Wednesday, July 10, 2013
World War Z Movie Review
Is there a more apt metaphor right now for the way humanity is apparently destroying the planet and, in the process, itself than a worldwide zombie plague? The dead eyes, the mindless action based purely on need and instinct, and humanity eating itself alive without a care for the end result look a little like the way we plumb the planet for resources, always taking and never looking toward the future. World War Z is a bit more topical and on the nose than your average summer blockbuster – if you want to read it as something more than fodder for the masses, who flock to the tent pole action movies like the zombies glom to live flesh, but that’s maybe another reading altogether.
The style of Max Brooks’ novel on which the film is loosely based wouldn’t work well for a big commercial film, so the series of firsthand accounts ten years after the zombie war that comprise the storyline in the novel have been pared down by a team of story and screenwriters including Damon Lindelof, Drew Goddard, J. Michael Straczynski, and Matthew Carnahan to a straightforward narrative of a man named Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) called back into his UN role years after his retirement in order to aid in finding a way to stop the plague. He has to leave behind his family (a wife, two daughters, and an errant boy they pick up on the way) on a U.S. aircraft carrier while he goes first to South Korea, then Jerusalem, and finally Cardiff in search of answers.
The globetrotting plot and the frenetic editing make much of the movie feel like Jason Bourne’s latest outing – call it The Bourne Apocalypse. Unfortunately some of the editing of the action sequences made the movement indecipherable. This is too often the hallmark of studio action films, this idea that more cuts per minute translates to higher energy. There were moments when I quite literally had no idea what I was watching, unable to identify characters, actions, or motivations. You just have to wait, sometimes too long, to come out the other end to see the results and then piece the action together in your head posthaste.
But all in all, as far as big studio action thrillers go, you can’t ask for much more. The screenplay eschews many conventions of Hollywood screenwriting by mercifully truncating what could have turned out to be laborious scenes involving mountains of exposition. It assumes a certain amount of intelligence and imagination in the audience, which provides such relief you might mistake it for something more than the potboiler it is. The plot whizzes along with tremendous force, moving as quickly as the zombie hordes craving live flesh. Director Marc Forster doesn’t dwell on unnecessaries. In the space of a mere five minutes we meet Gerry and his family and get the required information on his dangerous past at the UN. Then before you have time to breathe they’re running for their lives from who knows what? Gerry has little idea and we only know because we’ve seen the trailer and read the summary.
Obviously, for some reason or another zombie storylines have been very much in vogue for the last several years so I get why a major studio wanted to put their spin on the sub-genre. While I admire the treatment of the story that frames it as a viral outbreak that must be controlled, I was much more taken in and viscerally frightened ten years ago with Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. That, too, is a zombie movie (though the word is never uttered) that treats the outbreak as a viral plague. I prefer the story that stays small, focusing on a regular guy just trying to survive. I felt a stronger emotional connection to Cillian Murphy’s character in the Boyle film than to Brad Pitt’s, although Forster crafts on harrowing sequence of abject terror that kept me sweating unlike anything in recent memory. When Gerry has to venture into a sealed off but infected wing of a W.H.O. facility to retrieve the ostensible antidote, it is Forster’s direction that amps up the tension. Also the fact that we do care about Gerry and the young female Israeli soldier (Daniella Kertesz) he’s brought along after lopping off her hand to save her life (a procedure also used more excruciatingly on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” last season).
To know anything of the film’s production history is to look for chinks in the armor. Reportedly the entire ending had to be re-written and shot again with a large portion of material being excised. I think if you don’t know all that then the structure holds up fairly well. Knowing it means you can begin to see where things break down in small ways. As Gerry narrates the ending there’s a sense of feeling cheated out of a more cathartic denouement, although an ending that features an over-arching defeat of a terrible threat would have felt more false. The ending is probably the part of the movie that hews closest to the spirit of the book’s structure of taking place after a long an protracted zombie war which saw realignments of political borders, new alliances and ends to old blood feuds. Maybe we’ll be treated to some of that in the inevitable sequel.