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Review: World War Z

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Thursday, June 20, 2013

I didn’t think that World War Z would turn out to be an enjoyable movie. The signs of a troubled film production were there: substantial changes in the screen story from the source material; extensive reshoots of the movie’s ending; big budgetary overruns; and rumors of the director and the star clashing to the point that they had stopped speaking to each other.

But the final product works. World War Z is a decent movie.

Brad Pitt plays our hero, the guy that gets called out of retirement and away from his family because only he can save the world, in this particular story from the lightning quick spread of the undead. A zombie virus is rapidly killing off the global population. In the movie’s first 15 minutes we get to see how lethal the virus is, and how quickly a city can fall from the rising hordes of undead.

Once Pitt is given his marching orders World War Z goes international. In today's pop culture milieu zombies are mainstream, but until now we haven’t seen the fall of humanity to undead done with a $200 million film budget. World War Z delivers the epic scale and disaster imagery worthy of a Roland Emmerich picture, with the zombie menace ripping up entire continents and turning hundreds of millions into attacking ghouls.

The digital special effects showcasing the fall of humanity are solid. You can tell that a good chunk of WWZ’s colossal budget went to the code that renders waves of zombies rushing down city streets (or in the case of the attack on Israel, up and over 100-foot stone walls.) The zombies in World War Z are unlike others that we’ve seen before. While the Z’s here are most like Danny Boyle’s Rage-filled maniacs from 28 Days Later, World War Z’s zombies attack in unstoppable waves of bodies. Think of those nature films showing carpenter ants creating living boats or bridges so that their comrades can attack and win the battle and you’ll get the WWZ big picture.

Pitt is the heavyweight of the film and he carries the load with the strength and command of his mega-star talent. His UN operative Gerry Lane has a narrow range to emote, but really, you don’t need a wide spectrum for this kind of work. The film’s supporting roles are also decently played by the talent, such as Daniella Kertesz as a young Israeli soldier, Ludi Boeken as Lane’s Israeli contact, and Pierfranco Favino as a WHO doctor. Casting such actors, who aren’t well known American faces, gives World War Z a dose of extra tension because you don’t know who’s going to die horribly and who makes it to the end of the picture.

One of director Marc Forster’s skills isn’t in making an all-out horror movie. World War Z is a PG-13 affair, and the violence and gore remain off-screen for nearly all of its duration. However, the film does have a heavy score of dread infused into its narrative, and you never lose the feeling that the scenes you’re witnessing are less horrific because of the lack of gore. The world is falling apart and no one escapes judgment from the apocalypse; you don’t need to see flesh tearing and being consumed to appreciate it on-screen.  Forster’s foray into horror is more Contagion than Dawn of the Dead, and that's OK.

As for the screen story, you may have read Max Brooks’ novel and heard about the substantial changes the film makes to it. Don’t go into this expecting to see the story Brooks told delivered on-screen. There’s no mention of the Battle of Yonkers, much less a showing of it, and the movie’s ending is the one you get for a Hollywood production. But it works, and the World War Z movie doesn’t suffer from the absence of the book’s key parts. Weight your expectations and go in with an open mind.

World War Z is a fun summer popcorn movie, and I’m glad that it escaped its own perilous journey through production hell. It should find an audience and even grudging acceptance from connoisseurs of the zombie oeuvre for the new spin it gives to its monsters.

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