By Benjamin Lane
World War Z. (2013). Run time: 116 mins. MPAA: PG-13 (for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images). Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Ludi Boeken, Matthe Fox, David Morse, and Peter Capaldi. Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof. Directed by Marc Forster.
Night of the Living Dead. Dawn of the Dead. Zombieland. After these and many others that have come along, the question has to be raised, can Hollywood think of anything else? Does Hollywood have no other option but to keep rehashing plots and themes and injecting them into films that are only different when it comes to cast and crew? That is my question when it comes to zombie movies and vampire movies nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I love zombie movies… when they are done right. See the first three I mentioned in this review. I also even like vampire movies… when they are done right. See films such as Matt Reeve’s Let Me In, Dracula, and even Fright Night to some extent. But those films, the good ones of the genre, are always R rated. Why? Because when it comes to subject matter of bitten and/or infected humans biting and/or infecting other humans and causing them to turn into raging monsters hungry for flesh, it cannot be dummied down to sell to younger audiences. They have to do it right, make it graphic, rate it R, and move on. Sometimes, however, companies are more focused on making money than making a quality film, so they cut things out of their film to make it PG-13 so hopefully more people will see it. That, combined with the fact that Marc Forster was at the helm, is why I was not at all excited for World War Z. As I said, I am a huge fan of zombie movies, and I find the material to be fascinating, but it has to be done right, and something about a PG-13 rated zombie movie just doesn’t come to me as being done right. Let’s forget though about the fact that Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster was behind the camera and the fact that this movie was rated PG-13. Take into consideration the production issues. This movie was filmed and edited, then the producers realized it was a bit too political, so they went back and filmed over half of the movie again. That is never a good sign. Never. Also, I found the idea of zombies that ran incredibly fast was incredibly stupid. Naturally, do to those aspects, I wasn’t at al looking forward to World War Z. I saw it the weekend it came out, because I love seeing movies to review them for you guys, and I have to say, not only was it really, really good, but I personally think it is one of the smartest, creative, entertaining, and best acted zombie movies ever placed into the genre.
When Max Brooks’ novel was released, it received immediate raves among book critics as being one of the most imaginative and explicit zombie stories ever told. I own the book, and I have read certain portions out of it, but not the book in its entirety, so I will not be talking about how the book and movie differ, because of the fact that I haven’t read it and also because I don’t like to do that. It is my firm belief that if a screenwriter and filmmaker are working on an adaptation, it is their freedom to change certain things if it works to the benefit of the film. Such I believe is the case with World War Z. As I said, I have read certain portions from the novel, and I can say it is one of the most graphically detailed accounts of zombie attacks I’ve ever read or even seen. The movie, not so much. But Marc Forster makes it subtle. Yes the zombies run. Forget the traditional walk-like-your-dead-with-your-arms-stretched-out routine played out in zombie movies. Forster and company shake things up, and the effect is creepily compelling. In just about every scene with the zombies, I found myself glued to the screen, either laughing at the sheer hilarity of it, or scared to death. That rarely happens in a zombie movie. There are a few scenes that actually show the process of someone becoming a zombie and while they are not graphic, it is some of the most memorable material I have seen in a film this year. The makeup for the zombies was phenomenal, the actors playing the zombies were great, and the sweeping shots of the suffering cities were breathtaking.
This film has quite a cast for a zombie movie. I know Zombieland had Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray was thrown in there for comedic effect, but this one has Brad Pitt. When does that ever happen? But he was great in this movie! He plunged into his character the way he tends to always do, especially more recently. Mireille Enos does a fine job as Gerry’s wife, Karin, and some others are David Morse, Matthew Fox, and even Peter Capaldi playing a W.H.O. doctor, which is ironic given that he was just recently announced to be playing the twelfth doctor in the long running BBC show Doctor Who. Maybe that was a hint to us Doctor Who fans that no one picked up on? I don’t know, but it’s pretty amusing to me.
The final aspect I want to touch on is the script by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof. It’s not an easy thing to do to take an unimaginably popular book, about zombies nonetheless, and transfer that into a motion picture. But they did it. A lot of people, regular movie goers that is, not critics, are complaining because there is a lot of talking in this movie and they want to see more zombies killing people and those dead people returning as zombies. Fair. But I don’t agree with them. This script is filled with so much interesting dialogue that I found it all to be riveting. Not perfect by any means, but interesting and understandable and it all related to the story. With credit to the screenwriters, the actors, and Marc Forster, I have to say that the third act of the film is one of the most intense scenes I’ve experienced in a movie this entire year. Very well done.
FINAL VERDICT: I went in to World War Z expecting garbage. It was from the director of Quantum of Solace, it was rated PG-13 when the book was incredibly graphic and there was no way a PG-13 adaptation would work, and the production was plagued with issues and the release date was pushed back accordingly. Basically, this movie was a mess from the start. Somehow, though, World War Z blew me away. It’s not an Oscar worthy piece or even a “great” film, but for what it could have and should have been, it rose far above the bar. (B+)