World War Z
Release Date: June 21, 2013
Director: Marc Forster
Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan (screenplay) and Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof (screenplay); Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski (screen story); Max Brooks (based on the novel by)
Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz
MPAA Rating: PG-13
With so many zombie movies, comics, TV shows and video games out there, it’s hard to make a film that stands out. Wisely, World War Z finds its own path by giving audiences something that is rarely seen in this genre – hope.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a very tense and very heart-wrenching movie that shows the global effects of a devastating zombie infestation. But the movie is framed around Gerry Lane’s (Brad Pitt) desperate search for a cure. So unlike a show like The Walking Dead, which is a never-ending hellscape in which people know they are doomed and are simply trying to survive, this film gives the sense that if Lane can just get to the bottom of what this infestation is and how it works that he can find a way to stop it or to at least fight back against it.
Further complicating things (and further pushing Lane to find the cure as quickly as possible) is the fact that our hero has a wife and two children he is desperately trying to protect. In fact, protecting them is his only real motivation. At the beginning of the film, he’s put his global investigation days behind him to spend more time with his family. It’s only because the military promises to house his family aboard an uninfected aircraft carrier as long as he cooperates that Lane heads into the field to try to find patient zero.
The film’s resolution feels a little too convenient and tidy and overall the “mystery” follows a path that is easy to predict early on in the story, but World War Z still works as a whole because it is a very well-crafted, suspenseful story. Wisely, director Marc Forster doesn’t try to outdo the gore or violence of other zombie films out there and instead embraces his PG-13 rating by focusing on what you don’t see more than what you do. Forster keeps the camera tight on his actors and lets the anticipation build of what will be around the corner, which always ends up being so much scarier in your mind than any visceral and graphic on-screen attack could ever be. (Forster did such a good job building the tension that a woman in the theater I was in actually screamed out loud at full volume when a zombie popped up into frame unexpectedly in the film, which is something I’ve never heard before.)
Forester also makes the most of his locations. A lot of the film involves Lane going somewhere to investigate, only to have that location overtaken by a swarm of zombies. Even his struggle to simply get his family out of Philadelphia as the outbreak first begins is harrowing. But I really loved two locations in particular – one of them was in Israel, which was thought to be the only place properly fortified from the zombies, and the other is aboard a passenger jet, which turns out to be the absolute worst place to be trapped with a zombie. (Lane’s solution out of that particular pickle is simultaneously the most ridiculous and most awesome moment of the film.)
The other choice the film makes is to make its zombies super fast, instead of the more familiar slow, meandering, groaning zombies. A lot of zombie traditionalists are upset by this decision, but I think it works for the film. In this version, the zombie outbreak is a virus similar to rabies, so it makes sense that the people would attack quickly and viciously, like rabid dogs. The fact that the people are able to climb up on top of each other to create human pyramids as they attempt to climb up buildings or over walls seems less plausible and a tad ridiculous, but it certainly makes for a memorable visual.
Brad Pitt is as charming and as effective as a leading man as you’d expect him to be. What I liked too about his character is that he wasn’t called upon to be a superhero gunning down zombies left and right. Instead, he’s someone who knows his best way to survive is to hide behind the highly trained military guys with guns and to wait for their okay to move. He does have his heroic moments, of course, but they are more subtle and more thoughtful. But overall, he’s more analytical than ass kicking.
I particularly enjoyed it because it left a lot of the ass kicking to Daniella Kertesz, who had the breakout performance of the film. Kertesz plays Segen, an Israeli soldier tasked with protecting Lane. From her first moment on-screen, you realize this is the person you want next to you during a zombie apocalypse. It’s a minimalist performance and she isn’t given a ton of screen time, but of everyone in the film’s deep cast, she makes the biggest impact with the limited time she’s given. She left me wanting to see more of Segen and wanting to know more about her backstory, which I never really felt with any of the other supporting roles.
That being said, I did also enjoy David Morse’s cameo in the film. While I didn’t feel like I needed to learn more about his character (or secretly hoped for him to get his own spinoff film, like I did with Kertesz), I loved his brief stint as a deranged, locked up ex-CIA agent. Lane has to decide if this conspiracy theory spouting lunatic (who removed all of his own teeth because in his mind no teeth means you can’t transmit the virus via biting) is crazy or if he may actually know something useful.
In the end, World War Z isn’t a perfect film or a terribly complex one, but thanks to its great use of tension, captivating visuals and a handful of great performances, it is a strong enough film to separate itself from all of the other zombie fare out there. And sometimes, that’s enough to justify spending $10 to watch people run for their lives.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.