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Review: World War Z (2013)

World War Z (2013)

Directed by: Marc Forster

Premise: An adaptation of the book by Max Brooks. The world is ravaged by a zombie outbreak. A United Nations investigator (Brad Pitt) traverses the globe looking for the source of the outbreak and hopefully a cure.

What Works: World War Z combines the tropes of a horror film with the globetrotting action of an espionage thriller and it plays like a James Bond adventure with zombies. As that the movie works and it is a satisfying action picture. As the United Nations investigator, Brad Pitt is serviceable in the lead role. This is a unique part for Pitt. Although he is a movie star, Brad Pitt is rarely ever seen in a singular lead role the way he is in World War Z. Typically, Pitt is cast as part of an ensemble, as in Ocean’s 11, or paired with another distinguished actor, as in Se7en. But World War Z is Pitt’s show and he handles it well enough to invest the audience emotionally in the action. That is one of the more outstanding qualities of World War Z. At a time in which Hollywood is producing grand spectacles of mass destruction, the makers of World War Z do an impressive job of maintaining the human touch. The early scenes of the zombie outbreak capture the fear and confusion of a mass panic and the scenes of Brad Pitt’s character fighting for his survival and the survival of his family have a lot of immediacy to them. When the movie slows down between set pieces it is able to characterize the broader human cost as nations attempt to deal with the zombie pandemic and must make difficult choices that have human consequences. So many recent blockbusters, such as Man of Steel and Transformers, have displayed mass death with no regard for the human cost but the action scenes of World War Z retain a sense of humanity, which in turn makes them more exciting. The set pieces of World War Z are frequently large in scale and they have a terrific look, displaying the kind of thrills and dynamic cinematography of contemporary blockbuster filmmaking while not getting so big as to become cold and plastic. After several of these sequences the filmmakers smartly decide to go in the opposite direction for the conclusion, which is far more intimate in its scale and ultimately more satisfying because it puts the characters’ lives in direct peril and requires them to go out on a limb to save the day.

What Doesn’t: World War Z is a good action thriller but it isn’t particularly ground breaking or original. The movie owes a lot of Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead as well as other zombie pictures like 28 Weeks Later and the original Day of the Dead. Gore has been a major component of the zombie genre but World War Z is a mainstream, PG-13 piece of entertainment so fans of the genre who delight in the bloody excesses of other movies might feel let down by this picture. The other group of viewers likely to be disappointed by World War Z are the fans of Max Brooks’ novel. The book was a complicated oral history of a fictional zombie apocalypse and the most popular aspects of it were its geo-political content in which the author anticipated how the contemporary world would deal with a pandemic. That is all lost here and aside from the title and basic premise very little of World War Z actually resembles the book. This is excusable since the movie works on its own terms but fans of Brooks’ novel will nevertheless be left waiting for a faithful adaptation of the novel. Audience expectations aside, World War Z does have problems with its ending. The conclusion is too tidy and too optimistic, especially given the global upheaval dramatized throughout the movie. This is a predictable compromise given the fact that it is a Hollywood tent pole release but it is also inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the movie.

Bottom Line: World War Z is a satisfying action thriller. In many respects it is just average and seasoned horror audiences may be unimpressed by it. But as an action film it is reasonably smart and manages to entertain while delivering an engaging story.

Episode: #445 (June 30, 2013)