World War Z (2013) / Horror-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, frightening images, and language
Running Time: 116 min.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Ludi Boeken, Fana Mokoena, Matthew Fox, David Morse
Director: Marc Forster
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof (based on the novel by Max Brooks)
Review published June 13, 2013
The works of Max Brooks, who wrote 2003's satirical and subversively political, "The Zombie Survival Guide", and 2006's, "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War", provided the kernels of inspiration for this mega-budgeted horror-action-thriller that mostly makes up its own narrative, independent of much of the book content (jettisoning the first-person account style and most of the events), to make it fit more with the ranks of current, eye-candy loaded popcorn movies than a thoughtful adaptation of the best-seller.
Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Burn After Reading) stars as Gerry Lane, a former field investigator for the United Nations who finds himself running for his life in Philadelphia, along with his wife (Enos, Gangster Squad) and two daughters, as a major viral pandemic that causes infected people to turn into raging, mindless 'zombies' whose only purpose is to infect the uninfected by biting them. Soon, every corner of the world is overrun by the horde, as billions of people turn, and safe havens dwindle exponentially. In exchange for safety for his family aboard a UN sea vessel, Gerry agrees to come out of retirement to investigate the source and possible cure for the infection, starting with the first known source of a zombie outbreak at a U.S. military installation in South Korea. However, he soon realizes that no place seems safe for long, and it's a race against time to try to find a way to stem the tide that threatens to wipe out humanity from the face of the Earth.
While those who enjoyed the Brooks book will likely be chagrined at seeing little of what they enjoyed show up on the big screen, taking World War Z on its own terms as a Hollywood blockbuster, there's still enough entertainment value to be had for those who are OK with the fact that the film doesn't represent the book. The direction by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Stranger Than Fiction) delivers a fast-paced zombie thriller, and with Brad Pitt front and center, there is a grounding of the film in seeming more intelligent and plausible than your typical scare flick. Not that the film is very scary, if you're looking for that sort of thing. The PG-13 rating keeps much of the actual violence off the screen, though Forster may have gone too far in removing nearly all of blood and gory moments that many zombie-flick fans relish (that crowd has dubbed the film, "World War Zzzzz"). The fact that the makers of this film are willing to ignore most of the contents of the Max Brooks book and castrate most of the visceral appeal that horror enthusiasts crave, in addition to the decision to make a post-production 3D convesion, suggests that the real impetus for the film is to be a blockbuster by making it just enticing enough to the widest variety of audiences possible within the context of the story line.
There are a number of impressively mounted set pieces to be sure, including the Philadelphia traffic jam pandemonium, a nightmarish invasion of Jerusalem, and a tricky traipse though a zombie-infested portion of a World Health Organization facility. Despite these very good visually conceived moments, there is a certain lack of pulse-pounding thrills to go along with the action. Much of this may have to do with the overly familiar nature of the main storyline, which feels like a mix of 28 Days Later and Contagion, plus a smattering of other zombie and epidemic films that have come out in recent years. Another factor is that the trailers and other advertisements leading up to the release of the film already show you the climaxes of the best scenes, from the aforementioned traffic jam, the zombie horde working in unison to scale a great wall, as well as jumping onto helicopters that foolishly get too close. Nevertheless, even though the etirety of the movie focuses on the events of one man, the overall scope of the film is certainly impressive. Even if the action and thriller elements fall short of the intended mark, there's never a point when the film fails to at least maintain interest, even when it becomes a bit obvious where things are going to lead.
Many of the pre-release stories about World War Z were about its over-inflated budget (reports suggest upwards of $250 million) and a variety of production problems that would probably sink most films. J. Michael Straczynski's original script was jettisoned in favor of an unfinished one by political thriller specialist Matthew Michael Carnahan (State of Play, Lions for Lambs), with "LOST"-alum script doctors Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods, Cloverfield) and Damon Lindelof (Star Trek Into Darkness, Prometheus) brought in later to write a host of reshoots, including a new climax and ending to the film (the repeated use and imbibing of Pepsi products during these scenes would indicate the source for much of the additional reshoot budget), that pushed the release date from a winter of 2012 release to the summer of 2013. Although the problems appear to have had an impact on the final product, especially in the uneven tone of the comparatively smaller-scale finale and the unsatisfying epilogue, it's a bit of a pleasant surprise that the movie manages to hold together even through some turbulent patches to be worthwhile viewing for anyone not expecting much more than a grandiose, set-piece dominated horror-thriller.
World War Z remains a competently made flick that delivers a well edited, adequately acted, and thoughtfully presented actioner that blurs genres in a way that suggests its makers are trying to reel in a variety of different audiences for the sake of making a boatload of money, and the suggestion of a possible franchise. The downside of this approach is that, by watering down the goods to the point of generic mass appeal, and toning it down to a PG-13 level to boot, even if there is just enough energy to keep the momentum afloat, there's not enough excitement to feel energized by the experience.
©2013 Vince Leo