World War Z, 2013.
Directed by Marc Forster.
Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Fana Mokoena, James Badge Dale, David Morse, Matthew Fox, Abigail Hargrove, Sterling Jerins, and Fabrizio Zacharee Guidoas.
United Nations employee Gerry Lane traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself.
World War Z is an efficient, solid movie. Despite its flaws, which are undeniable, it simply works and delivers nearly two hours of solid summer entertainment, the likes of which we too seldom see anymore in this comic-book or ‘young adult’ novel obsessed period of tent-pole releases.
I don’t believe in drawing comparisons between a film and its marketing material when reviewing said film, but if ever a movie shouldn’t be judged on its trailer, then this is it. Paramount have undermined the quality of World War Z by presenting it as yet another mindless, wham-bam CGI crowd-pleaser based on a well known cult novel; this is a shame because the film is not like every other $200 million movie we see week in, week out and that is to the film maker’s credit. Yes, the film has had a well-documented chequered development history, and this is evident at certain points, but let’s judge the picture on what’s presented on the screen, not what we’ve read in the press, because, ultimately, who cares?
Director Marc Forster delivers the action set-pieces with a real urgency in the first two acts. The film starts with an impressive extended sequence in Philadelphia as the outbreak is first seen on screen – panic, tension, real threat, and above all, an appreciation of scale. There are some fantastic wide, overhead shot of downtown Philadelphia crawling with the living and undead which adds gravitas to the immediacy of the outbreak. Moreover, in a darkened cinema, Forster’s decision to light the following scene with a red flare continues to fill the film with tension early on but in a condensed setting rather than the continued destruction of a large US city, as would have been the go-to decision for many directors.
The zombies in the film (hence the ‘Z’ in the title) move quickly; they run and form structures and are an unstoppable force when they are combined. Crucially, the CGI in the film works effectively and creates a believable zombie presence because the director doesn’t focus on the creature hence doesn’t allow the film to get bogged down in CGI limitations; Forster is more interested in the humans who are running for their lives and the sense of panic this creates but when the zombies bring down a helicopter or passenger plane, the action is handled better than any film this summer and is genuinely exciting because the scenes last just the right length of time rather than become tiresome and boring. Yes, that should be ‘Film Making 101’ but it appears to be a lost art these days. Clear, controlled camera movements are chosen throughout and, although the zombies rarely kill anyone onscreen, the sense of terror is not compromised. Compare this to the equally crucial creature effects in a film like I Am Legend, and the levels of proficiency are poles apart. Again, the film simply works in its action sequences.
The final act is a tonal shift which wasn’t expected but was greatly appreciated. The film moves into classic horror movie territory with characters creeping through corridors to avoid the zombies lurking close by; it isn’t original, it isn’t a fantastic pay off to what’s led to this point, and it is clearly the result of a massive rewrite which makes you wonder what the original third act was… but it was a much better ending than the usual attempts to out-do the previous set pieces we’re now used to from films of this scope and size.
As discussed, the film is visually excellent and is interested in story over pure spectacle. The real problems with World War Z are in the screenplay and characters; some of the dialogue between characters is atrocious and an entire scene at a South Korean airbase slows the film down to a grinding halt with dull exposition. There are needless scenes between the film’s hero (Brad Pitt) talking on a phone to his wife (Mireille Enos) whilst he’s travelling the globe and she’s stuck on a military ship with their two kids which just come across as forced emotional beats rather than scenes which add to the drama, and the final voice over by Pitt comes out of nowhere and is a clear sign of a script which didn’t know how to end.
In some ways the film feels like it belongs in the mid 2000s, with the likes of War of the Worlds or I Am Legend where a major star could be play a ‘regular Joe’ and carry the film with their name alone without the need to play a character already well established in popular culture to create buzz. I miss those days and World War Z is, amazingly, something of a nostalgia trip as crazy as that may sound. It isn’t groundbreaking, it isn’t anywhere near Brad Pitt’s best film or performance, and it won’t last long in the memory for the large majority of cinema goers, but it was, more or less, just what I wanted for a film of this size and is easily one of the best big budget offerings of the year to date.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter.