problem with the film that I'm not quite sure was the print or Forster's direction. I'm going with the later. Marc Forster is the same guy who directed that James Bond debacle known as Quantum of Solace likes to move the camera around a lot. And in the harrowing first act, it works. But during the big setpieces in the middle in Israel, I was just hoping that he would calm the camera down and just let the movie tell its story and let the action scenes do their work. But until the final third, he doesn't calm it down at all. It gets a little annoying and I wish that the trend of shaky-cam would just end.

There is nothing bad in World War Z. There is just great parts and standard parts. The great outweighs the standard in the end. No, it's not as fun as Fast and Furious 6, Iron Man 3 or maybe even Now You See Me. But it is an effectively frightening zombie thriller with enough big budget scale and action to go around and despite a mediocre middle act, it's third and first are great. World War Z is definitely worth a watch whether you are a horror fan or a thriller fan or an action fan or whoever. It's an enjoyable film all around. But if you're looking for blood, you won't find it here.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                          (7.7/10)


  1. Nice review Josh. It’s a fine movie for a couple of chills and thrills, but also drops the ball with its script.

    1. Yeah, the midsection of the film is really messy, but a week after watching it, I'm still thinking about some of the great scenes from it. Thanks for commenting, I love your site.

  2. Carried by Pitt's performance, "World War Z" is a sometimes intense story of the rise of the undead.