There’s one absolute in this modern movie age. It’s a certainty that goes unquestioned. Zombies always attract an audience. Hollywood loves zombies and it’s evident by the loads of flicks we get featuring the undead. We get zombie horror, zombie comedies, heck we even got a zombie teen romance picture earlier this year (here’s my shameless plug for my review of “Warm Bodies”). More than big superhero movies or the incessant raunchy comedies, zombies have proven to be a force in modern cinema.
So that brings us to the goofy titled “War War Z”. This strategically muted apocalyptic zombie film is loosely based on the novel by Max Brooks and stars golden boy Brad Pitt. In the film he plays Gerry Lane, a former United Nations worker and now full-time family man. While stuck in heavy downtown Philadelphia traffic with his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and their two daughters, chaos breaks loose in the form of a deadly zombie pandemic. The film wastes absolutely no time thrusting us into the chaos. No overtelling of a origin and no deeply thought out structuring of the narrative. The story of “World War Z” begins in the most basic of ways but it’s very effective. We quickly see the threat, we learn of its massive scale, and the stakes are raised.
With world cities devastated and governments is disarray, humanity tries to put together some line of defense. Gerry reluctantly volunteers to help in exchange for protection for his family. One of the best things about Pitt’s character is that he avoids most of the common trappings. How many times in films like this have you seen lead characters suddenly become tough guy buttkickers? That never happens here. Gerry isn’t a military man and so often it’s soldiers escorting him through danger. Now that doesn’t mean he’s a wimp. In fact his intellect and instinct are often used to get out of some pretty tough spots. I liked the approach.
Plagued (pun intended) by setbacks and production delays, “World War Z” looked doomed to failure. Several rewrites and reshoots pushed the film back from its original December 2012 release date. But where that’s often a cause to worry, here it definitely was a plus. I had a blast with the film, more than I originally expected. It pulls elements of horror, big budget action, and clinical thrillers and mixes them together in what I found to be a highly entertaining experience. It doesn’t do anything to reinvent the wheel yet I did find it was able to develop its own look and feel while staying in familiar territory. One minute we are walking through creepy, dimly lit hallways and another moment we’re watching the infected invade cities via some amazing set pieces. Again, familiar stuff but wonderfully conceived.
Now there’s no denying that “World War Z” intentionally takes a very PG-13 approach to what could be a very R-rated story. Some will undoubtedly find fault with that and in some ways I can see their point. But there’s an impressive craftiness to how director Marc Forster realizes the film and I think it works. He also delivers some amazing visual sequences that are still swirling around in my head. Scenes which looked a bit questionable in the trailer actually translated well for me in the film and he maintains a crisp and fluid pace that I never found dull or lethargic.
I also have to get back to Pitt. He gives a very committed performance and he provides us with a character that never gives us cause to lose our rooting interest. He feels real and grounded which makes his circumstances all the easier for the audience to invest in. I found myself caring for him and for what happened to him and watching him navigate the dangers (sometimes surviving with luck that only a movie can provide) was made the more thrilling because if that.
Now I know some of my fellow horror brethren will cry foul because of the many things this movie dodges. I also know many will dog it for not breaking any new ground. I also have to say it’s one if the worst implementations of 3-D I’ve every seen. Talk about a pointless distraction. But there is something key that it does extremely well – something that is often times forgotten when it comes to making movies. I’m talking about storytelling. I found this to be intense, fun, and most importantly a well structured and well told story. It’s an easy movie for some folks to pick apart and honestly it does open itself up to that. But boy I had fun with this flick and as a zombie fan this was pure undead pleasure with just the right touch of humanity.
I took some ribbing but “World War Z” was one of my more anticipated films of 2013. I gotta say as months passed and the trailers hit the web my skepticism grew. But now it’s safe to say I feel vindicated. This is an honest and straightforward movie that’s certainly made for a broader audience. But I certainly don’t hold that against it especially when it grabs me and doesn’t let’s go. It’s simple escapist entertainment and it’s a fun reminder of why I go to the movies.