Director: Marc Forster
Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof (screenplay), Max Brooks (graphic novel)
Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale
Release date: June 21st, 2013
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 116 minutes
Best part: Brad Pitt.
Worst part: The underdeveloped characters.
Since its humble origins, the zombie genre has evolved to suit vastly different tastes, concepts, and directorial styles. It started with George A. Romero’s seemingly low-budget thriller Night of the Living Dead, then went ‘viral’ with Danny Boyle’s ultra-popular 28 Days Later, and then a leather-clad Mila Jovovich was thrown into the mix with the Resident Evil franchise. Zombie films make a killing at the box office thanks to both gore and style. World War Z is a different beast entirely compared to the aforementioned seminal zombie-thrillers.
World War Z is both an enjoyable disaster flick and thrilling man-on-a-mission story. Despite its engaging elements, the plot itself is rather straightforward. The film focuses on one family’s terrifying ordeal during a zombie apocalypse (the best type of apocalypse, in my opinion). Former UN investigator turned family man Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) lives a quaint existence. After some precious family time, the Lanes, rounded out by Gerry’s wife Karen (Mireille Enos) and their two children Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove), get stuck in the traffic jam from hell! An explosion is soon followed by a runaway truck and a crowd of panicky citizens. Gerry gets his family to safety during the chaotic crowd’s transition from human to zombie. The US Military, featuring Gerry’s former workmate Thierry (Fana Mokoena) and a forceful naval commander (David Andrews), implores him to help find both the outbreak’s source and a cure. Gerry, with the help of a young doctor (Elyes Gabriel) and an even younger soldier (Daniella Kertesz), must then travel to South Korea, Israel, and Wales, whilst avoiding major zombie attacks, to help save the human race.
World War Z was hampered by budget, scripting, and directorial issues throughout its production history. With all that in mind, it’s a miracle it actually turned out to be a great movie! This is a zombie flick unlike any other. It has its noticeable influences, but director Marc Forster (Stranger than Fiction, Quantum of Solace) makes some unique decisions that separate his movie from other zombie-action/thrillers. He’s a ballsy director who continually transitions between genres. Like Quantum of Solace, the film moves at a brisk pace thanks to its many enthralling action sequences and visual elements. However, the nuances are simply used to distract from the movie’s wafer-thin story. If you’ve seen such viral thrillers as 28 Days/Weeks Later, Dawn of the Dead and I Am Legend, then you can predict this sprawling action flick’s every twist and turn. Like Contagion, this story is about the importance of fear, family, and humanity. The film continually teases the viruses’ source. However, its greatest desire is for the audience to support Gerry throughout his journey. Beyond the nail-biting plane crash, I wanted nothing more than for Gerry to defeat this disaster and get back to his charming family. I found it humorous that any mention of the word ‘zombie’ was treated with disdain – smartly indicating that the human spirit still shone through the characters despite the unmitigated disaster.
Like many zombie/disaster flicks, World War Z contains messages that point the finger at man’s mistreatment of Earth. Certain chaotic and choppy set-pieces allude to sickening 9/11 imagery. Meanwhile, the film’s mid-section contains a rather blatant commentary on the on-going Israel/Palestine conflict. Forster’s kinetic visuals elevate this simple yet effective zombie flick. Each setting/location is beautifully depicted with Forster’s earthy visual style. Multiple cityscape shots establish both the film’s epic sense of scale and the carnage caused by malicious zombie hordes. His action sequences move as fluidly as the aforementioned zombies. This globetrotting tale jumps from one increasingly thrilling and intense action sequence to the next. Its set-pieces also feature a different style and tone to one another. Despite the obvious CGI, the zombies move around and attack in a truly affecting manner. Leaping towards their targets, Forster gives them threatening and peculiar animalistic qualities. Their wailing and slobbering noises are also chillingly effective. The Jerusalem sequence, in which zombies climb on top of each other like ants, is an awe-inspiring sight to behold. However, there is a discomforting lack of gore. Without a single drop of blood, the film seems sorely affected by its M15+ rating.
“If you can fight, fight. Be prepared for everything. Our war has jut begun.” (Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), World War Z).
The movie keeps to a consistent tone throughout its two hour run-time. Its thrilling jump scares and tension-inducing chases keep it from being as messy or goofy as a Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay film. Its news footage-esque presentation, particularly effective during the opening credits sequence, lends this movie the illusion of tangibility. Shots of reality TV shows and carnivorous wildlife metaphorically link human behaviour to the world’s ailing health. Unfortunately, the characters don’t have the same level of depth. The plot contrivances and one dimensional characters are distracting. I want to re-title this film ‘Brad Pitt survives…’. Gerry somehow pulls himself through every crazy situation and suffers only a few scratches to his face. However, he is a fascinating and intelligent character. From the first scene, you side with him thanks to his fatherly instincts and courage. Serving as producer and actor here, Pitt proves he’s worthy of his enviable status. His charisma and alluring screen presence pull you into his implausible journey. Enos is also engaging as Gerry’s understanding wife. Their chemistry effectively establishes a heartening partnership. Unfortunately, the supporting characters are used as either plot devices or zombie food. Without engaging supporting characters, the film’s structure becomes noticeably strained.
Overcoming its troubling production issues, World War Z is an intense and commendable action flick. Taking a different tack to any other zombie flick, the movie’s set-pieces, briskness, and scale elevate its overall quality. Forster and Pitt prove they are two of Hollywood’s most enthralling talents. Interestingly, the inventive third act leaves room for a sequel.