World War Z
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World War Z

Zombie film offers thrills but lacks good storytelling

By David Seaman | Echo

★★

It’s amazing “World War Z” was made. Loosely based off the popular and critically acclaimed novel by Max Brooks, the apocalyptic story was ripe for zombie-hungry Hollywood. Filming turned into a nightmare. There were delays, drama on the set, a massive budget and tension between star Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster. Five screenwriters were brought on at one point, and the third act went through multiple reshoots. So it comes as no surprise that “World War Z” is a slightly enjoyable but messy and confusing film.

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World War Z is a 2013 apocalyptic horror film directed by Marc Forster. The screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan is based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Max Brooks.

“World War Z” has Brad Pitt as a vaguely defined former United Nations worker caught up in a zombie invasion. No one knows how the pandemic happened and no one knows how to fully stop it. Horrific zombies have appeared, and by infecting others they have created an almost unstoppable force. These are not the slow zombies of “Walking Dead” fame. These monsters are super-fast, strong and look surprisingly normal. Pitt’s character Gerry Lane desperately searches for a way to stop these creatures, taking him from South Korea to Israel to Wales. It’s a race against time to stop the spread from infecting the ones he loves most.

Brad Pitt really wanted to work with Marc Forster, the director of James Bond film “Quantum of Solace.” That film was criticized for its incoherent action, and Forster’s directing in “World War Z” is more of the same. Only a few scenes work well. A zombie attack in Israel showcases the massive scope of the computer-generated zombies. An ambush on a plane works because it is appropriately tense and claustrophobic. These scenes allow the plot to breathe and let the camera show both the giant threat and up-close terror of the creatures.

The rest of the film is choppily edited and showcases erratic jumbles of movement. It’s hard to tell what is happening in most of the zombie attack scenes. Because Forster tried to go for a more realistic feel in shaky camerawork, the results end up making the audience painfully aware they are watching a movie.

“World War Z,” like its zombies, moves fast — too fast for its own good, in fact. No setup is given for how the creatures appear. Rather, they are thrown into the movie within the first five minutes, with no real explanation given. From there Lane has to move from continent to continent while running into people with conveniently placed information.

The zombies look impressive despite their rushed scenes. The CGI seems flawless in scenes where giant hordes merge on the populace. After a while, though, the results of attacks appear bloodless. The camera cuts away from gore, leaving it to the viewer’s imagination. It seems like the filmmakers were focusing more on the reactions to the zombies rather than the zombie killing, which is appreciated and a change from modern zombie films. But the film could have benefited from showing at least some reactions of those who are infected.

The film is surprisingly well-acted despite its flaws. Brad Pitt is serious and calm in his role as Lane. He plays a convincing family man. Supporting actors James Badge Dale, Daniella Kertesz and Peter Capaldi give fine performances. The problem is that many of these characters have subpar dialogue and are either misused in roles or abandoned altogether. There is also a crucial lack of character development. Gerry Lane’s backstory is barely mentioned. Lane is asked if he is a member of the U.N. and actually changes the subject. It’s not as if the United Nations is top secret or anything.

None of the characters seem three-dimensional. The closest is Lane, but even he is just a man trying to save his family. That’s it. He’s too nice and boring to be a relatable character. Most of everyone else seems like cardboard.

Most of the flaws are addressed in the film’s superior third act. Lane arrives at the World Health Organization in Wales tired and exhausted. He realizes there might be a way to find a cure. To do that, he will have to go through some zombies trapped in the building. Here the film slows down, allows characters to express their thoughts and offers some real suspense. It borrows heavily from zombie film clichés, sure, but at least the audience is able to focus on what is going on. There’s no overload here.

“World War Z” could have been a good zombie film if it maintained more of the suspense and calmness of its third act. Unfortunately, the plot’s franticness and severe lack of character development make it passable rather than must-see summer entertainment.

 

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