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By Tony LaScala · June 24, 2013
World War Z, the long awaited film adaptation of the bestselling novel of the same name, drew a large crowd despite its PG-13 rating and mid-level cast. While the film is a fun watch, it won’t really stand out amongst the all time great zombie flicks. The movie’s action-packed and plot heavy, but strays too far from character development to be called a great story.
Retired UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is pressed back into service when an international zombie pandemic breaks out. With an agreement in place that his family will be kept safe on an offshore aircraft carrier as long as he goes back to work, Gerry traverses across the globe searching for a cure for the zombie virus in a race against time that threatens humanity.
The original adaptation written by screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Thor, Changeling) closely followed the events of the book, which is set a decade after the events of a worldwide zombie apocalypse and is told through the eyes of several survivors interviewed by the book’s main protagonist, also a UN Investigator. This draft was scrapped in favor of an action packed, frenetically paced re-write by Matthew Michael Carnahan (Lions for Lambs, State of Play, The Kingdom), which is set during the events of the outbreak. As a result, the film strays away from many of the geo-political and environmental changes of the novel, and only touches on some of the religious implications briefly. Palestinians taking refuge in Jerusalem involved in a passive aggressive praying contest with the Israelis leads to an over the wall, ant-swarm-like zombie invasion in one of the more memorable scenes of the film.
In terms of zombie movies, World War Z is pretty tame in the gore department. A lot of the chomping and gnashing occurs off-camera. While a hardcore fan may be disappointed, I prefer the way the movie handled violence and substituted blood-and-guts for run-and-gun action. Another cool bit was the filmmakers’ choice to use ants as a model for the zombie hordes, which lead to some really cool swarming sequences. Though close up, the zombies seemed a lot more like the Velociraptors of Jurassic Park, complete with clicking and pack mentality.
Despite its pace, the filmmakers were still able to sneak in a lot of over the top product placements into the movie. In one blatantly obvious moment, Gerry takes a break near the end of the film after a tense zombie encounter to enjoy a refreshing Pepsi product. Bleh.
The cast is not very noteworthy, save for producer/star Brad Pitt. While Brad’s involved in a lot of cool scenes, he doesn’t do much to draw a lot of sympathy/empathy. The short amount of time used to develop Gerry’s relationship to his family and compatriots played a major role in the movies lack of character development. Small characters were killed off shortly after being introduced, and none of the major characters spent more than a few scenes together. Not that World War Z is a movie that “needs” an emotional arc, but it certainly would have helped the film to match the success of the book. As a result the movie felt more like a series of well-filmed, exciting vignettes and not the arcing story that it could have been. Each sequence is loosely tied to the last, with Gerry flying from city to city gaining information and eventually ending in an anti-climactic final showdown that lacked the heightened sense of tension and danger necessary to leave a lasting impression.
Overall, World War Z is a frenetically paced thrill ride with a lot of minor twists that will keep audiences entertained. Many of the things you expect to be relevant aren’t, and many of the irrelevant happenings end up being a catalyst for the endgame, leaving a film that was predictably unpredictable. World War Z is by no means a classic, but it lives up to its previews. The great action sequences piled on top of each other like writhing zombies are sure to draw popcorn munching moviegoers to the theatre for weeks to come, but don’t expect it to be as great as the book. World War Z has big bites, but little to chew on.