Monday, June 24, 2013

World War Z (Movie Review)

World War Z (Paramount Pictures/Plan B, 2013.  Directed by Marc Forster.)

After having its original release date postponed (and its ending re-shot), World War Z has finally hit theaters.  And somewhat surprisingly, it proves worth the wait.

The undead hordes harrying Brad Pitt and the rest of humanity in the film certainly aren't the cinematic descendants of Romero's shambling ghouls (or even the infamously fleet zombies from the Dawn of the Dead remake).  These virus-infected and revivified carnivores move about with kamikaze-like abandon, smashing their heads through windshields and tossing themselves off walls.  They are an unruly mob sweeping across the landscape with all the devastating force of a natural disaster.  Perhaps to reinforce the idea of a swarming menace, the film chooses not to focus its lens on individual decadents.  There are no lingering shots of putrefying figures, and no scenes of explicit, grisly feasting.  Nor is the film replete with exploding heads or other images of inventive zombie destruction, such as has become the norm on episodes of TV's The Walking Dead.  In keeping with a PG-13 rating, much of the carnage here is kept off-screen, which is apt to disappoint gorehounds but actually fits with WWZ's broad scope (the sense of a large-scale catastrophe transpiring, where it is impossible to ever grasp the complete picture).

One might even argue that this is less a zombie film than a global-disaster thriller that happens to employ the undead as a pandemic device.  Yes, there are some implausible visuals (most blatantly, the zombie uprising over the walls of Jerusalem), yet what makes WWZ most effective is its realism: it captures the experience of being suddenly faced with the downfall of civilization.  Early scenes (in the streets of Philadelphia and Newark) of chaos and confusion--involving not just zombie attacks but acts of looting and human-on-human violence--unnerve the viewer because he/she can easily envision such societal breakdown occurring.

Overall, the film offers an entertaining alternation between spectacular vistas and claustrophobic settings, between furious action and slow-building tension.  The cat-and-mouse-game climax that plays out within the labyrinthine, dead-haunted corridors of a WHO facility is terrifically suspenseful, and drives home the heroism of Pitt's character.  As a former UN investigator forced back into action, he combats the zombie plague with his cunning more than his gunslinging.

World War Z is hardly a flawless film (one major lament I have is that Mireille Enos [The Killing] was grossly under-utilized as Pitt's wife), but those willing to cast aside expectations of typical zombie fare will find it a thoroughly enjoyable endeavor.

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