World War Z: Carefully plotted and executed

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World War Z – 2013

Director Marc Foster
Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Fana Mokoena, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, David Morse, Ludi Boeken, Matthew Fox, Abigail Hargrove, Sterling Jerins, Fabrizio Zacharee Guidoas
Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof

There is a point in World War Z where Brad Pitt’s former UN Employee Gerry Lane arrives in Jerusalem.  Immediately upon arriving he is given a security detail of Israeli women.  The well armed, well-trained women with military style haircuts.  He is the appearance of the long-haired understanding guy.  This is not a guy who is going to go from room to room, blowing away anything that drools with mouths agape.  He is the guy who will wear a turtleneck sweater and perhaps bring his Taco Bell dog over (with accompanying carrying purse) to the apartment of his lady (or metro sexual male) friend to read Maya Angelou poetry on a Saturday night.  He goes to great lengths to make this distinction throughout the events of the story.  It does not matter that he is under siege, like the rest of humanity.  He will find ways to win this war without firing guns, hammering heads or swinging axes.  He’s going to be the prone and vulnerable hero.

This approach works in an uneasy way, making World War Z a good, if not altogether scary.  It has some well constructed scenes, like the escapes from the New Jersey apartment, then Korea and the effort to obtain the pathogens at WHO.  It maintains its sense of dread for most of the film.   It’s only a small amount of dread, though.  No one ever really thinks Brad Pitt is going to die in this movie, even when he’s involved in a rather terrible plane crash.  The best thing about that plane crash, is that even though they are nowhere near preparing to land, they are still within walking distance of their destination when it happens.

This movie does not feel so much like a movie as it does a carefully sculpted exercise in giving us a lesson.  It’s not the haphazard “America is obsessed with malls” lesson that devotees would ascribe to Romero’s low-budget zombie flicks.  Instead, its almost like something out of the liberal playbook: weaken yourself and the animals will ignore you.  This goes against thousands of years of empirical evidence that shows otherwise.  Add the proselytising before credits and the effect is numbingly dumb.

The frantic motion of the affected is where much of the budget is focused.  For the most part, it’s effect is moot.  There is no point where one does not think of the stacking of savages as anything but computer imagery.  The up close work fares better, but not all that much.  There is only so much fear that can happen at breakneck speed.  Making humans capable of defying gravity in undead form belies the reality of physics.  It may look neat, but your mind knows it’s a cartoon.  Good old-fashioned pacing is important, and it is lacking here.  Slow builds are occasional, but as many scenes just wander out of control as the cast just get away.

Brad Pitt is good, here.  He’s got the skill to match his looks by now.  This is a vehicle movie, meant to be a trilogy.  I doubt he is going to play a big role in the sequels.  Here’s hoping that they pay more of an actual homage to the book, which dropped in from town to town, telling several stories from different perspectives.

The rest of the cast does not distract from the goings on, other than Enos, playing his wife.  It’s nearly impossible to believe that Pitt would ever marry her.  The long-haired understanding guy, however…

(*** out of *****)

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