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World War Z (2013)

June 29, 2013

 

 

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written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski & Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard

produced by: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner & Ian Bryce

directed by: Marc Forster

rated: PG-13 (for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images)

runtime: 116 min.

U.S. release date: June 21, 2013

 

There’s already been at least one unadaptable book on the big-screen this summer with Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” and now we have “World War Z”, directed by Marc Forster (“Stranger Than Fiction” and “Quantum of Solace”), for both moviegoers and critics to scrutinize. Both films were made by directors who’ve had their filmography blemished with scathing criticism (unjustly so, in my opinion), and on top of that, it’s been said that their latest movies are based on novels that should not have been made into films. I could get behind that line of thought in regards to “Gatsby” and had some trepidation going into “World War Z”, but this horror/thriller diverged enough from its source material, making it quite an exhilarating and exciting feature all its own.

The “Z” in the title stands for – SPOILER ALERT…. Zombie. If you hadn’t arrived at that on your own, you’re welcome.

Are zombies fighting each other in this “World War” movie? No, not quite. To be clear, these aren’t the slow-moving zombies we’ve all come to love, but rather the speed freaks that Zack Snyder introduced to us in his “Dawn of the Dead” remake back in 2004. Personally, I’m not a fan of fast zombies, but I liken what we see in “World War Z” to the kind of zombie-like infected freaks that Danny Boyle gave us in his excellent 2002 horror/thriller “28 Days Later”. Those zombies were normal folk infected by some kind of outbreak, turning them into ravaged monsters with little time for death. In the context of “World War Z”, that makes sense, as the film takes a procedural look at a global devastation that effects societies and their governments in dramatically different, nevertheless life-changing, ways.

After a “life as we know it” visual montage that includes clips of natural disasters, vapid commercialism, terrorist attacks, Joan Rivers and corrupt politics, we meet Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his wife Karen (Mireille Enos) in Philadelphia, during what seems to be a typical morning as they scramble to gather themselves and their two young girls out the door. The kitchen TV in the background reports of Marshall Law. Something is going on in the outside world. As the family make their way into downtown Philly, they slowly start to see what’s going on, but understanding it all is another thing entirely.

 

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They witness runaway vehicles, explosions, screaming and then find hyperactive civilians savagely attacking and biting innocent bystanders, violently turning them into something inhuman. Gerry gets a call from his friend Thierry (Fana Mokoena, Safe House“), a Deputy Secretary-General for the UN, asking if he and his family are all right and telling him that he needs to come in and help figure out what exactly is going on. You see, Gerry is a former UN investigator, who recently retired in order to spend more time with his family. Well, with this mysterious outbreak spreading throughout the nation as well as other countries – his retirement is over.

With his family on a U.S. Naval aircraft carrier full of military personnel and analysts off the coast of New York, a reluctant Gerry is persuaded to get back in the game in order to ensure they stay safely put on the vessel. His goal is to find patient zero and/or a possible cure for this worldwide epidemic. Wasting no time, the UN has him flown to South Korea with a virologist (Elyes Gabel), where he meets a former U.S. Army Ranger (James Badge DaleIron Man 3”) and an indecipherable former CIA Operative (David Morse, in an all too brief cameo). He starts to piece together some clues that may build a link to the answers he seeks, all while barely evading these ghoulish creatures.

His next stop is Jerusalem, where the Mossad leader (Ludi Boeken) proudly gives him a tour of the city and shows him a giant wall that they’ve built around the city (Biblical irony?) in order to keep these zombies out. This being “World War Z”, we know such a plan doesn’t work as we witness a sea of CGI zombies infiltrate the Holy City like termites taking out a tree branch. With the help of Segen (Daniella Kertesz, an actress to keep on eye on) an Israeli military escort, Gerry is able to make it out alive, but barely survives an arrival in Wales where they make it to a W.H.O. research facility (where we meet Peter Capaldi, from “In the Loop”). Although his family has been in the forefront of his mind, with communications to his wife being  a challenge, Gerry has been able to formulate clues from each stop that could potential lead to a way to counter these planetary horrors.

 

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For a movie that had as contentious a journey as its protagonist, there was really nothing about it that took me out of the film. The script was initially written by Matthew Michael Carnahan (“State of Play” brother of Joe), and Oscar-nominee J. Michael Straczynski (“Changeling”), both of whom had quite a daunting task adapting what is basically a book that reads like an oral war account. They pull it off by loosely basing off the novel and fleshing out the UN character with a more prominent role in the story. About a month into shooting, Damon Lindelof (who co-wrote “Prometheus” and “Star Trek Into Darkness”) was brought in to do some rewrites and not soon after had Drew Goddard (writer/director of “The Cabin in the Woods”) polish up the third act. Usually, with that many writers involved, the end result can wind up feeling like a mess. Not the case here.

The film doesn’t suffer from any tonal changes or out-of-place editing jumps, thanks to Forster employing his usual editor, Michael Chesse, as well as Roger Barton (“The Grey”), to provide seamless transitions to an easy to follow screenplay. Even though re-shots were made, Forster pulled off an effective thriller that lays off the zombie gore and instead focuses on what people are experiencing and the preventive measures they are trying in order to survive. The shocks and the thrills feel authentic, despite the current popularity and admitted over-saturation of zombies in pop culture currently.

I give Forster credit for delivering a palpable sense of uncomfortable immersion to each set piece and location. From the intensity of a Jersey grocery mart and high-rise apartment building to a confined section of a mid-air jetliner full of zombies, the intensity is conveyed in each sequence in a believable and evocative manner.

Often criticized for his acting chops, Pitt is well-cast as the cautious (yet resourceful under pressure) investigator. His star power doesn’t factor in here at all (except for behind-the-scenes where he served as co-producer through thick and thin). Instead, we’re given a weary-looking actor, with visible wrinkles and bags around his piercing eyes, that succinctly matches the character’s strain and pressure. If only there was more for Enos (so good in AMC’s “The Killing”) to do as Pitt’s wife. She has such an expressive quality about her, that the story could’ve benefitted from a little more back and forth to check in with her and the girls, possibly pulling us in a little more. Of course, that kind of back and forth might have broken up the film’s flow a bit much.

Despite the violence being toned down to appease the film’s rating, there wasn’t a moment where I wanted more gore. I didn’t care. I was enthralled nonetheless. Considering its such a strong staple in zombie movies, my reaction to it was surprising. But, this is a zombie movie for those who are feeling zombie fatigue. It felt pretty refreshing to think of movies like “Contagion” or “Children of Men” while watching, instead of all the zombie movies I could’ve been thinking of.

Those who’ve read the book should be grateful the movie is so different. There would be too much to complain about if there was more of an attempt made to stay loyal to the source. “World War Z” may not be what you think it will be and that’s actually a complement and quite rewarding for a big-budget summer blockbuster.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. windi permalink
    July 3, 2013 10:53 pm

    It’s going to be a long time before I can deal with the sound of chattering teeth without getting a serious case of the heebie-jeebies……

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