Wednesday, July 17, 2013

It's Like Two Different Zombie Movies In One, For Better and Worse: Our Review of "World War Z" (2013)

Director: Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace

Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale

Rating: PG-13 intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images

Run Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

Synopsis: Former United Nations employee Gerry Lane (Pitt) is pulled back into action when a zombie pandemic breaks out and he is tasked with travelling abroad to find the source of the virus so scientists can create a cure.


Andrew: Hello readers! A few weeks ago when it first came out, Sarah and I were able to catch Marc Foster's zombie-action flick World War Z starring Brad Pitt. Based on the book "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War" by Max Brooks - or should I say it's more inspired by...

Sarah: Yeah, by all accounts the only thing this movie has in common with the book is the title.

A: This was a film that we weren't dying to see but we were intrigued by it because we both like Brad Pitt, I'm a big fan of zombie movies, and we had heard conflicting things about it, so we were interested to see it with our own eyes and give our own take on it.

So now that we've seen World War Z, Sarah, what did you think of it?

S: I'm not one for zombie movies usually, they kinda freak me out, but I enjoyed parts of this movie. Specifically the parts that were an action movie, the parts were Brad Pitt's character Gerry had to go around the world looking for a cure to the outbreak. I liked those parts. I liked Brad Pitt! I thought he did a fine job, but there were parts of this movie I definitely did not like. So I'm kind of torn on this one. I thought it had likable parts and parts that you scratch your head at. Like I found myself wondering why they made some certain choices.

But you're the zombie expert in the family, what did you think?
A: Well I don't know if I'd go so far to say I'm an expert...

S: Don't get a big head, I said you were the expert in the family.

A: know, I haven't read the book yet though I've wanted to for many years, and I haven't had the chance yet. So I can't say exactly how faithful the film is or isn't to the book,  but from a zombie-movie aspect...I actually enjoyed most of World War Z for the same reasons you mentioned - the action pieces, Brad Pitt, how they focus on Gerry's family early on...

S: They briefly shed some light on Gerry's family. They briefly set up that he used to be a big player for the United Nations but now he's a stay-at-home dad. They briefly touch on that.

A: But what I meant was that I enjoyed how they gave the film some heart so you're more invested in Gerry's activities. But as far as being a zombie movie? I wasn't so much a fan of the film's take on zombies. The zombies here are more in line with the 28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later kind of zombie, not your traditional Walking Dead or Romero zombie. They're not so much zombies here as they are infected people with a weird virus that makes them super hyper and it's transmitted via biting.

S: Right, and that's what makes them not zombies, in my opinion. They don't really eat people. They're not flesh-eaters. All they're doing is infecting. They're spreading a virus. And that actually kind of bothered me because it's not a zombie movie then. It's sort of misleading, because they keep mentioning zombies and referring to them as such, but...

A: But the traditional stance of a zombie being a slow-moving undead monster that wants to eat brains and kill humans for food, these weren't your kind of zombies...

S: No.

A: They were brainless, really, and really more like animals than the undead.

S: Exactly. And they were enhanced. It gave them super-speed and super-strength, the ability to do what normal humans cannot do...

A: And a total disregard for their own safety or well-being. I remember a number of times early on in the movie where zombies were trying to get at humans in cars by smashing their heads against windows.

S: And I don't know, as far as zombies go, if that's not usually the case.

A: Well usually zombies aren't fast-moving and don't do things like that necessarily. So, anyways, that part I kind of wasn't jiving to so much. And a lot of the zombies early-on in the film are digital or very clearly not real actors in makeup, whereas I'm a bigger fan of the Dawn of the Dead/Walking Dead-style of zombies where it's an actor in makeup.

So, getting more to the point, I'll say I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the movie.

S: Yeah, I would agree, because it's SO action-packed.

A: It really is.

S: Almost from the word "go," pretty much from ten minutes in until the third act.

A: Right, from the outbreak in Philadelphia that opens the movie...

S: To Korea, to Israel, to a jumbo jet...and from there Gerry gets to England and what do you know? The movie gets pretty boring the whole third act.

A: And here's a big thing about World War Z the movie: it went through a lot of production troubles and a big part of that was that they completely re-wrote and re-shot the last act of the movie. About the last 40 minutes or so I would say. And you can tell that those last 40 minutes were written separately because the entire movie certainly changes in tone and pace.

S: Yup. And it is so crystal-clear when it changes that it's almost jarring! The thing that leads up to the change is so jarring and final and abrupt...and I guess we can talk about it now because it's been out for weeks and was even in the trailer, but it's the big plane-crash sequence. When the plane lands, it's like BAM! Movie stops cold. Then it changes and turns almost into a classic, generic horrorish zombie movie.

A: Absolutely. It's far more of a slow pace, it involves them being an a medical facility that has dark hallways that are filled with slow-moving zombies (why are they slow-moving now?) and they have to avoid the zombies, only arming themselves with a baseball bat and a's your far more classic interpretation of a zombie movie than it was before. It's no longer this action-packed film it was before...and it just doesn't work for me.

S: Me neither.

A: I liked the last act for a bit when the atmosphere changed because I like those kinds of movies, but it felt boring and it just didn't fit with the rest of the movie to me. Someday I would like to see the original ending, because I would like to think it was more in line with the rest of the movie. But instead...the film that we saw...the last forty minutes, and the conclusions especially...

A & S (in unison): Left me wanting.

S: Like, I was like, "Wait a minute, that's it? The movie's done?" And a movie shouldn't leave you feeling that way.

A: And it's almost kind of contrived and forced...there's a word I'm looking, "Oh, it's lucky that that  happened." [EDITOR'S NOTE: Shortly after World War Z was released in theatres the original ending leaked online. You can read how it was supposed to end HERE]

S: There is a lot of stuff that happens that's quite fortuitous for Gerry.

A: Yes. So again, for the most part I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the movie, the third act I could do without.

S: Here's the other thing that's lacking: for a zombie movie that's extremely action-packed, there is very, very little on-screen violence. And I think that's a shame for a zombie movie.

A: Oh, agreed. It's one of the reasons it didn't feel like a zombie movie.

S: Exactly! We weren't seeing zombie's heads get chopped off or bashed in. see people get attacked but it's like a zombie will lunge at somebody and they'll tumble off-screen. A lot happens off-screen, including some poignant moments in the film. When they happen, and they're happening off-screen, it kills the moment and takes away from the impact.

A: I totally agree. Another thing that bugged me with the action that did happen on-screen was that a lot of it was quick-cut edits and stuff. And whether it's warranted or not, director Marc Forster - the guy who also directed Quantum of Solace - got criticized for doing the same kind of editing in his Bond film. Both in Quantum of Solace and World War Z, the editing style made it so you couldn't quite see exactly what was going on...

S: Which at the beginning? I kinda liked it. When they're in Philly and they use the quick shots and there are people rushing around but then it quickly shows one zombie just standing in the crowd? That was cool, I liked that effect because you weren't quite sure what you were seeing. It made it feel like you were one of the people running in the crowd amid the confusion. Because they did a good job with the marketing, they never really showed you what the zombies looked like so you didn't know what you were looking for or what they were going to look like.

A: But like later, in Jerusalem? It didn't work as well.

S: No, not at all.

A: But since we're focusing on the zombie action right now, I'll give World War Z this: I did like the zombies in the last act MUCH better because there were fewer of them, you saw them much more closely and clearly, they were more reminiscent of the kind of familiar with. They were slower, stuff like that. Again, the last act's zombies didn't fit in with the rest of the movie...

S: No! Not at all!

A: But they were also people. They weren't just CGI creations, they were actual actors in makeup, which I liked.

S: Yes! And they were credited at the end, there were only like twelve of them or something, so I thought that was kind of cool. They weren't just credited as stunt-men, they were credited as zombies.

I do think that part of the movie was flawed because the first time we see those zombies they're acting very stagnant, and we learn later that when they've infected everything in the area the zombies just become dormant. But there were other healthy people in the facility so there was no reason for them to be stagnant! They should have still been trying to get through the hallways and doors and through to the other people...

A: Well they were kind of cut off from the other side of the hospital...

S: Yeah, but none of them were in the skywalk between the two buildings. So that bothered me a little bit.

A: Well like we were talking about with the manager of the AMC Theatre we saw this at (shout-out to our man Kevin!), we were talking about how they made a point of it to say that once everybody in the immediate area has been infected they just kind of stand around...well then what's the end-game? If they're not eating people...

S: So what do they do? Do they just rot away to nothing? Another problem I had is that the zombies aren't dead necessarily, or at least it didn't always look like it. They're infected. It didn't seem like The Walking Dead zombies to me where you get bitten, you get infected, then you die and then you come back. Or any other zombie movie really. It's a transformation that's almost instant here. So they'll have to eat to survive, because they're not eating each other. It's just a flaw in my eyes in the basic principle of the story, whether it was from the original book or not.

A: I can't imagine that it's from the book originally...

S: I can't either. The screenwriters' interpretations here are flawed at a basic level for zombie movies. So that's just wrong.

But hey, let's talk about the characters now. All of the actors that have parts, whose faces will be familiar to a lot of movie-goers. You have Matthew Fox, who's in all but two scenes; you have James Badge Dale (Iron Man 3) as a military Captain; there's David Morse (The Hurt Locker) as a CIA agent gone rogue; and who's the Roman guy? Oh, I know, the director of the World Health Organization facility is the Vatican inspector in Angels & Demons.

So, some familiar faces from the movie and TV world, but in very bit parts. So having them be in the movie at all, I'm curious what you thought of having name actors like that playing such small roles?

A: I didn't mind it. The focus of the movie is on Brad Pitt's Gerry, so these are all just the people he comes across. I do think that Matthew Fox had a bigger role originally and a lot of it got left on the cutting room floor. I think the same goes for David Morse...

S: Oh I'm sure he had way more, his role was way too small for an actor like him.

A: Well he's a big-name actor to have just one scene, so I feel like there was more to him than what was in the final movie. That's just how I think it was. Overall it doesn't bother me much, though I did think it was slightly odd at the time to see Matthew Fox as a nameless soldier, but again the film is about Gerry and these are just people he comes across.

Now I do know the book isn't just about one person. There's a narrator but he's just someone at the U.N. who is kind of talking about the different tales or reports from around the globe that he's received.

S: Interesting.

A: So I kind of look at it like Gerry going around the globe and maybe Matthew Fox is just one person who has his own personal storyline we just don't see, and likewise with Morse's CIA agent and so on.

S: That could be. That's an interesting way to look at it.

A: Yeah, so I was okay with it. It was nice to see the actors, but they probably could have cast less famous people and it would've been just as effective.

I did think Mireille Enos kind of got shafted or at least got short-shrift...

S: She definitely got short-shrifted! I mean, The Killing is a relatively popular show and she was even nominated for an Emmy for it. She has very few lines and very few scenes and isn't given much to do. I would also argue that the Israeli girl, the Mossad agent that joins up with Gerry, is a pretty big role and she's a nobody! Plus she's very underdeveloped.

A: That was a big problem with this movie - even Gerry himself is underdeveloped. They try to show you that he's a family man and that this is what he used to do, but for the most part it's just Brad Pitt playing Brad Pitt, traversing the globe trying to stop the zombie outbreak.

S: Although...he's not eating anything in this movie. He drinks a soda, that's about it.

A: He does drink a pop. And I don't remember him eating any of the pancakes in the first scene, so good call!

Here's something I do want to talk about: for as much as this movie failed in other areas, I did like the details in most of the movie. Things like when Gerry first sees someone turning into a zombie as he picks up a stuffed toy his daughter dropped, and the toy starts counting upwards and that's how he's able to time how long it takes for someone to turn into a zombie...

S: I totally missed that! I thought he was counting to himself in his head!

A: And then they bring it back around pretty soon at a point where he thinks he might be infected and stands on the edge of a building and counts to twelve in case he turns into a zombie and he could throw himself off the edge and kill himself. I thought that was a great detail. Or when they're in the grocery store and Mireille Enos is being attacked by a few guys and saves her just as a cop shows up, so Gerry puts his hands up in surrender but then the cop walks right past him to grab baby food and stuff for his family. That's good stuff.

S: The part that I missed that I'd like to go back and watch is in the pharmacy when Gerry is looking for asthma medicine for one of his daughters and the pharmacist kind of shows up out of nowhere and asks what he needs. The pharmacist gives him what he asks for then gives him some other stuff, and what does he say?

A: The pharmacist tells him that this other medicine works miracles  for his kid. 

S: Ooooohhhh. Okay.

A: So yeah, little things like that I really liked.

S: In the midst of chaos, that humanity still previals.

A: I liked when Gerry gets to South Korea and the soldiers referred to the zombies as "Zekes." I thought that was neat, and I'm assuming that's from the book. That seems like something easy to take from the book. So they call them "Zekes" instead of straight-up calling them zombies, so I liked that. Little details in a zombie outbreak, I thought World War Z did well with things like that. I'll give them credit there as well.

The last thing I liked? That they used a Muse song, and very heavily!

S: Somebody else did the score, but Muse was originally asked to do the score and couldn't but they still let the movie use one of their songs. Which one was it?

S: It's called "The 2nd Law: Isolated System." So yeah, Matthew Bellamy is credited with writing some of the music although it's something they've already done, but the film uses the song A LOT. Almost like a theme throughout the movie. They're my favorite band so I loved hearing that song, and it was relatively effective, too.

Watch Muse's "Isolated System" played over WWZ footage that Paramount put together

S: Definitely.

A: Overall, it was entertaining for the most part. Like I said, I thought the little details were interesting, but I was disappointed when all was said and done. I was left wanting.

S: Well it's ends abruptly for me, and I know there's going to be a sequel so they have to leave a little bit to the imagination, and it's not a very long movie in terms of today's movies. But it kind of just ends, so that was a short-coming to me.

A: It just wasn't very fulfilling to me. The plane sequence?

S: It's pretty intense.

A: It's very intense. It's definitely the highlight of the movie.

S: But it's also the extreme turning point in the film, which wasn't so good.

A: So final thoughts on World War Z

S: A good action film for the first hour and a half or so, but the last half hour fell flat and definitely left us wanting more. And personally I don't think you should be laughing during a zombie movie unless it's a comedy like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, I think for a zombie movie to be effective I don't think it should be funny. It should be scary, and this one had the audience laughing quite a lot. Definitely more than once. I think it kind of missed the mark here.

FINAL VERDICT: Netflix it!

(Individual Scores - S: 3/5  A: 3/5)

Photo Courtesy: Bloody Disgusting

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