World War Z ReviewJune 27, 2013
While perhaps not the best zombie flick, World War Z is a great summer thrill ride.
If there is any sort of horror device that can draw in a crowd, it’s zombies. However, these days the market has been flooded with so much zombie material that Hollywood is seemingly beginning to run out of ideas for the sub-genre. Studio executives have been turning to previously published works to satisfy their quotas, and the latest of these adaptations is World War Z, the newest film from Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster. Widely publicized for its dramatic departures from Max Brooks’ novel and its troubled production, does this film still have a chance at producing some intense thrills this summer?
Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a retired UN operative that now lives a nice, quiet life with his wife (Mireille Enos) and kids in Philadelphia. One day while sitting in heavy traffic downtown, a radio station reports that a rabies outbreak has spread across the entire world. Almost immediately after hearing the news, panic ensues as crazed men and women begin violently attacking others. Tensions continue to rise as Gerry attempts to get his family to safety. Eventually he is rescued by helicopter due to his previous affiliation with the United Nations, and then they are brought aboard an aircraft carrier off the East Coast. However, he is then given the choice by his former superiors that he either return to his previous position and join the fight against the outbreak – which at this point is labeled as a zombie pandemic – or him and his family will be kicked off the ship. He reluctantly agrees, and then Gerry is sent to various locations across the globe to discover a plausible way to end the impending war.
Despite the controversial production of this film, World War Z is thankfully a thrilling, consistently entertaining success. If you are just looking for solid summer entertainment, this film will do just fine. I must say that World War Z is disappointing in that it does not offer much beyond popcorn entertainment. For instance, barely any attention is given to character development – we never learn about what Gerry even did in his job for the United Nations, and where he learned the skill set that is deemed necessary to combat hordes of zombies. There isn’t even a clear message that World War Z attempts to convey, a strange move considering that zombie films generally have an effective political or emotional subtext.
My other main complaint about the narrative issues is that the ending is somewhat of a letdown – while not bad, it is underwhelming considering that World War Z seemed to be building up to something incredible, but instead the film concludes on a soft, somewhat rushed note obviously meant to set up potential sequels. Nonetheless, I feel that even if the script took time for character development and other things, it would have slowed down this film’s breakneck pace. World War Z moves along at such a fast pace that it soon becomes unnecessary to even take time to develop an enormous storyline. As strange as that may sound from a critic such as myself, this approach actually works for this film’s benefit since this ultimately becomes a very fun thrill ride which takes a hero from point A to point B, and starts the action almost immediately after the opening titles. Note to Hollywood, specifically Roland Emmerich – if you plan to write a nonstop thrill ride, start it off with a bang, and keep that intensity rolling throughout.
Plain and simply put, World War Z is Brad Pitt’s show. Yes, there is a supporting cast here, but none of the actors quite match a name as recognizable as one of Hollywood’s golden boys. Brad Pitt is a great actor, though, and here he takes advantage of talent and sheer star power to carry this summer blockbuster successfully on his shoulders. The stoic, battle-hardened type has been used in blockbusters countless times, but even so Brad Pitt manages to make his role his own. His performance is entertaining, and it has enough emotional depth to make us care for what is a rather undeveloped character in the first place.
One wouldn’t picture the director of Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction as a perfect fit for this sort of picture, but Marc Forster does a great job here. World War Z is directed with a lot of intensity, and that energy is felt from one epic set piece to the next. Sure, shaky cam may have a major presence in World War Z, but its implementation is akin to that of Paul Greengrass’ films, which include the masterful Bourne trilogy. This along with the near-realism and large-scale action scenes, World War Z is big, intense and plenty of fun. The visual effects are also well done; while there are some shoddy images, the effects work is certainly better than what was seen in the trailers. Even the CGI zombies look impressive, although the contorted, crazed undead portrayed by real actors are considerably more frightening. I won’t spoil the last set piece, either – let’s just say that it is on the same level of intensity and fun as some of the most popular survival horror games. Marco Beltrami’s score is not terribly memorable, but thankfully it does a nice job at accentuating the intensity of the picture without being overwhelming. Also, in the moments that are intentionally very chilling, the music certainly amps up the intensity due to its subtlety.
This summer has been slightly disappointing in terms of its big movies, but thankfully World War Z is a surprising success. While it certainly has its issues – mainly the fact that the story is very undeveloped and strays extremely from its source material – this is a consistently entertaining ride. Featuring a great performance from Brad Pitt and taking the zombie genre in new, interesting directions, World War Z also has many great elements beyond its fun factor. Rest assured, this film is no perfect summer blockbuster, but even so it is a good thrill ride. Most people will tell you that the novel is the definitive “version” of this story, but nonetheless this is a zombie apocalypse that deserves to be witnessed.