World War Z (***)

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World_War_Z_posterThere’s a sense of weariness and dread that pervades every element of World War Z so strongly that you have to wonder if art was indeed imitating life. Between the reshoots, bringing in Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard to rewrite the film, and the hordes of fans of the novel bemoaning the changes the movie was going to make to their beloved tome, this film sure had a lot to overcome on its way to the big screen. So wouldn’t you be surprised that despite everything facing the film, that it World War Z manages to stand on it’s own as a decent film and one of the better zombie movies to come along in a while?

The first two thirds of this film are some of the best filmmaking about zombies I’ve seen. After an extended opening credits sequence that sets the mood with it’s creepy imagery, we meet retired UN investigator Gerry Lane and his family. Within 15 minutes, them and the audience are thrust into throws of the zombie outbreak in Philadelphia and New Jersey, with them barely escaping with their lives and then entire eastern seaboard is gone. Gerry against his will is thrust into traveling around the world in order to find a cure for the disease. The pace is relentless, the action crisp and the situations dire, but until the airplane sequence the film more than holds it’s own. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Marc Forster direct a film so confidently and he manages to strike a great balance between the world wide epidemic and the individual experience of the family. They also manage to weave in some conversations that sound like scenes from the book seamlessly set to action, giving many of the book fans something to enjoy.

However, like a zombie bite, it’s only a matter of time before the infection begins to spread and the film unravels a bit in the later third when after a spectacular airplane set piece, the move tries to complete its hero’s journey. It’s not that the end is bad, just that it amounts to average storytelling and when put up against the beginning doesn’t really match. I was struck while watching this how numb you become to it all, much like the characters in the story. Surviving up to that point has been a struggle and so the beats of the final third just don’t affect the audience the way the creators probably want them to.

This is probably due to the fact that the story does everything in it’s power to focus this whole thing around one man. It seemed like rather than let this be a film about humanity, they tried to boil everything down to Gerry and in so doing, set up a journey that no matter what, the audience knew he would succeed. Not so much that Gerry will have it easy in saving the human race, but that even while placing “obstacles” in his way, we still trudge on the same path. Which is sad because there are so many ideas floating around World War Z that are just waiting for someone, anyone to grab hold of them. I was surprised that given Lindelof’s involvement in the rewrite, instead of really exploring the nuances of the situation, they opted for a more straight forward narrative and a basic ending.

Brad Pitt gives a fine performance in this film, even when the script isn’t serving his arc completely. His looks may have gotten him the majority of his parts, but he aquits himself to this Superman-everyman combination type role very well. Mirelle Enos was just fantastic in her limited scenes, and she all but steals the movie in the first 15 minutes. The real standout was the sublime Daniella Kertesz who plays Segen, an Isralli soldier Gerry meets later in the film. I could have watched an entire film of her and Pitt’s interactions.

Despite my misgivings about the film, the only real egregious mistake the filmmakers made was putting it in 3D. With so much shaky cam and big action scenes, the movie seems more suited to two dimensions.

The best way to enjoy World War Z is to take a few deep breaths and cleanse your mind of the history of the project. If you can do that, you should find this globe trotting zombie adventure an entertaining thrill ride.