Mark Reviews Movies

WORLD WAR Z

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Marc Forster

Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Fana Mokoena, James Badge Dale, Ludi Boeken, David Morse, Matthew Fox

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images)

Running Time: 1:56

Release Date: 6/21/13


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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 20, 2013

Terror is in short supply in World War Z, a globe-trotting expedition from one zombie-infested place to the next, and it has been replaced with spectacle. The up-close-and-personal encounters we typically expect from movies about the walking undead aren't here until the movie's final setpiece. Before that, we're presented with masses—people running through the streets of Philadelphia as a pack of racing zombies attacks, resulting in more and more creatures on their side, or zombies piling upon each other to form a towering ladder of bodies in order to scale a giant wall that surrounds Jerusalem.

The movie's scale is impressive. We're accustomed to single locations serving as a representative for the larger outbreak of the undead in movies on the subject.

Here, we see how widespread this zombie plague is firsthand. Soon after his first encounter with the monsters, the hero tells a family determined to stay put that "Movement is life." The implication is that there's really no end to moving—no destination that will mean salvation. We know this because we see that devastation at every stop on the hero's world tour. There's something inherently hopeless about this scenario—unless there's hope in a constant state of upheaval with the only uncertain promise being that one might be alive at the end of a given day, hour, or minute.

The screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof (based on the book by Max Brooks) embraces that overriding sense of futility in ways both big and small. Characters that are seemingly important die soon after their first introduction. The protagonist's hunt for a cure is halted and diverted at every turn. When the talk about the goal of quest starts in earnest, the conversation is not exactly about a cure, either.

Then, of course, there are the setpieces, which put our hero—at once the unluckiest (to get into these situations) and luckiest (to always get out of them) man in the world—in increasingly impossible scenarios. He is Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a retired envoy for the United Nations who now spends all of his time with his family. On a seemingly ordinary day—save for the news reports about martial law elsewhere in the world—he, his wife (Mireille Enos), and their two daughters (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove) are stuck in a traffic jam in downtown Philadelphia when the first tough situation occurs.

The first sequence sets up the formula for the rest of them—a relatively calm situation (The relative part being the knowledge that zombies are going to have to show up sooner or later) that slowly shows signs of something wrong and unstoppably escalating to carnage. It works quite well in this first instance, as director Marc Forster builds up the unease with each new revelation. First, there's the appearance of police motorcycles zooming between cars, and then there's an explosion in the distance. When the carnage begins, the sequence doesn't let up until the family has found sanctuary in a building, and even then, well, it's only the briefest of respites. These zombies are everywhere.

The sequence also establishes a few rules, such as a countdown to a victim of a zombie bite turning (eerily juxtaposed with a talking child's toy) and that these monsters are of a singular mind to bite (They lunge headfirst at their targeted victims with no regard for anything that might be in the way, which borders on comic effect at times). That first rule is essential to one scene. After making a long trip to the roof of an apartment complex and encountering zombies along the way, Gerry, knowing he's gotten some undead blood in his mouth, immediately rushes to the edge of the rooftop—teetering there, counting, and ready to step forward if he feels himself changing.

It's the defining moment for this character who's willing to sacrifice himself, lest he bring any danger to his family. The dedication is more important when the Under-Secretary-General of the UN (Fana Mokoena), his old boss, tells Gerry that he must escort a doctor to find "patient zero" or his family will be denied the security of a ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Pitt's performance is perhaps the most vital element of the movie, and he conveys a Zenic aura of composure as chaos erupts around him.

There's plenty of it, too. A trip to an airbase in South Korea provides a little information about the origin of the pandemic and an opportunity for a stealth mission to refuel their cargo plane on a rainy airfield, where there's no way to tell how many zombies there might be and from where they might leap. The Jerusalem sequence (started, in a bit of irony, by a display that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been forgiven by both sides) is followed by a close-quarters encounter on an airplane with a ludicrous resolution (Pitt sells the motivation behind the apparently suicidal act), and that's followed by a trip through the narrow hallways of a medical research facility for an anticlimactic resolution.

These start to become repetitious, and the bigger scope on events ultimately means we lose a human connection to events. World War Z may represent a different approach to handling zombies, but it's not necessarily an effective one.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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