Note: For once, I will try to keep this review spoiler free, as I’ll be posting it the same weekend of the film’s release.
World War Z finally hits theaters this weekend after 6 months of delays, rewrites, and a reshoot of the entire third act. I am surprised, but happy, to say that the end result is actually a pretty decent movie. Despite the much publicized production issues this project endured (For a fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes drama on this project, you MUST read Vanity Fair‘s excellent long form piece. Check that out HERE), and despite the advertising telling me not to expect much, I was still rooting for the movie to be good. For one, I’m a fan of Brad Pitt, one of the few big-name actors who rarely makes a bad movie. Seriously, look at his filmography and tell me the last bad movie he was in that he was also the star of. If there’s any A-list star that could will this movie to respectability, it was him. The other reason is because I loved the idea of a Roland Emmerich-sized zombie disaster movie. The vast majority of zombie stories we’re used to seeing are very small in scale and limited to a few small, key locations. I’ve wanted to see one done on this scale for a long time. I’m still not sure Marc Forster was the best choice of director for a movie like this, but he equips himself ably enough, and he did have some big budget experience, having recently directed a Bond movie (the much maligned Quantum of Solace). I also believe “PG-13 zombies” is an oxymoron, and the idea of CGI zombies might be even worse, but this was probably as good as both of those concepts could have been executed in one movie.
The basic story is that Pitt, his wife (played by Mireille Enos of AMC’s The Killing) and their two annoying kids narrowly escape Philadelphia at the outbreak of the zombiepocalypse. Pitt is sought after by what little government remains because of his past as a top U.N. investigator. They want him to go out with a military escort and a scientist to find out what caused the virus so an antidote can be created. Off he goes, traveling to South Korea, Jerusalem, then enduring a pretty intense plane crash before finally ending up at a W.H.O. research facility in Wales, UK for the grand finale. For a movie this size, the story is actually rather simple.
Regardless of how good the movie is or isn’t, it’s still very different from the book, which has a completely different structure. Max Brooks‘ (trivia: he’s the son of Mel Brooks!) novel is near the top of my very long “books I must read” list, and I’m only more curious about it now after watching the movie. If you hate the movie, don’t think that will prevent you from enjoying the book. If you liked the movie like I did, it should only make you more interested in reading the book.
The performances are good enough all the way around. I wasn’t too impressed by Pitt’s wife & kids, but that’s primarily because they’re deliberately underwritten, with their sole purpose being to provide something for Pitt to care about during his time away. He weally, weally misses them, and they weally, weally miss him. It’s all so touching. The only characters we end up caring about are Pitt’s Gerry Lane, and strangely enough, a female Israeli soldier named Segen who ends up sticking with Gerry from Jerusalem on. She is played by an Israeli actress I’d never seen before named Daniella Kertesz, who was absolutely gorgeous even with her military buzz cut. I need to see more of this girl, and pronto. This makes two beautiful foreigners with short hair in back-to-back big summer movies (after Antje Traue‘s insanely hot Faora in Man of Steel). I can’t take any more! Anyway, Pitt is solid as always, but really, none of these roles presented a real acting challenge. James Badge Dale shows up in another tiny part as a U.S. Special Forces dude at the base in South Korea, and again steals the show. When is this guy going to get the lead role he so desperately deserves?
Sidebar: I have to give the film credit for having its characters mention zombies out loud. The people in this movie actually know what zombies are, and aren’t afraid to speculate that the infected humans destroying civilization may actually be some form of real-life zombies. This is a minor detail, but it was very refreshing to see. In most zombie movies and TV shows (including the current Zombie World Heavyweight Champion, The Walking Dead), the word ‘zombie’ is never uttered, as if nobody in those universes have ever seen a zombie movie or TV show. That always bugs the shit out of me, so I respect WWZ for bucking that trend. I know I’m not the only one who’s noticed this over the years.
The tech aspects are all solid. The sound design is really good, and I liked Marco Beltrami‘s score (with an assist from Muse, who provide a couple of cool electronic songs). I was actually most surprised by how good the finished effects looked. I thought the CGI zombies from the trailers looked absolutely atrocious, but the finished product is fairly convincing for the most part. I should have known better, given that it was ILM handling most of the effects work. There are enough actual humans playing zombies that you don’t mind the CGI hordes. I found that there was a good balance on the whole between real and fake zombies. Some of the wide shots of the hordes charging across cities or scaling walls are pretty spectacular, if I’m being honest (and I am). I liked the aerial shots of zombies rushing through the streets of Philadelphia and Jerusalem, but I was especially impressed by the stuntmen/actors playing the real zombies on the ground. I loved their movement, their spasmodic body twitches, and the way they ran into each other, collided into walls, and leaped after their prey. It was exactly what you assume zombies would be like; a total disregard for their own safety, with the sole priority being to find humans to chew on (or in the PG-13 version, to bite and then run off and find the next victim). It was funny seeing them tumble over each other and jump off the roof of a building in a desperate attempt to catch somebody in a helicopter. Some of those people had to be gymnasts or dancers or members of some other such physically capable profession. I found it interesting that they used the zombies’ sense of hearing as their main trigger to action, not the scent of humans or blood. I’m no zombie enthusiast, but this was the first time I’d seen that angle played. Several times in the film, docile or wounded zombies come raging back to life after they hear a loud noise.
The stunts were supervised by the one and only Simon Crane, who is nothing short of a god when it comes to large scale stunt work like we see here. Crane worked on little movies like Braveheart, Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, Troy, Terminator 3, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Salt, The Island, 2 Bond movies, and the list goes on. He knows what he’s doing. As gore-free, bloodless zombie action goes, this is about as good as it can get. Still, an R-rated version of this movie might have been truly special. I’d also argue that it would’ve made more money, which is ironic, since box office is the only reason they made it PG-13. Even more ironic is that the goriest part of the movie is the injury Brad Pitt suffers during the plane crash.
The final stop at the W.H.O. facility is presumably the part of the film that Damon Lindelof came in and did his big rewrite on. This is the most “zombie movie” part of the flick and I really enjoyed how it developed. Seriously, go read that Vanity Fair article I linked above on how the movie originally ended and why they completely changed it. It’s fascinating stuff. It’s a credit to Lindelof and the filmmakers that the final film shows no signs of the problems it suffered during its creation. It’s also nice to be able to say that Lindelof saved a movie instead of nearly ruining it. Overall, the script is not the film’s strongest asset, but it’s good enough. In a perfect world that I’ll never live in, this movie would have not only been rated R, but also been about 3 hours long. I think that’s the best possible version of World War Z. I wanted to see more of what was happening in various parts of the world and get to know more characters. Instead, it’s The Brad Pitt Show for just under 2 hours. This movie needed to be longer.
The movie ends sort of abruptly after that sequence, and aside from “the good guys survive”, there really isn’t any resolution at the end. Humanity doesn’t find a cure for the zombie plague, merely a way for the living to “camouflage” themselves from the undead. Other than that, the story, and the fate of humanity, is left wide open. I guess this is meant to set up a potential sequel, one that isn’t going to happen unless this movie is a monster hit. Pitt has expressed interest in revisiting WWZ, but again, don’t count on it.
In the end, I guess what I’m saying is that this particular version of World War Z is about as good as it could be given its creative restrictions and the circumstances under which it was made. Is that a compliment? Ummmm…yes!
Finally, you gotta respect Brad Pitt for the job he’s done promoting the movie. He understands that there has been a lot of negative buzz about it, and for the last month or so he has been out everywhere, relentlessly singing its praises, showing up at sneak previews to introduce the movie, and telling anyone who will listen how proud of it he is. And you believe him, too. At this point, I’m pretty sure even I could get an interview with him. This has nothing to do with the quality of the film, but I admire that kind of passion and commitment, so I feel it’s worth mentioning.
Sidebar: There were no fewer than 5 studio and production company logos at the beginning of the film. I’m pretty sure that’s the most I’ve ever seen in front of a movie, and it felt awkwardly long. I thought to myself, Okay, at some point the actual movie is going to start, yes?
Note: I did not see the movie in 3D because it’s a post-conversion. Having seen it in 2D, I don’t see how the 3D would have been that great, anyway. Although if you do see it in 3D this weekend, you’ll get to take home your official limited edition World War Z 3D glasses!
World War Z 3D glasses?! WOOOOOOOO!!!
World War Z – 116 minutes – PG-13
IMDb Rating: 7/10
Biggies Consideration: Best Makeup, Stuntwork, Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Editing
CORRECTION: I should have noted that Drew Goodard co-wrote the revised ending alongside Damon Lindelof. For whatever reason I did not know this until recently. Lindelof deserves a lot of credit for the changes, but not all of the credit. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie also did some minor touch-ups to the finished product, but not enough to receive a credit on the film. HuffPost did a good article on precisely what scenes were created in the rewrite. Check out that post HERE.
Some big news on the Avengers 2 front broke on Thursday. Disney/Marvel announced that Robert Downey Jr. has officially signed on to play Tony Stark/Iron Man in The Avengers 2 AND The Avengers 3. This is very interesting on a couple of levels. This is the first time Avengers 3 has been mentioned in any official capacity, and it also seems to signify that there will be no Iron Man 4 anytime soon. I actually think that’s a good thing, but I’m shocked they’re willfully passing on the opportunity for another guaranteed billion-dollar worldwide hit (Iron Man 3 has grossed $1.2 billion worldwide going into this weekend). As mentioned previously, Downey’s 4-picture deal with Marvel ended after Iron Man 3. He no doubt got a hefty raise for the Avengers sequels (he already made a reported $50 million on the first Avengers and will make just as much, if not more, for IM3). Word is some of the other Avengers cast are pissed that they aren’t seeing similar windfalls, and may hold out on Avengers 2 until they too are given significant raises. Marvel is known within the industry as being notoriously cheap when it comes to signing talent. However, something tells me with the amount of money The Avengers 2 is gonna make, this will all work itself out soon enough. The Avengers sequel starts filming in February for a May 1, 2015 release. It will again be written & directed by Mr. Joss Whedon. [STORY]