Monday, June 24, 2013

Zombies Vs. The World

World War Z

Reviewed by Kemper
3 out of 5 undead stars

I’m scratching my head as to why Hollywood even bothered buying the rights to the World War Z novel by Max Brooks because the film version bears so little resemblance to the original that there really wasn’t any reason to call it an adaptation. Since it’s written as the collected accounts from many people all over the world after the zombie war, it seemed like making some kind of Ken Burns style faux-documentary would be the way to go, but instead they went with the more traditional structure of a single movie star as the hero.

If they didn’t want to use the style that made the book unique, then why even associate the two?  It’s not like a movie featuring Brad Pitt fighting zombies would be a tough sell so it seems odd that they’d risk alienating fans by making a movie that doesn’t use the elements that made the book stand out.  Reports of extensive reshooting with a revised script after the film was supposed to be done weren’t inspiring a lot of confidence either. However despite these issues, the movie is actually pretty good.  Go figure.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) used to be an investigator for the United Nations who spent time in some of the most dangerous places in the world.  Now he’s living in Philadelphia with his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and their two daughters.  As they start their commute on an ordinary day, a traffic jam suddenly turns into chaos as hordes of dead people start attacking and biting the living.  Lane and his family barely manage to escape the city, and his old boss at the UN (Fana Mokoena) arranges to have them brought to a US naval ship in the Atlantic

The zombie outbreak is worldwide and the living people are losing the fight. Communication is breaking down and entire nations are being quickly overwhelmed.  The best guess is that a virus is to blame and finding its origin is the key to stopping the zombies. The only clue is an email that came from a US military base in South Korea before everything went to hell, and Gerry is recruited to go with a young doctor (Elyes Gabel) and a team of soldiers to track the source of the virus.  Gerry’s mission takes him around the world, and the zombies are a constant danger everywhere he goes. 

Zombie movies usually focus on a small group of people dealing with the threat and while the breakdown of society is a constant factor, this is the first time we’ve had a big budget movie trying to show the scope of what that would be like.  World War Z succeeds in this for the most part with big action sequences during Gerry’s travels that highlight the panic and chaos.

One thing that really sells the threat is how the zombies are done.  The movie uses the fast type instead of the more traditional slow ones, and they attack in swarms.  These zombies come at their victims with snapping teeth and will throw themselves off a building to get at someone.  They’re genuinely scary and when hordes of them start to overrun a location, it’s easy to believe that even the various military forces can’t hold them off for long.

Pitt’s performance also helps anchor the movie in a recognizable reality.  Gerry’s background in various hotspots makes it credible that he knows how to work his way through a collapsing world without making him seem like an unbelievable bad-ass, and since he only went on the mission because his family would be kicked off the ship if he didn’t, it makes him a reluctant hero we can relate to.

Unfortunately, the movie lets down a bit in the last act when we go from the large scale segments in places like Jerusalem to Gerry playing a cat-and-mouse game in a laboratory complex that’s infested with zombies.  It’s a tense segment, but it’s anti-climatic after we’ve seen wholesale carnage around the globe.  Reducing the ending to just Gerry and a few others in a confined space feels much less ambitious than the rest of the film, and I wonder if the extra filming had to limit the scope for time and money reasons.  It’s also odd that the zombies can suddenly tell that any random noise is made by living people and not the undead when they’re bumping into walls and squawking all over the building.

While it’s still disappointing to not get a more faithful version of the book with its comprehensive view of a world at war with zombies, this is still an entertaining action horror movie that gives at least some flavor of what that fight would look like.


  1. Yay! Glad to hear it does not suck donkey's balls.

    I asked myself the same question about why wouldn't they just make a huge Brad Pitt vs zombies movie, like Tom Cruise vs the aliens. Why even bother optioning the book? Best guess - this project has been in the works for a looooong time, and they got it for cheap not really sure what they would do with it, but it was worth the effort just for locking up that awesome title and a built in fan base to generate buzz, whether you ended up pissing them off or not.

  2. Hmm, I don't understand why they bought the rights either--Brooks' Hollywood savvy, perhaps? I think the documentary would be a tough sell to some, but I would have seen it.