Tuesday, June 18, 2013

World War Z

Written for F*** Magazine, Singapore

WORLD WAR Z

Director: Marc Forster
Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Fana Mokoena
Genre: Action, Horror
Run Time: 116 mins
Opens: 20 June 2013
Rating: PG13 (Violence and Some Intense Sequences)

Hollywood, and by extension the film-going public, has long been fascinated with ways the world could come to an end. A giant meteor, a nuclear winter, a simian uprising – all fair game. In World War Z, it’s a sudden outbreak of a virus that turns perfectly healthy human beings into the rabid walking – no, sprinting dead that does the world in.

Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a former U.N. investigator who has become a stay-at-home dad to his two daughters (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove). After an ordinary Philadelphia morning unspools into utter chaos, Lane has to get his wife Karen (Enos) and his daughters to safety, and is called upon by his old boss, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni (Mokoena). Lane embarks on a globe-trotting mission to track down the origin of the zombie virus outbreak, a mission that takes him to an Air Force base in South Korea, Jerusalem and Cardiff as he must survive the ruthless onslaught of the undead hordes to eventually be reunited with his kin.



The film has been rather infamously plagued by production troubles, going over-budget and over-schedule and requiring an emergency rewrite of its ending during filming. Author Max Brooks, whose book World War Z is the movie’s basis, has said that this is just the novel in name only. Adapting the book was apparently a challenge, seeing as it is presented as a faux-official documentation of the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, consisting of reports filed by a nameless investigator.

This has been re-jigged by screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof (as well as J. Michael Straczynski, whose draft was unused) to focus on a central protagonist, Brad Pitt’s Gerry Lane. Pitt is, as usual, a confident and competent leading man who guides the audience through the mayhem, unwaveringly calm, not quite superhuman, but still possessing incredible luck. The film can be viewed as a road trip picture of sorts, with each new destination introducing new allies and new zombie-related obstacles for Gerry to overcome. For example, in Jerusalem, Gerry meets Segen (Kerstesz), a plucky female Israeli soldier who accompanies him for the next leg of his mission.



Director Marc Forster, known for helming the Bond outing Quantum of Solace, goes for a dusty, lived-in realism, such that this is closer to Contagion than, say, Resident Evil on the sliding scale of viral outbreak movies. It almost feels like a war film, with Gerry akin to the journalist who tags along for the ride into the battlefield. The first half also has shades of War of the Worlds (Spielberg’s 2005 version) with the hero having to protect his loved ones caught in the crossfire.

To Forster’s credit, he’s managed to make the threat feel relatively credible and intense. An early scene in which panicked New Jersey citizens loot a supermarket is well-staged, and scenes of mass hysteria do get across the sense of a major global crisis. The zombies are attracted to noise, so there’s the occasional moment where someone steps on broken glass or drops something, and then everyone freezes for a moment. In such moments, Forster is able to generate sufficient tension. However, he is over-reliant on jump scares – this being a PG-13 horror action film though, that’s pretty much the only way to go in lieu of copious amounts of blood and guts.



Are the zombies scary? They aren’t portrayed with missing limbs or half their entrails hanging out and are closer to feral, diseased human beings than the undead. One scene has a zombie chattering its teeth, which could come off as unintentionally comedic. Still, they seem like a legitimate threat on the whole, even if they come off as a little artificial during the big, computer-enhanced set pieces. The 3D post-conversion is mostly unnecessary and you probably won’t miss much seeing it flat.



Fans of the book may ultimately feel that it has been watered down for the masses, but for what it is and given its troubled production, World War Z is not bad at all. It’s not a particularly fresh take on the “all hell breaks loose” apocalyptic thriller, but on the whole, it doesn’t feel slipshod or hastily patched-together. The ending leaves the door open for a sequel but doesn’t leave the audience completely hanging. It’s a relatively thrilling action-horror film, with Brad Pitt doing a decent amount of globe-trotting and zombie-slaying.

SUMMARY: Director Marc Forster and star/producer Brad Pitt have prevented World War Z  from becoming an utter disaster, managing to scare and thrill with this summer flick.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 STARS

Jedd Jong


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