Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: "World War Z"

In This is the End (which I quite liked), Emma Watson remarks to her celebrity friends that she believes the disaster that has hit Hollywood is a zombie apocalypse. Now, it turns out to be the rapture in that movie, and not a single zombie is actually seen. But This is the End does share some common ground with that horror genre. The setting is a tight space (a house), and the characters pose an equal threat to each other when compared to what is happening outside.

Traditionally, the zombies are merely a catalyst for getting the characters together, and presenting the real threat - humans. We bicker, fight, make selfish choices and even kill one another. The looming danger outside only heightens the true danger inside. Commentary through horror. If only we had just gotten along.

Brad Pitt's World War Z is a sort of mix between 28 Days Later and Outbreak, with less insight into humanity and politics and more money spent on... action? Star power? CG zombies?

The story is about an ex U.N. investigator that has been tasked with assisting in finding the origin of (and possible cure for) a plague that is quickly turning the world into ravenous beasts. The word zombie is spoken here and there, and with a sense of "you've got to be kidding me" from those talking about it. We are thrown into a mysterious worldwide disaster with grave consequences and palpable tension. Refugee camps, walled up cities and command centers in the ocean. That's the contingency plan, folks. We're screwed.

The actors all do a fine job of getting us invested in these events, showing exhaustion and uncertainty very well. It's fun and suspenseful watching people quietly move around the undead by using greased up bicycles. It's terrifying having to calm down your children, while they cry for their blanket in the midst of a crisis. And it's hilarious when we see several closeups of a zombie biting down on his teeth like a squirrel.

Wait... what?

Indeed. Emotional intensity is undercut by unintentional hilarity and overdone action set pieces. Over shadowing moments that reflect the good and bad people do in panic mode are silly chases and conveniently placed sequences meant to stop your heart. There is a scene early on when Brad Pitt's wife is almost raped in a grocery store aisle. Not by zombies, but by regular men. Everyone is scrambling for food, water and medicine, and here are these scumbags, causing a problem where there doesn't need to be one. The opening of this movie is filled with things like this. Later, just after a city is destroyed in a pulse pounding rampage, a zombie attack happens on a plane. Why? Because it would be exciting to have an attack happen on a plane.

Oh, and the zombie actors were either instructed or given permission to bang their heads against walls with funny sounding foley attached.

I'd be willing to bet these were problems that came from the troubled production, and the editors did what they could to have it all make sense. It does, but the tone feels off. The movie tries too hard at pleasing every person in the audience - an effort that ends up a detriment. The irony of it all is that if they had left the original ending alone, the end result would've been a captivating cliffhanger and a ballsy move. Instead, they chose to play it safe. Such a shame.

The only commentary I took from World War Z is that when pushed into a corner, people will do what they can to survive. I'm not talking about the characters, but the behind the scenes people. Trapped in an office, feeling the walls closing in, they only made the situation worse. If only they had just gotten along.

2/5 *s

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