24 June 2013


Although Max Brooks' bestselling novel is on my reading list for the summer, I haven't yet read the book from which World War Z takes its name. As I understand it, it hasn't taken much else, and it's as if Paramount felt more comfortable making a $200 million zombie movie if it had the title of a known property attached. On that basis, if you've read the book, you'll have already made up your mind about whether to see the film or not.

The book takes the form of a series of eyewitness reports, connected by having survived the initial outbreak that led to the zombie apocalypse. The film, to give things a more active element, centres around former UN investigator Gerry Lane, who is able to escape a chaotic outbreak that goes down in America by calling in a favour from his old colleagues. In return, he's asked to travel the world to investigate the global pandemic, and attempts to find a cure.

On the basis of the trailers alone, I wasn't looking forward to this one at all, so I'm as surprised as anybody that it pretty much won me over. Without question, it's a deeply flawed film, showing all of the symptoms of a troubled production history and a vastly over-inflated budget. But despite having been guilty of partly making up my mind from the pre-release news reports, I found the finished film is surprisingly intense and engaging, in spite of some pretty blatant structural weaknesses.

For one thing, we've never seen what a $200 million zombie movie would look like before. If the answer to that were only "not as cheap as it looks", then this would be an utter waste of time. But in a post-Walking Dead landscape, this take on the zombie movie sub-genre is different enough to engage the audience's interest- we seldom see characters actively trying to reverse the damage of a zombie pandemic, as much as simply trying their best to stay alive. This is evidently the angle that grabbed Brad Pitt's attention, and this has been his passion project for the last few years now- he's planning a trilogy of these films.

Admittedly, with the budget as it stands, it has been partly sanitised for a PG-13 rating, (15 in the UK) meaning that it's the most bloodless zombie movie since ParaNorman. On the other hand, the film finds effective body horror in the sheer violence with which this breed of fast zombie tends to move. The thump of human bodies upon human bodies, even if they're only formerly human, is very squirm-worthy, especially in some of the film's more ambitious setpieces.

This is as messy as it gets...
There are some neat recurring ideas too- the study of how the virus works makes for some interesting beats, as Gerry knows the transformation will generally take place in around 12 seconds. At one point, after a close shave with a zombie, someone stands on the edge of a building, counting down from 12, to see if they need to throw themselves to their death to prevent their undeath and protect their colleagues. World War Z is packed with such moments, but the weaknesses in the film's structure tend to undermine them.

The film is very fast-paced, but that might be because the whole original third act was scrapped and re-shot after principal photography was concluded, and it's all too obvious that someone has gone through and compressed the original span of the film into a smaller space. Matthew Fox's army guy, who evidently had a larger role before the changes came in, is reduced to a couple of shots, and certain sources of tension are set up and then either quickly defused or forgotten about. Keep an eye out for the amazing vanishing Hispanic kid- you might just miss him, otherwise.

Things settle into a more manageable pace in time for the new third act, but this new part of the film was written by Damon "Black Goo, Khan's Blood, Insert Chemical McGuffin Here" Lindelof, and so the more measured climax is hardly a satisfying follow-up to the earlier carnage. This sequence also lacks the stampeding directorial tics of Marc Forster, which suggests that somebody else may have directed the final act. The earlier parts move as quickly as Forster's Quantum of Solace, with just as much ability to comprehend what's going on in certain action scenes. This is to say that he pretty much chucks the camera around all over the place.

The globe-trotting story suggests that they might have adapted moments from Brooks' text, more than its structure or satirical undertones. It's dead serious, and the lack of attachment to certain supporting characters is a side-effect that plainly would have existed before the changes came in. Gerry lands somewhere, meets some characters in the course of his investigation, zombies attack, most people die, and Gerry escapes. Lather, rinse, repeat. The most memorable of these supporting characters is a soldier played by the always watchable James Badge Dale, but it'd be tough to call him underused in a film that whips through characters so quickly. Even the sporadic check-ins with Gerry's family seem tacked on, rather than integral.

All of this sounds negative, and from an analytical standpoint, World War Z is a bit of a hot mess. If you have any kind of attachment to the book, you're probably not going to like this loose, bloodless, popcorn movie adaptation. But even if its structure and camerawork are shaky, there's a solid idea at its centre. Furthermore, I'm loath to bashing any attempt to do something new with a sub-genre that is kind of played out- it can't match The Walking Dead, but it's at least conscious of the fact that it's time to try something different. Against the odds, it delivers on thrills and tension, but once you start to think about it on any meaningful level, it's apparent that any potential sequel will definitely need more brains.

World War Z is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen World War Z, why not share your comments below? To find out more about how this really should've sucked, read Vanity Fair's feature on the film's clusterfucked production.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

Mikez Ancheta said...

Hehehe I love your comment about the movie is a bloodless zombie film after Paranorman.

Anyway, please check my own thoughts and review on World War Z