Release: Friday, June 21, 2013
Going against my better judgment, I decided to give the new Brad Pitt film, World War Z, a shot as the polarizing effects of its release seemed to reach heights similar to those of Man of Steel. Never being a sucker for the zombie genre, I can safely say I enjoyed this film far more than I was expecting to. With that said, there were no true surprises here for yours truly, as the film continued to digress from the super-intense drama it started out as into a softcore action film littered with dead bodies and a dispirited conclusion. Rare is the film that I watch where the climax can be found within the opening half hour or forty-five minutes — Marc Forster seemed in a hurry to get that adrenaline pumping quickly, then later forgot about the pace he had set previously. I suppose it is also possible to argue that the way World War Z went out is suitable enough to lead into a sequel, and certainly the dialogue suggests as much.
But while we are in the here and now, I’d like to focus on what this film succeeded and failed at providing.
First of all, I really appreciated how quickly this film was able to take off. We get maybe all of ten minutes for an establishing shot of the Lane family — which is: Gerry (Pitt), Karin (Mirielle Enos), and their nondescript daughters, Constance and Rachel — to help focus our concern on a specific family. We really don’t need to care as much for the legions of other families who are becoming zombi-fied, right? Nonetheless, the centering around one family isn’t a bad idea; it helps provide a straight-line shot of adrenaline and makes a lot of the drama relevant when we learn that the head of the household is soon to be ripped away from them all.
Pitt plays an ex-United Nations employee whose skills are highly sought after when the outbreak of this unknown virus occurs. His Gerry Lane is a character that, while never really evolving throughout the film, has evolved to a point whereupon we immediately feel attachment to him from the outset. Through his eyes, the situation unfolding before us is truly scary. I don’t get quite the same impression from the other members of his family; for the same reasons, the rest of the cast is somewhat forgettable.
Still, Academy Award-worthy performances aren’t necessary to evoke the scale and complexity of the situation here. Impressive wide-angled lenses yield hoards of infected human beings piling up on one another; running over cars and busses; getting jettisoned into the air from the force of explosions caused by their caucophonic presence. It may be easy to get persuaded by the panic, but this is mostly because of the visuals. The violence on display feels real and what isn’t shown is actually more effective — because it ISN’T shown. I considered a lot of the cut-away camera angles very well-done. These techniques don’t make the film less a zombie film, but they make it slightly more merciful with the gore factor, yet more shocking if you were to pick and analyze any number of specific attacks. Blood doesn’t have to be there for a scene to be gruesome, and World War Z, for a good portion of it’s running time anyway, proves that this can be accomplished.
After Gerry receives the message that he’s likely one of the only individuals capable of finding a solution to the pandemic, he and a crew of soldiers head to South Korea to find information on where and when this outbreak may have originated. David Morse, as a toothless, paranoid and detained ex-CIA operative, provides a little insight here and is actually the weakest part of an otherwise very chilling scene. Of course, problems arise here and it appears this location won’t be stable enough for long, and so the team must move on elsewhere. This next move lands Gerry and company in Israel — apparently one of the only strongholds remaining on the planet. One of the great frustrations of this film becomes evident in this scene as it becomes clear that humans will never learn to mind their surroundings, particularly in times as dire as these — in other words, the safeguard of Jersulam’s 100-foot walls gives rise to, yep you guessed it: that infamous shot of the pile of crazed zombies. Gerry and company again must move on to continue to find medical and/or geographical causation.
The following transition is perhaps one of the film’s strongest moments even despite it’s predictability. It also continues along the frenetic pace to which some of us by now may even have adjusted. Attacks keep hitting us from out of nowhere, and people continue to “die” and go down in terrible ways. But at least by this point we have also picked up another significant, and arguably one of the most compelling, characters in the film: a young female soldier named Segen (Daniella Kertesz).
Up until the third act, Forster, truthfully, has provided few moments to gripe about. The action is unrelenting, the suspense extremely gripping. The acting never pans out to be anything great, but we can certainly get by on the little that is done to impress us in that regard. The dialogue in general is quite slight for a movie that has been puffed up to the size that this entry into the “zombie” genre has been. But none of these elements are as obvious as the budget issues the film reportedly had, and while I was not as on top of this news, it is a fact that is impossible to ignore with how World War Z concludes. For all of the widespread chaos and unforgiving psychological discomfort we get from seeing our entire civilization collapse, we are owed more than the research facility scene. When this scene develops, all I could think of was what happened to the original film I was watching, and why now were we seeing Resident Evil with Brad Pitt in it?
There’s not so much of a tonal shift that takes place in the film’s final half hour, but the scaled-down action is completely anticlimactic. There’s a few elements of suspense here, but absolutely nothing that would necessarily surprise or shock a frequenter of zombie flicks. And let’s be honest, this was a soft zombie film. I’ve seen plenty of PG-13 films that boast far more bloodshed than this; but this is not the point. There’s a great combination of visual and implicit terror that enriches the film’s first act — a characteristic that does dwindle a little in the second, and that all but disintegrates at the World Health Organization scene. As great as most of the film was, I simply cannot forgive this film for the way it ends. It was a completely sour note for me, and was responsible for bringing this production crashing down to middling levels as quick as those infected piloted helicopters were, as they hovered around scenes of mayhem.
Recommendation: Since I did not read the book, I can only review what I have seen. I understand there’s quite the deviation from the storyline written by Max Brooks in 2006. As a film, you could do far worse for the action genre, but you could most certainly find films with more compelling, fitting endings that do not feel as stapled-on as this one does. Brad Pitt fans should be enthralled by his poise throughout one of the scariest scenarios we might imagine (the downfall of humanity would kind of suck), but anyone who is seeking brilliant acting to back it all up will be sorely disappointed. I say both “yes” and “no” to World War Z.
Running Time: 115 mins.
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