World War Z (2013)

On the back of the huge success of Max Brooks’ cult classic novel of the same name, World War Z chronicles the initial events of the Zombie War, but takes the different stance of making it a personal tale intercut with mass global disaster scenes. This was seen by many as a risky move. Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland) question is, can a book deemed impossible to make into a movie live up to the hype and succeed where most expected it to fail?

World War Z follows the story of Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former united Nations employee thrown back into service as he bears witness to a worldwide plague that turns human into ‘zombies’. After escaping the ravages of his city with his family, he is once again re-employed by the UN and tasked with finding out the origin of this outbreak and if a cure can be found before the world is lost entirely to the virus.

World War Z starts highly promisingly. The first ‘attack’ totally blind sights you, and they quickly amp up the peril and anarchy giving an accurate account of the panic the apocalypse would bring. What follows, sadly, is a film that contradicts itself at almost every turn. It tries to be too much, when it should have settled on just one approach and just stuck with it.

The real challenge here was envisioning a book that, from the outset, could not really be made into a film. It is here that World War Z really falls down. Yes, the base storyline is that of Max Brooks’ book, but how do you put a series of oral interviews on film? Each interview is a completely personal ‘account’ of the Zombie War, and the sheer number of them made this an impossible task.

The biggest contradiction in World War Z is the constant changing between large and small scale storytelling. One minute you feel like you’re truly there with Gerry, feeling his pain and struggle, then suddenly you’re seeing thousands of (poorly animated) zombies attacking cities. This splicing of large and small scale may have (arguably) worked for films like Cloverfield, but in a film that is trying to focus on one man’s story, they go too big too often.

The zombies themselves are reminiscent in poor quality and animation to the ‘vampires’ in I am Legend. The problem with going for large scale, fast moving zombies, is that there is ultimately always going to be that compromise of quality, and as a result, believability. Dawn of the Dead (2004) and 28 Days Later proved that you don’t need to go completely gung ho with the special effects to make fast moving zombies work.

Some elements of the film leave believability as a distant memory. Gerry seems to survive ridiculous odds, at every turn, more than once being almost a sole survivor in planes, army bases, and entire cities. Not halfway through the film you realise, there’s no way this guy is going no die, no matter what, so his ‘struggle’ seems almost non-existent, and his success shrouded in a dull air of inevitability.

That’s not to say World War Z is not totally without its merits. Pitt’s Gerry is likable, and more importantly, believable. He is a man who, in the face of such an unprecedented ordeal, puts the welfare and safety of his wife (Mireille Enos) and children above anything else, committing several crimes (including murder) to protect them. Pitt’s acting is stellar, and is the real high point of the film. He is supported by a very strong and capable cast of some relative unknowns including an outstanding performance by Daniella Kertesz. The film follows a steady pace, and although the believability of the film goes out the window quite early on, it’s still an enjoyable film.

Where the makers went wrong, is calling the film World War Z. This gave the film a hugely unrealistic goal of achieving Max Brooks‘ vision on film. They should have either made it a personal story entirely, or just sold out and made it a huge blockbuster. This, combined with the severely restricting 12 certificate, took a great deal away from the believability. You can’t have a zombie apocalypse film with very little violence in it. It takes away from the necessary brutality.

All in all, it’s worth a watch, but there’s little to no repeat watch value, and don’t expect it to stay with you for long. The book however, definitely will.

Rating: ★★★★★½☆☆☆☆

2 Comments on “World War Z”

  1. Dick Cameron says:

    A competent review with a few grammar glitches and to many “Justs”.
    The phrase is ‘blind sided’ not blind sighted.
    Mr. Gonsalves does a fine job of laying out the plot without tedious explanation and states his pros and cons well.
    This review helped me decide not to watch the movie as I would be disappointed. I didn’t think a film could do justice to the book when a big star and a huge budget was involved.
    I give this review a nine out of ten, one point subtracted because of grammar and syntax.

    • Dick Cameron says:

      And to show how easy it is to make a simple spelling error; note that I wrote “to” when I should have written “too”.
      So I give Mr. Gonsalves a half point back, rating the review at 9.5 out of 10, while I penalize myself for not proofreading my own dribble.

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