REVIEW: World War Z

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Anyone who’s read the Max Brooks novel understands the challenge of bringing World War Z to the big screen.

Rather than a traditional narrative, the book tells a story through a series of journal entries that chronicle a zombie pandemic as it spreads across the globe.

In that regard, the movie does an admirable job as Brad Pitt’s character skips from one continent to the next, trying to isolate the origins of the contagion, each time narrowly escaping the infected that are literally nipping at his heels.

images (1)Perhaps better than any  movie before it, World War Z demonstrates the gritty “reality” of a zombie apocalypse – the mass panic, the paranoia, the breakdown of government. In one particularly poignant moment Pitt’s character, UN investigator Gerry Lane, rushes his family through a supermarket for some old fashioned survival looting. When a police officer approaches, Lane raises his arms in surrender, only to have the officer rush by and begin his own looting spree.

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Indeed, World War Z seems to have two goals – the first, to show us what a world with zombies would really look like; and second, to distance itself from similar films. But the success of the first is a little bit hamstrung by the failure of the second. WWZ has a lot in common with 28 Days Later so comparisons are inevitable: a global pandemic, fast moving zombies, government collapse.  But where 28 Days Later avoids the Z-word, WWZ conspicuously embraces it. Sure, the ‘Z’ in World War Z stands for zombie, so what else would they do? But what’s really curious is that the infected are also referred to as the ‘undead,’ and in fact they look necrotic – not unlike the old-school Walking Dead zombies we’ve come to know and love.

While this adds significantly to the movie’s creep factor (some of the WWZ zombies are scary as hell!) it doesn’t mesh well with the hyper-real tone of the rest of the film.

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On its own this is a fairly minor complaint. World War Z is an otherwise solid action flick, with lots of chases, explosions, and close-calls. The pace not only conveys the urgency of the spread of the contagion, but the terrifying speed and relentlessness of the zombies themselves. In one scene, Lane urges an immigrant family to leave their tiny apartment – “movement is life,” he tells them. Thirty seconds later, after refusing to abandon their home, the father has been ‘turned’ and Lane is putting a bullet in his head while jumping onto a waiting helicopter.

Unfortunately, all this kinetic activity leaves little time to get to know the characters, and that’s really where this movie falls short. In the beginning, we get a few moments of family interaction between Gerry and his wife Karin (played by Mireille Enos) and their two daughters, and that tiny bit of character development is apparently supposed to tide us over for the next 110 minutes.

WORLD WAR ZBecause his character is travelling to the four corners of the globe, and because the people around him are constantly changing (or dying) Brad Pitt carries the bulk of the movie – but we never really get to know him.  He spends most of his time reacting to a series of ever escalating crises, and not so much reacting meaningfully to the people around him. As a result he’s pretty much a stranger. We know were supposed to like Gerry Lane – he is the hero, after all – but it’s really hard to care much about him.

In the end World War Z makes for a decent popcorn matinee, but you probably won’t remember much about it by the time the (recently announced) sequel rolls around.  NOTE: If you’re in the mood for a realistic disaster flick with a good mix of action and engaging characters, I’d recommend The Impossible (2012) with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts. (If you just have to have some zombies, you can squint your eyes and pretend the tsunami is a horde of the undead.)

Rating: 3/5 ★★★☆☆ 

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About Dave_P

Dave_P studied fine arts and film history and is a graphic and web designer, and a diehard movie fan. David has been involved with a variety film festivals including the Cinephile Film Festival, the PRIDE Film festival, and the Manhattan Short Film festival, and is currently the director of the Dark Carnival Film Fest in Bloomington, Indiana. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)

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