Monday, July 1, 2013

Diplomatic Immunity

Year: 2013
Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz
Run Time: 1 hour 56 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

A good sign that this film has been in Production Hell for far too long - there are about eleven different logos displayed before the movie starts.
World War Z's now notorious production process involved numerous rewrites, additional shooting, a complete rework of the original ending, director/cast/writer musical chairs, and just a whole lot of Hollywood red tape that would pretty much guarantee a supremely uneven film. So you can imagine my surprise when it turned out that World War Z is actually pretty solid. 
Now it is by no means a new direction for the genre, but its success hinges on one thing - fast zombies are freaking terrifying. Goodness knows why we've spent so much time with the sluggish shambling ones. We've already sucked that juicebox dry, and there's something wicked unsettling about the feeling of a thousand twitching sprinters coming your way.
You might have a helicopter, but they have hella zombies.
World War Z follows the adventures of an ex-UN investigator, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) as he tries to save his family from this year's, what, seventh zombie apocalypse? Thanks to his old connections, he gets his wife (Mireille Enos) and his poorly acted and thankfully mostly offscreen children (Abigail Hargrove and Sterling Jerins) to safety on an aircraft carrier 100 miles from the coast.
Poorly Acted Child #2: (somehow shrieking and deadpanning simultaneously) Daddy I'm scared!
Audience Member: Oh shut up!
I feel you, man.
But his superiors aren't about to let nonessential personnel on board without compensation and Lane is sent to South Korea to accompany Dr. Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel, who is another Game of Throne pursuing a cinematic career) as he attempts to discover the source of the virus - Patient Zero. Unfortunately, Fassbach slips on a banana peel (you watch the movie and tell me that doesn't happen) and is incapacitated, sending Lane slingshotting across the globe in search of an answer.

On his travels, he encounters a toothless man, an Israeli soldier whose name I forget but whose hair is reminiscent of Sinnead O'Connor, zombie apocalypse grocery shopping, and inexplicable giant 1990's cell phones.
Nothing Compares 2 Emergency First Aid at 20,000 Feet
Perhaps the biggest flaw in the movie is that there is no possibility whatsoever that Gerry Lane will die. I mean, he's Brad Pitt. When his character is put in mortal danger, this lessens the overall impact somewhat, but hey, it's a Hollywood movie. We want and expect our protagonists to survive. In that nature, and in some other aspects of the plot, the movie is relatively predictable. It follows all the beats one would typically expect of a zombie movie without really transcending them in any way.
However, the movie is so relentless and pounding that the audience mostly just gets swept up in the action. At the heart of it all, World War Z is hair-raising. Sure, it may lack the social commentary or overall philosophy of a Dawn of the Dead. It's not going to be remembered years from now as a classic of the genre. But the truth is, I came in as a hardened genre fan expecting to be cynical and disappointed and was served up some action setpieces that can only be described as "awesome."
Large scale zombie mayhem. What more could anybody ask for?
It's hard to not be entertained by the gee whiz action spectacle, even if it never really does get you thinking. And despite its weaknesses, the film does have quite a few strengths to its name as well.
The plot does focus on a single family, but at the beginning of the second act, it expands its scope globally and we get to see how the rest of the world has reacted to the crisis, from India to Israel to South Korea to Canada and Wales. Grand scale reactions to the virus are highly uncommon in zombie films and greatly intriguing. This film does everything I always The Purge to do with its central concept.
The aspect I was most impressed with from a filmmaking standpoint was the editing. From a great  rule-setting sequence in which a child's toy counts down the time it takes for a bite victim to "turn" to an utterly gorgeous shot that follows a zombie's path from a helicopter back to our protagonists (setting the scene and establishing the relative locations of every important character) to a really cool opening montage to a rather excellent bit of business with a shopping cart, the editing was the strongest and most consistent single technical element throughout the film.
Maybe it's just an action movie.
Maybe there's more brains in the zombies' stomachs than there are in the screenplay.
Maybe there is no high philosophy behind the production.
Those aren't necessarily flaws to begin with for a movie like this, but they're insignificant when compared to the one key flaw; one that permeates the celluloid like the zombie plague itself.

Brad Pitt really needs to cut his hair.
TL;DR: World War Z might be different from (and less intelligent than) the book, but it gives you all it has and presents a not half bad post-Danny Boyle zombie thriller.
Rating: 7/10
Should I Spend Money on This? Yes, because it's better than most of the hodgepodge of a summer season this is turning out to be.
Word Count: 918

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