World War Z (2013) (Mild Spoilers)

“Mother Nature is a serial killer.”images

Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof, very loosely based on: World War Z by Max Brooks

Directed by: Marc Forster

My son’s favorite hobbies are video gaming and preparing for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. That inspired us to see this movie together.

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When the undead begin to consume the world, sending our species spiraling toward its doom, my son will have worked out plans for what to stock up on (perishable food first, then canned goods), where to hang out, and what weapons to use. And he spends time preparing himself for the upcoming apocalyptic shit storm by — you guessed it: playing lots of video games. And occasionally practicing his sledgehammer skills, much to the consternation of the neighbors.

The undead are a very hot topic in popular culture right now, and I am loving it. Supernatural terror usually doesn’t scare me. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, invading aliens ..meh. I am riveted by more realistic terrors. Random acts of violence. Home invasions. Wars. Infectious illnesses. Raising teenagers. Thirty years of mortgage payments. But for some reason, zombies seriously creep me out. Whatever primal human fear this whole walking dead thing taps into, well, it works for me. Those bastards scare the crap out of me.

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I went into World War Z with modest expectations. I’m a fan of the book by Max Brooks, and I knew this would be an adaptation only in the loosest possible sense. While this is a seriously flawed film, that took on a bigger story than it could tackle in a feature-length movie, I found it to be a fun ride.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a retired UN employee, well versed in dealing with volatile situations around the world, who must protect his wife and daughters when the zombie crisis erupts. He reluctantly agrees to return to duty with the UN when it’s made clear this is the only way his family will be able to remain safely on an aircraft carrier. He finds himself flying across the world in an effort to track the source of the epidemic: “Patient Zero.” His journey takes him to Korea, Israel, and Wales. And he talks to several intriguing characters along the way, including soldiers, a former CIA agent who sold weapons to the North Koreans, an Israeli leader, and World Health Organization workers. This aspect of the movie gives us snippets of clever, interesting dialogue and offers faint glimmers of the source material.

Near the beginning of the film, Gerry and his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) are on a frantic mission to find inhalers for their asthmatic daughter. Their excursion into a Newark drug store — and their scramble to find sanctuary for the night — offer fleeting but interesting glimpses of society in turmoil. We see the raw terror and mayhem into which the public has quickly devolved — this reminded me a bit of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. We also see moments of helpfulness and compassion among strangers.

Most of the movie’s early scenes feature action on steroids, moving at a frenetic pace with erratic camera movements. This is probably intended to give us a sense of the frantic speed at which things spiral out of control and the disorientation and confusion characters are experiencing. But it distracted me from the story, occasionally causing me to lose interest.

The latter half of the film guides us into the mystery of where the virus began, which remains unanswered, and how to fight it. This part of the movie was intriguing, though uneven, leading to a suspenseful climactic scene.

This film didn’t waste much time on character development, but strong performances by Brad Pitt and Mireille Enos gave me a sense of the fierce, loving bonds among Gerry and Karin’s family. And excellent work by Pitt, Enos, and Daniella Kertesz, who plays a young Israeli soldier, made me care about the characters.

On the other hand, Gerry is — in my son’s words — one-dimensional. Pitt’s acting ability allows us to occasionally see his fear and vulnerability, making him human. Unfortunately, we never see him as a flawed character. He is always brave and compassionate. Let’s face it — most people act like dicks upon occasion, and under a lot less stress than this guy was facing. Furthermore, as James aptly put it, “This dude can do everything! He can shoot, fly a plane, ride a bike at top speed, he’s practically the only survivor of a plane crash…” Well, you get the idea. Gerry is an uber-action hero who never has an emotional meltdown or runs into the limits of his competence. This had both of us rolling our eyes. On the other hand, Gerry does get seriously injured. I suppose we should give the filmmakers a few points for that.

In that vein, while one definitely goes to a zombie movie ready and willing to suspend disbelief, this movie pushed the limits of credulity further than we were willing to go. Most notably, we find ourselves in a country that had the foresight to get a hint of the coming storm and surround themselves with a wall. Keep in mind this is a nation with one of the most well-trained, disciplined militaries in the world. People are gathered in the streets singing — despite the fact that noise attracts the zombies — and no one is guarding the wall! When the undead start swarming over the wall, who is the only person to notice? You guessed it — our intrepid hero.

On the whole, James and I both enjoyed this action-driven flick. It kept a bit of the novel’s international flavor, the acting was strong, and the zombies were creepy and interesting. Even my son, who, having played ALL the cool video games, is a tough customer when it comes to the undead, thought they showed us something a little different from anything he’d seen before. The movie was flimsy but fun, and I’m glad we got to see it on the big screen.

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