Sunday, July 7, 2013

"World War Z" review


Considering the difficulties the producers had while completing "World War Z," it's remarkable how coherent and thoroughly intense the final product winds up being. WWZ was supposed to be released late last year during the Holiday 2012 season. But upon entering post-production, the producers (including Brad Pitt) and director Marc Forster decided that the original ending just didn't do it for them. So, they decided to completely re-write and re-shoot the entire ending. What we're left with is ultimately pretty satisfying, although you can definitely sense that it had been rushed.

Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, who used to work for the United Nations but decided to leave so he can stay home with the kids. When Gerry, his wife Karin, and their two daughters get in the car to start the rest of their day, they immediately sense that something has gone wrong. The family lives in Philadelphia. Being stuck in traffic in Philadelphia is usually not something to be alarmed about, but on this particular day, everyone seems to be in a state of panic. We soon find out why: zombies. A zombie apocalypse. Everywhere.

Gerry, after fending off zombies and speeding off to Newark, NJ (where there are more zombies), manages to get his family safely onto a helicopter on the way to a UN ship. His former colleagues want him to figure out what's going on and how to stop it. This leads him to places like South Korea, Jerusalem, and a WHO research facility in Cardiff, Wales. The centerpiece of the film is in Jerusalem. The city has managed to successfully keep zombies from coming in after having built a wall. We soon learn that these zombies are attracted to sound, and thanks to a mishap in the city's PA system, dozens of zombies attempt to climb over the wall. The effect of which is visually stunning.

What makes WWZ work is its relentless pace. From the outset, you're not given a chance to fully settle down with these characters. These zombies are extremely fast and brutal, which means the film is extremely fast and brutal as well. As I said, the Jerusalem scene is one that stands out in particular. So much so, that the final act at the WHO facility simply does not compare in intensity. We still get some intense moments towards the end, and it's interesting to note that these scenes in the final act are much quieter. This creates a feeling of dread and it's very effective, but that doesn't change just how friggin awesome that Jerusalem scene is. 

The intensity, the action, the pacing makes up for a story that's honestly quite lacking. The actual mystery in itself is not explored very much and the way Gerry comes to the conclusion on how to (temporarily) save the world seems a little too rushed and far-fetched. Obviously, knowing that the ending was re-written and re-shot at the last minute is a good explanation for this, but the point remains. The end result gives us an ending that works, but not necessarily one that adds up or makes a lot of sense if you put any thought behind it. This is a movie that wants us to take the idea of a zombie apocalypse seriously, it's kinda hard to do that when the solution is that simplistic. (I don't want to give too much away).

Another thing that hurts the film is the main character. Gerry Lane is nothing more than an audience surrogate. He's supposed to have special skills, working for the UN and everything, but his only real skill seems to be that he's incapable of dying. Seriously, the amount of shit that he winds up going through during this movie really makes it hard to suspend disbelief. There's no way anyone can survive through all that. But more than that, we're just not given enough to think of Gerry Lane as anything more than an extension of us. He's just kind of a boring character. He feels underwritten. As if the writers tried so hard to make this movie work that they forgot that there's a main character here that we have to follow this entire time. I'm a Brad Pitt fan, but he does not put in a memorable performance here.

Still, there are many aspects of "World War Z" to be impressed about. It's a well-crafted film and, for a zombie film, manages to be work even if it takes itself a bit too seriously. I don't know if I'll be rushing to see a sequel (they're already working on one), but considering how lackluster this summer has been, you can't really go wrong with "World War Z."

Grade: B-

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