World War Z

‘World War Z’ is the biggest positive surprise of 2013 so far. As I recall, the rumors indicated that several scenes were reshot, or removed from the film altogether, and the release date was delayed by several weeks. I didn’t necessarily validate any of this information, but it left me feeling skeptical about how the end product would actually turn out.

‘World War Z’ is based on the 2006 novel by Max Brooks, who happens to be the son of comedy filmmaker Mel Brooks, but there aren’t many laughs to be found here. The movie really only shares the book’s title – to say that the film takes artistic liberties with the source material would be an understatement (heads up to all the purists out there who can’t toss aside their literary agenda). Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a former U.N. specialist who comes out of retirement when zombies suddenly overrun his city of Philly. This leads to Gerry helping out the U.N. search for a cure to end the pandemic. Hey, it’s Brad Pitt versus the Zombie Apocalypse – who are you going to cheer for?

If worst haircut awards were handed out at the end of the filmgoing year, I think Brad Pitt would be a lock to receive such an accolade. But he’s still Brad Pitt, and his character is more of a Superman than Henry Cavill’s ‘Man of Steel’. Why exactly are these zombies overrunning major cities all around the world? I don’t think the movie provides an explanation and that’s ok. These are still the smartest zombies to ever be put on film – they swarm in huge herds like ants to get over a barrier. Why? Because there is human flesh on the other side of this wall, so they essentially create their own ladder – with one zombie clawing atop the other to hop over the other side). It’s not just a special effect for the sake of showmanship – there’s a purpose supporting the flashiness. I think that’s pretty cool. In my review of ‘Warm Bodies’, I said “Zombies don’t make for interesting creatures – they snarl, walk slowly, sniff the air, feast on human flesh, approach a physical barrier, and are eventually killed with a shot to the head.” Neither Warm Bodies’ or ‘World War Z’ make an effort to explore new territory but they managed to take a tired genre and spin it into something fresh.

‘World War Z’ is tension-filled without producing buckets of over-the-top blood and gore. The MPAA has given the movie a rating of PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images. I think this movie pushes the boundary of this rating – the level of intensity is comparable to the first two ‘Alien’ pictures (or the only two Alien films that should have ever been made). The title delivers on presenting us with a picture that is on a global scale – we are treated to some fabulous set pieces as the zombie apocalypse has Gerry racing from Korea to Jerusalem to Nova Scotia. One terrific sequence involves Gerry and a group of passengers on a plane en route to Jerusalem – I won’t spoil it for you, but what a frighteningly intense sequence.

The performances in this picture are so much better than what we typically get from big, summer blockbusters; especially the one given by Brad Pitt. Pitt is in every scene, so the weight of the picture lies on his shoulders – but he sells it. This is true even when the script makes an attempt to have higher meaning; the parallelisms to real-world contagions are a tad ridiculous. One other area of criticism –the 3-D/shaky-cam effect was almost deadly, causing me to endure a headache for the first twenty-five minutes; I kept lifting my glasses hoping my headache would disappear. We really need to get rid of this 3-D format; it just detracts from the viewing experience. Let’s move on.

Some viewers may be split by this picture – the first half offers a loud, visceral experience; the back half of the picture is more quiet, relying on timing and precision to generate its scares. For me, both halves are equally suspenseful but for completely different reasons. If you liked ‘Alien’ more than ‘Aliens’, you’ll probably prefer the second half. I’m breaking my rule here – I try not to second-guess the audience, but I think the ‘Alien’ test is a good indicator.

Thanks to some brilliantly constructed sequence which match the first two ‘Alien’ pictures in terms of intensity, ‘World War Z’ ends up being the biggest positive surprise of 2013. This is a great summer entertainment. I recommend seeing a 2-D version of the film if possible; the 3-D version is headache-inducing (at least at the start). QED.

3-To-See: ‘Fast & Furious 6’ (Wide-release), ‘Mud’ (Cineplex Yonge/Dundas, Magic Lantern Theatres – Carlton Cinema), ‘World War Z’ (Wide-release)

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