You know how the phrase goes: When there are no more comic book summer blockbusters to reboot or ideas to pitch in hell, the zombie apocalypse action movie epic will walk the earth. Or something like that.
So after seemingly countless delays, reshoots and just generally bad news coming from the Hollywood insider magazines, "World War Z" has arrived. And for some odd, miraculous reason, despite all of the off-screen drama, the on-screen drama turned out pretty good. An actual zombie apocalypse breaking out would be less surprising.
Brad Pitt stars as retired UN superman Gerry Lane. He’s driving his adoring family (the fierce-eyed Mireille Enos of AMC’s "The Killing" plays his wife) to school on a traffic-filled morning in Philadelphia when, wouldn’t you have it, a whole mess of zombies storm the morning commute.
After a creepy stay in a ragged apartment complex, Gerry and his family are picked up by a helicopter and taken to America’s last refuge, a fleet of battleships in the middle of the ocean holding military, political and scientific leaders and their families – though only as long as they are "essential."
Gerry is eventually filled in on what’s happening. The zombies have taken over the entire globe. The president is dead. And now, it’s up to Gerry to scour the globe – namely Korea, Jerusalem and Wales – for the virus’s origins and from there, hopefully a cure for the zombie plague.
"Zombie" plague might be somewhat inaccurate. Considering the disastrous production that skyrocketed the budget and the box office demands of a summer blockbuster with franchise ambitions, "World War Z" is saddled with a PG-13, meaning there is little to no actual bite to these zombies. They make a nice mess of the planet, but there was more brain-eating in the zom-rom-com "Warm Bodies."
Director Marc Forster seems to want to give zombie fans the carnage they’re used to. Several scenes feel the strain of the camera wanting to look down at a crowbar lodged in a zombie skull, a severed hand stump or a quick glimpse at some neck-chomping action. Alas, it can’t be done.
It’s best to look at "World War Z" not as a zombie movie (and certainly not as an adaptation of the book, because it’s about as loose as the Umbrella Corporation’s health regulations) and instead as a pandemic action thriller that turns its victims into a screaming mass of running, decaying bodies that may or may not eat people.
As viewed through that lens, "World War Z" works pretty well. There really aren’t enough good virus/epidemic movies out there, so it’s actually really tense to see an outbreak movie with this kind of massive scale and immediacy. Most zombie or epidemic movies have to take a small approach, normally for budgetary reasons, so to see entire cities under attack and the globe at risk is a fairly new and inherently exciting thrill that the mostly exhilarating set piece moments don’t waste.
Plus, there’s the survival aspect of the film that’s always entertaining and fascinating. Part of the reason why zombies are popular right now is because we like to imagine and plan what we’d do in such a situation. It’s interesting to see how people cope with the pandemic, on both a small scale and large.
Jerusalem builds massive walls to keep the zombies out. An early speech from a creepy David Morse notes that the North Korean government mandated the removal of all of its citizens’ teeth after the breakout. Brutal, yes, but Morse also notes that they’re one of the only countries in the clear.
The global reaction is one of the few aspects of the book the script (from a team of Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof and J. Michael Straczynski) takes on, much to the film’s benefit.
The human aspect of the story plays well, often times better than the zombie stuff. Most of this is thanks to the performances. Gerry isn't a particularly complex hero, but Pitt gives him all of his star charisma and makes him engaging. When he gets blood in his mouth early on and races toward a tall building's edge, nervously counting down the time it takes to turn, he makes each number carry some emotional weight.
His supporting cast is above average as well, with Enos, Morse, James Badge Dale (previously seen as the main goon in "Iron Man 3") and Peter Capaldi (the viciously profane Malcolm Tucker from "In The Loop") giving their fairly underwritten parts more character than expected. Apparently Matthew Fox is in the movie as well, but he seems to be a victim of the production problems, relegated to a line or two and a credit as a nameless "Parajumper."
The well-documented issues show up in several other places too. The notoriously rewritten and re-shot third act, though suspenseful and well crafted, feels rather small and tidy. Same with the early Korea sequence, which feels unnaturally confined to two sets. The story feels a tad rushed at points as well, especially an early character’s comically quick demise and the ending’s forced attempt at setting up a franchise.
Despite his action movie aspirations, Forster (previously behind "Quantum of Solace") still doesn’t have the best hand for the material. He belongs to the Paul Greengrass school of shaky cam and quick edits but without the same ability to manage and capture the chaos. He's much better when he backs away from the action, holds the camera still and shows the impressive magnitude of the zombie invasion.
It’s hard to say that these issues would be as evident if the production wasn’t such a public disaster. However, hiding how the sausage is made is a part of the movie-making game, and that being the case, there are still some unsavory pig guts and gristle poking out of "World War Z."
Yet despite all the behind the scenes and behind the camera problems, the film works. It’s often creepy, with the set design managing to sneak some horror movie mood – flickering emergency lights and a late zombie-ridden medical center – into the action movie proceedings. There are a few entertainingly jumpy moments, and it’s consistently intense and exciting. It manages to move at a breathless pace while still making time for doses of much-needed humanity.
In the end, "World War Z" plays much like a zombie horde: a lot stronger and greater than its shuffling, stumbling individual parts.
For more of Matt's take on "World War Z," click here to listen to his conversation with Brian Kramp on the Kramp Cast.
1 comment about this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published April 26, 2015
Adapted from the 2005 memoir of the same name, "True Story" plays like an intriguingly well-paved road to nowhere. The movie certainly presents plenty of interesting pieces: two actors - Jonah Hill and James Franco - playing against type but perfectly cast, a post-Oscar nomination Felicity Jones and a bizarre real story. Part by part, it's fairly engaging, but when it comes time to add everything together, the final sum is as nondescript as its title.
Published April 23, 2015
Lord Huron doesn't quite trek to the stars like it said it might on its new album "Strange Trails," but the folk band is still going places. Its dreamy musical vistas have nabbed a big audience -- so much so that demand moved the band's return to The Pabst Theater on Saturday, April 25 over to the Riverside. Before then, I got a chance to chat with frontman Ben Schneider about "Strange Trails," the stories that come with it and going to space (at some point).
Published April 22, 2015
I've had some less than flattering things to say about found footage in recent years, calling it things like "the worst of today's low budget Hollywood filmmaking" and "a thing that shouldn't exist anymore." So let's all take a moment and marvel at the fact that in the new techno-horror flick "Unfriended," the found footage-esque visual gimmick not only works, but it's the best part of the movie. The result isn't much for scares, but it is scarily entertaining.
Published April 21, 2015
Welcome back to Unceremonious Overqualified Movie Dump Theatre. The most recent entry: "Child 44," which features an impressive roster of stars but was cut down to a mere 510 theaters just a few weeks before its release. It was a bad omen and unfortunately an accurate one as well, as the apparent lack of confidence from the studio equals a lack of quality on the screen.
Published April 20, 2015
The Maine is currently on the road right now, touring in support of its latest album "American Candy," released just last month on March 31. Its current tour lands at The Rave on Wednesday, April 22. Before then, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with guitarist Jared Monaco about the new album, as well as his appreciation for The Rave and ... NSYNC.
Published April 18, 2015
Before the fairy tale riff "Peter and the Starcatcher" starts its run at the Milwaukee Rep on Tuesday, April 21, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with director Blake Robison about this particular Peter Pan retelling, making actors fly and why revisionist fairy tales are currently all the rage.
Published April 17, 2015
The Wisconsin State Fair's Main Stage lineup this summer features some of the biggest names the celebration has wrangled up in recent note. And the biggest of the bunch - or at least certainly the most unusual - is tightrope artist extraordinaire Nik Wallenda. OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to talk one-on-one with the stuntman about preparing for another life-threatening performance and being in a highwire family dynasty that shows no sign of stopping.
Published April 17, 2015
The Riverside's distant past will become the present as the legendary theater will play host to two screenings of the beloved 1942 classic "Casablanca" Friday and Saturday night. And to complete the blast to the past vibe of the event, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will perform Max Steiner's famous score alongside the movie.
Published April 15, 2015
Eugene Ionesco's 1950 play "The Bald Soprano" - the first the famed playwright ever wrote - is an absurdist classic. It's one of the most performed shows in France with a permanent repertory spot at Theatre de la Huchette since 1957 and a large number of interpretations. It's safe to say, however, that few to none of those interpretations featuring digital actors getting beamed in like "Star Trek" characters.
Published April 14, 2015
The Blue Man Group is famous for several things: funky instruments, those old Intel ads, Tobias Funke proclaiming that "I blue myself!" on "Arrested Development" and, of course, the whole being covered in blue paint thing. But one of the crucial elements of the Blue Man Group is that they don't talk. So imagine my surprise in getting to interview a Blue Man (at least the transcription would be easy).