I’m not going to lie, I’m not much of a book-reader. I only own two books at the moment that are neither school nor movie industry related. One of those two books happens to be Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide, which I hold to be more educational than half of the textbooks I’ve encountered in my three years of college. There’s something oddly freeing about studying such an obviously fictitious subject in such a scientific way. Now I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m Zombie purist when it comes to the cinematic characterization of the undead (after all some of my favorite zombie movies like Zombieland feature numerous violations of the rules of Zombie-dom), but as an established Brooks disciple I still can’t help but roll my eyes when Zombie movies ignore obvious traits of the undead such as the necessity of head shots or the transmittance of the Zombie virus via blood splatter. Even though this movie might not follow the letter of Mr. Brooks’ titular book, I am still relieved to see that it embodies the sort of common sense and rationality that made the man’s material so appealing in the first place. The third act loses some steam and the character development is a bit lacking, but a combination of intelligent characters and an unrelenting delivery of thrills in the first two acts make World War Z one of the most heart-pounding disaster movies I’ve seen in years.
The Plot: 7/10
United Nations employee Gerry Lane traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself.
The story itself is fairly interchangeable with most disaster/epidemic movies that we’ve seen in the past few decades, and mark my words this is first and foremost a disaster movie and not a Zombie movie (see below). What I really admired about the plot is that, until the third act, the pace does not let up one bit. The intro doesn’t mess around, showing us our first glimpses of the infected within five to ten minutes of the opening titles. Once we see them, the characters proceed to move around fast enough that we never have enough time to get used to one location before we’re whisked off to another. There were only about five to ten minutes in the entire movie in which I felt anywhere near bored, but compared to some of the other ineffective thrillers that have been coming out lately that’s not too shabby.
Anyone familiar with the nightmarish production issues the movie has faced of the past few years will be wondering just how “incoherent” the ending is. While I don’t think that the ending itself is nearly as bad as some people in production made it out to be, it definitely feels like the movie doesn’t really know where to go in the last fifteen minutes or so. I understand that the first hour or so of the movie was incredibly loud and fast and that the writers were trying to slow things down and go for more of an apprehensive feel for the final scenes, but it just wasn’t very effective at creating that “edge of your seat” feeling that the rest of the film provides. Many are speculating that the ending itself leaves room for a sequel, but between the massive production costs involved and the real lack of a direction for future movies to expand into (after all, you can’t really up the ante when you’ve already basically destroyed the world) I would stake my money on this being a stand-alone title.
The Writing: 8/10
Another complaint about this movie that I’ve seen over and over is that there isn’t enough character development, specifically with regards to Brad Pitt’s character. I’m not saying I disagree with this statement, but in my opinion the lack of character development makes for a sleeker, more exciting film overall. The movie’s emotional IQ isn’t exactly off the charts, but I though the writers injected just enough personality into its characters for us to care specifically about them among the billions of other people dying around them. Any more exploration into the characters would have taken away from the movie’s pacing, so I didn’t mind that there wasn’t much romance or philosophy in between the action.
What I really enjoyed about the writing was that it doesn’t treat its characters like hollow, idiotic figureheads whose only purpose is to run away from something. Most of the characters, particularly Pitt’s, consistently make honest-to-god intelligent decisions that make it much easier to go along with everything that’s happening to them. There was one specific moment in which Pitt’s character fears he may have gotten infected blood in his mouth, yet rather than freaking out he purposefully walks to the edge of the rooftop, ready to jump,and counts till 12; returning to his family once he is sure that he is not infected. If you’re going to make your character a highly intelligent and capable ex-UN Investigator, then you’d better make sure his behavior matches up with that characterization. It’s little stuff like that which shows you that the writers are actually thinking things through, and I for one was happy to see that here.
The Acting: 8/10
As I mentioned before, the cast was lucky enough to get a script that didn’t call for them to act like complete hysterical idiots. Nobody’s getting an Oscar here, but nobody ever really does when the movie focuses on situations over characters as is the case in World War Z. It’s the end of the world after all, so it felt appropriate that most of the acting here is just as driven and focused as the characters are. Pitt is a incredibly solid lead in this case, and I thought he did a great job of making me buy in to his character’s competencies. Mireille Enos (pronounced “Mee-Ray”) isn’t given a huge amount to do, but I still respected that she played her part with a sort of restrained, forced calm that never lets you forget that she’s using every ounce of her strength to hold things together for her kids.
A lot of people pop in and out of the following globe-trotting, and there are a few I’d like to single out as personal favorites, but doing so might risk spoiling a few plot elements that I’d rather leave untouched so I’m going to go ahead and keep the word mums’ed
The Zombies: 8/10
I know this review is starting to get a little long, but I would be remiss if I didn’t give my two cents worth in on the film’s depiction of the undead. As I said above, the movie is first and foremost a disaster movie, but that’s not say it’s not also a solid Zombie flick. A lot of people, especially my fellow bloggers, have taken issue with the movie’s PG-13 rating and the associated lack of the usual blood, guts and other assorted gore that usually accompany a good Zombie movie. From my point of view, however, World War Z‘s version of the undead makes far more sense if you’ve seen the ending to the movie. Again, I can’t go into specifics but I thought that despite a few minor logical fallacies the reasons for having the zombies only bite the living rather than tearing them apart made perfect sense.
Another issue some people have had is that the undead here are not so much Zombies as they are “infected” a la 28 Days Later. After all, they run, jump, and seem to be completely indifferent on the subject of brains. To this my response is that if you were to see one of the “infected” running towards you, your first thought wouldn’t be “Oh My God, rabid human!”; it would be “Oh My God, Zombie!” Unlike a lot of other Zombie movies, World War Z exists in a world where movies like Dawn of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead exist (unlike The Walking Dead, which seems to exist in an alternate universe where nobody has ever seen a George A. Romero movie). World War Z acknowledges this and even recognizes that the fact that Zombies exist in pop culture would make it even less believable if governments around the world were to start hearing of “outbreaks”.
My biggest issue with the Zombies here is that while they are legitimately terrifying when they are in full-on rabid sprinting mode, they’re not nearly as scary when they’re “dormant”. When they’re not in full on human-hunting mode, the undead revert back to this weird combination of shambling, twitching, and literally knocking their heads against walls. In particular there’s this teeth chomping thing that they do that was probably meant to be scary but ended up producing more than a few unintentional laughs in the theater I was in.
The Verdict: 8.0/10 – Pretty Damn Great
+ Extremely effective at generating thrills in first two acts
+ Intelligent characters make the movie much easier to buy into
+ A quick pace that doesn’t let up for the first hour or so
- A comparatively slow third act and an ending that feels a bit wishy-washy
Rotten Tomatoes: 67 %
Keith and the Movies: 4.5/5
The Cinematic Katzenjammer: 7.6/10
The Cinema Monster: 7/10
The Code is Zeek: 3.5/5
Fast Film Reviews: 3.5/5
Tim’s Film Reviews: 62%
The Filmster: 3/5
Focused Filmographer: 3/5
Average: 6.9/10 – Good