Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review: World War Z

Non Spoiler Review:
World War Z has had an interested journey to the big screen, first carrying the weight of an extremely popular novel (one of my favorites), a troubling series of rewrites, and trailers that indicated the movie was World War Z in name only. What we start out with is retired UN operative Gerry Lane, who is called back into action as he and his family witness a zombie outbreak firsthand, and one that quickly cripples the globe. He is tasked with sourcing the cause of the infection and find some manner to fight it, all in hopes of making it back to his family.

World War Z stars Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, and Mireille Enos (The Killing) as his wife. But Pitt seriously overshadows the rest of the cast, and everyone in the film is a secondary character. Directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland), writing credit includes the likes of the abominable Damon Lindelof (Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!), and J. Michael Straczynski in what was a turbulent process to get on film.

Max Brook's novel was a groundbreaking work exploring the geopolitical, economic and religious aspects of a zombie apocalypse on a global scale. It was an anthology of stories covering ten years of conflict, tied together by the consistent thread of the interviewer, who is a UN representative recording events for posterity. It also takes place ten years after the fact. In contrast, this interpretation throws us into the action at the beginning of the outbreak and follows Gerry on his quest to find the origin, and a possible cure to the virus. 

World War Z struggles on a variety of fronts. As far as characters, there is little for the audience to grasp onto aside from Pitt's struggle to keep his family safe. But we get one scene of them pre-outbreak to forge a connection, and the rest is everyone on the run. Brad Pitt does what he does best—play the relatable everyman. He doesn't break out anything new here. We really only get a few short scenes with his UN boss, as well as another Israeli character later on that feel more like additions just to keep it from becoming a one man show.

We get plenty of shaky cam and aerial vistas of cities burning, and hordes of people flooding streets. I can't fault Forster's direction very much at all, because he did serve up heaps of beautiful scenes of civilization coming apart. But it ended up as more of a picture book than an actual narrative. The soundtrack was interesting, and reminiscent of 28 Days Later in some of its tones.

There's plenty of gold to mine as far as story, but the film moves much too fast to take advantage of any of it. An attempt is made to explore the initial stages of the outbreak, unfortunately the exposition we get comes so fast and furious by way of hard to hear news broadcasts and very quick one-on-ones between Pitt and the officials he encounters we're left wanting more and the whole thread is abandoned later on. The same goes for the various locales we visit, with hints of what's happening at various points around the planet (again via flashes of newscasts or snippets of dialogue), but never slowing down enough to get a sense of scale.

It's also hard to believe that the virus could be simmering for a couple of weeks behind the scenes (infection happens extremely fast) without major powers like Washington getting the hint something terrible was about to happen (yet Israel was able to construct a ginormous wall around Jerusalem). The timeline just doesn't add up.

The reactions of the characters fail to ring true, as well. Considering civilization is collapsing and everyone is losing somebody close to them, Pitt and family, and everyone else who manages to escape to sea, seem to be doing an admirable job coping with their abrupt lifestyle change without any post-traumatic effects.

The vast conceptual change from the book is abandoning the lumbering-type zombies of The Walking Dead in favor of the jittery, sprinting, swarming undead that would leave the infected of 28 Days Later in the dust. While it certainly creates a sense of immediate crisis, the overall idea falls flat. I can't see the world being able to fend off such a relentless onslaught for any length of time the likes of which we get in the first three quarters of the movie.

After such a frenetic pace, the final act hits the brakes and is considerably slow, transitioning into a different film in many respects. This was a rewrite of the original ending apparently, and it didn't work for me. While the discoveries made are an innovative twist, they're not that surprising to anyone familiar with the genre, and we're left with an expected ending, which really can't be anything else given the unmanageable story World War Z is grappling with.

Surprisingly enough, there is very little blood and no gore whatsoever. This is your family-friendly zombie movie. It never really occurred to me until I was watching Pitt pound a zombie with a pipe, only to notice that the violence was happening completely out of frame. So for those queasy about such things, World War Z would be a safe introduction to the genre.

World War Z is 28 Days Later on a global scale. Its scope is too vast to contain in one movie and fails because of it. While it remains entertaining as a popcorn flick, there's just not enough of anything to sink your teeth into and leave you with something new and exciting for the genre. It is certainly not an adaptation of Max Brook's novel, and is similar just enough that it might have gotten sued had it not bought the rights to the name. It's not the epic global apocalypse that fans could wish for, and something of that scale deserves a season long HBO miniseries (which I highly doubt we'll get now). It's entertaining, but forgettable in the long run.

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