4 July 2013

Movie Review: World War Z


World War Z
2013, 116mins, 15
Director: Marc Forster
Writer (s): Drew Goddard, Matthew Michael Carnahan, Damon Lindelof, J. Michael Straczynski, Max Brooks (novel)
Cast includes: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Peter Capaldi
UK Release Date: 21st June 2013

World War Z” has endured its fair share of woes on route to multiplexes this summer, rumours of over-budgeting and extensive rewrites crippling expectations rather thoroughly. Based on Max Brooks novel of the same name, the film isn’t actually the disaster its tumultuous production history might suggest, in fact “World War Z” is a perfectly adequate summer enterprise. There’s nothing revelatory here, and the story certainly feels like it might have been unduly tinkered with, but the picture packs enough momentum to carry audiences smoothly to the 116 minute finish line. Overseen by Marc Forster (he behind 2008’s weak Bond entry “Quantum of Solace”), the film presents a world believably shattered by sickness and monsters; despite its narrative deficiencies “World War Z” does communicate a palpable and atmospheric aura of global desperation. 

In the space of a morning Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family are left stranded in a Philadelphia overrun by hysteria, as vast chunks of the population turn feral and begin to spread some sort of infection. Gerry, his wife Karen (Mireille Enos) and their daughters are extracted on the basis that Gerry will resume work with the United Nations, tasked with travelling to the source of the disease in Korea. With the virus having erupted on a global scale, Gerry and his military cohorts attempt to understand from where the illness has developed in a bid to try and halt the lethal rabble now being referred to as “zombies”.

The narrative progression of “World War Z” never feels very organic, the story jerking its characters around the globe with only slithers of rhythm or purpose to fuel the never-ending journey. It’s this bizarre and at times illogical structure that hurts the film most, leaving needless questions of motivation bobbling about during crucial sequences where audience investment should be elsewhere. Nobody could accuse the film-makers of working the character development front rigorously; leaving aside some base level familial interaction and Pitt’s general likability “World War Z” isn't a particularly humane effort. The movie essentially feels like ideas and sequences from separate zombie flicks stitched together, a best of reel in search of a fully-formed script. The saving grace just happens to be that many of the individual set-pieces are actually very effective. 

Forster still hasn't fully grasped the necessary editorial chops to render exciting fire fights, so one should be thankful “World War Z” is relatively light on hardcore combat. Instead the picture’s chief set-pieces adopt a survivalist aesthetic, with a few neat innovations to keep the brain-chomping antagonists fresh (actually the undead don’t snack on cerebellums here, for shame). Two lengthy episodes standout as expert genre film-making, the first an attempt to refuel an exposed plane at night (SWITCH OFF THE PHONE!), the second a taught stalking sequence set within whitewashed welsh interiors. Both of these scenes ratchet the tension up credibly with tangible stakes and a mood of legitimate fear. Forster does generally do good work when establishing indications of impinging danger in “World War Z”, the zombie menace representing an intimidating threat thanks to well executed instances of fright and occasional bursts of visceral imagery. It should be noted that for a PG-13 (15 in the UK) “World War Z” is very intense. 

There’s barely a supporting cast to speak of, the majority of players just military grunts ripe for slaughter. A little too much of the feature unfolds within the safety of aquatic naval HQ, meaning that the family dynamic is never under threat, a mistake given that “World War Z” hangs much of its deeper ambitions on the future of Gerry’s beloved nuclear clan. Still, each of the countries the movie elects to explore are ordained with appreciatively unique visual identities, Forster doing a fine job of depicting different cultures reacting to the same extreme scenario. The zombie CGI is a bit shonky, but the wider production values are rich and believably detailed, although such lavish design is to be expected from a film with a budget of roughly $400 million. 

This adaptation has proved shockingly fruitful at the box-office so far, to the extent that a sequel has already been approved. Forster has built a pandemic addled Earth worth exploring, although certain rectifications will be necessary for a franchise to blossom. The feature potentially talks a better game than it provides (it’s a little soft on the “big ideas”); more dedicated to sledgehammer panic than unlocking a nuanced political or even emotional coda. However I’m guessing we should all just be thankful that “World War Z” is anything other than a bloated turkey, even if it merely amounts to fun, forgettable seasonal fodder. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013


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