Thursday, June 27, 2013

"World War Z" Is Totally Decent, Even if It Is PG-13

Directed by Marc Forster, written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, and J. Michael Straczynski, starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Fana Moekana, and David Morse - Rated PG-13 (ugh)

Yeah, a zombie movie gets a Kurgan.  Shocking, I know...

I wrote off World War Z months ago when I read an interview with Brad Pitt in which he admitted that there were massive re-shoots and plenty of setbacks in bringing the zombie-themed novel to the big screen.  A very large portion of the film was cut out entirely and new scenes had to be shot.  When stuff like that happens, it usually means the movie is going to be mediocre at best and a complete disaster at worst.  Surprisingly, WWZ turned out to be a tense, interesting summer action movie that has me anxiously waiting for a sequel. 
First off, I need to be docked a few geek points because I have never read the popular zombie novel.  It’s just one of those random books that I know I will love, but I keep finding other things to read first.  So this review is not going to be a judgment of how faithful of an adaptation WWZ is.  From what I’ve read, though, it has almost nothing in common with the novel aside from the name.  I imagine that is the case, especially since there is very little actual war going on in the film.  It’s more of a disaster movie, for better or worse.
WWZ is a disaster movie with zombies, though, which makes it much better than your standard disaster fare.  As a zombie movie, this doesn’t crack my top ten, but I really enjoy a good, traditional zombie movie, like Romero’s Day of the Dead, for instance.  This is not to say that WWZ is a bad movie, it’s just that the zombies aren’t all that interesting.  They are the fast kind, for one thing, and the film is rated PG-13, so the damage they inflict is not nearly as brutal as that of the TV show The Walking Dead. 
The PG-13 rating is truly this film’s biggest setback, but it doesn’t make the film less enjoyable, just less effective.  The zombies in general are treated in a unique way because of this.  So we can’t see a lot of gore and the zombies are fast, which means they have to be threatening without showing us up close and personal attacks.  This is why WWZ goes with the swarm/virus effect.  The zombies are the physical incarnation of a virus that wants to spread as fast as possible.  This means the zombies will swarm over each other to reach new heights.  It’s an interesting idea and it makes for some memorable set pieces in the film.  I thought the swarms looked a little too computer generated at times, but overall it was a fresh take on an old genre. 
"Shh...there, there.  This is PG-13, so that severed hand of yours isn't that bad.  There isn't even any blood."
Because of the virus take, WWZ also gets to be a bit different than most zombie movies because the main character, played by Brad Pitt, is a United Nations employee trying to find a cause (and possibly a cure) for the disease.  (Hats off to the filmmakers for finding a situation in which the UN seems to be useful!)  Normally, a zombie apocalypse film is about survival, not investigation.  I prefer the survival approach, but this aspect allowed a PG-13 zombie film to remain interesting. 
This isn’t CSI: Zombies or anything, however.  It is definitely an action movie and has the big sequences to prove it.  They are well done and hectic, but the best moments of the film are actually the quieter times.  Watching Brad Pitt and company sneak past zombies while trying to remain as quiet as possible is much more effective than watching them simply run away while stuff blows up.  I’m a big fan of tension in film and this film’s final third is filled with it. 
As for performances, Pitt is really the only actor who has much of anything to do in WWZ.  That doesn’t mean he gives an outstanding performance or anything, though.  He’s there to drive the action and be the main character.  He’s great at this, by the way; this just isn’t the role that allows him to do much. 
Perhaps it’s because of my low expectations, but World War Z really surprised me.  It had a lot going against it, like reshoots, a bloated budget, a PG-13…, but it overcame all of that to provide a flawed, but ultimately entertaining zombie movie.  Fans of the book might have issues, but zombie fans in general should find something to enjoy about this movie.  And for those who wanted more war in WWZ, keep your fingers crossed for the potential sequel.  If any of the stuff hinted at the end of the film is any indication, there’s plenty of action left in this potential franchise.  I’m just hoping they go for the R rating…
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
Okay, the ending was a bit weak, and it's obvious that that was where the film had been going before the reshoots and all.  I'm cool with the tense last portion at the WHO facility, but I also really want to see that battle in Russia.  I really want to see the war that was promised by the title.  Basically, this movie was more like World War Z: The Beginning or something...
If you look into what had been filmed, or at least written, for that final third, I think it would have been at least interesting.  Although Marc Forster is better suited for those tense scenes than the big battles and stuff...
That UN command ship is pretty harsh.  So Pitt goes missing for two days and they immediately boot his family off the boat?  I thought his decision to risk his life was like a lifetime guarantee for his family's safety.  Pretty sure if he'd been given the specifics of the deal he would've renogotiated before he took off for a very dangerous mission. 
Brad Pitt isn't the only person in the movie, of course.  Peter Capaldi (In the Loop) shows up, but it's kind of disappointing to see him play a boring doctor-type after seeing him verbally destroy people...
Matthew Fox is in there, too, as a soldier on a helicopter.  It is essentially the role of an extra.  From what I've read, his character is supposed to be expanded in a sequel.
David Morse was interesting as the weird CIA agent with no teeth.  I would definitely like to know more about what he knows.
James Badge Dale had some good scenes as well.  Cool to see him with the grizzled beard. 
Oh, I saw this is in 3D, but I'm not sure why...
Finally, while the film didn't deliver on finding a cause for the zombie outbreak, it did at least deal with it in a different way by having the characters find something to combat it.  Most zombie movies are much less optimistic and usually end with everyone dead or most likely going to die.  I love that about zombie movies, but it's nice to see the genre handled in a normal disaster movie way.

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