The Best & Worst Of 'World War Z'

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by The Playlist Staff
June 24, 2013 4:36 PM
17 Comments
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The people have spoken, and they have said braaaaaaains. Brad Pitt’s would-be runaway monster of a zombie movie “World War Z” is a hit and coming in at #2 this past weekend with the highest opening of Pitt’s career. Bad buzz be damned, ‘WWZ’ overcame the odds, the drama, the negative media attention to come out a solid winner (though as history shows, not every troubled production gets a happy ending). Sure, with global costs that could reach $400 million, it might be impossible for ‘Z’ to break even, but at this point, let’s face it, the movie wasn’t a colossal bomb and Paramount is breathing a deep sigh of relief. In fact, if the movie keeps going and has legs then its mooted sequel may not be in doubt, even if the movie can’t break even (studios always throw good money after bad and once they’ve started an investment, they don’t like to just chop it off at the wrist because it bled a little). 

And so, the final verdict on the Marc Forster-directed “World War Z” after everything that went down? Well, it’s pretty terrific in spots, ok in others, a little clunky at times and pretty problematic if you’re looking at it discerningly (you can read our original review here). But put it this way: it’s nowhere near the disaster we were lead to believe it might be. If you’re looking at it from a pure thrill ride perspective, “World War Z” is likely going to win, but as usual, we thought we’d drill down a little deeper and deconstruct the elements that are great, the ones that are so-so and the ones that weren’t so great. Or the “Best & Worst Of World War Z” for the sake of clean communication. Our thoughts below.

The Best

It’s Intense & Thrilling
From the opening moments of "World War Z," there's a certain nervous energy that translates into a genuine excitement that carries through the rest of the movie. It begins during the first suspense set piece, when Gerry and his family are trying to escape an infected Philadelphia. The tension never ceases, but instead builds exponentially from one moment to the next. Traffic is at a standstill; odd but not out of the ordinary. A cop warns the family to stay in the car; somewhat stranger. Then an explosion erupts and a giant truck starts to barrel through traffic; this is something to be concerned about. By the time the zombies show up, the tension has been ratcheted up to an almost unbearable level. Most of the sequences domino like this, and it's a testament to Marc Forster, arguably the unsung hero of most of "World War Z" (or at least for the first half of the film) for being able to capture thrilling, shocking images and turn them into exciting sequences, all within a genre so well worn its positively skeletal. 

The Israel Sequence 
When Gerry flies to Israel to investigate how they've dealt with the problem (according to a toothless CIA operative, they've "handled" the zombies well over there), we're treated to the movie's suspense centerpiece: a giant swarm of zombies, attracted by the noise created by singing citizens as well as loudspeaker system, scale a huge wall that had been erected to keep the monsters out. (The zombie wall is one of the more barbed political flourishes in a movie that should have had more.) The sequence is less like a big summer movie set piece and more like a nightmarish Hieronymus Bosch painting; the level of detail is staggering and utterly terrifying. Unlike previous movie zombies, whether shuffling slowly on running at full speed, the "World War Z" zombies overwhelm completely, like piranhas taking down an injured gazelle or some of those scary jungle ants. The fevered pitch of this sequence is so high that the movie can never possibly hope to match it, which is why the third act (the one heavily rewritten and reshot) is so smart: instead of trying to up the ante, the movie now allows the Israel stuff to be the very peak of zombie terror. And instead of being a letdown, it ends up being just right.

Crazy Forward Momentum
If there's one thing "World War Z" does, it's move. The movie, at least in its first half, is breathlessly on the run with a pace that barely lets up. The original novel by Max Brooks took the form of an "oral history," so it was constantly jumping, all around the globe, to get every perspective of the zombie apocalypse. That is maintained, at least in spirit, in the final movie. There's also the fact that there were so many cooks in the kitchen trying to fix this thing that any extraneous plot threads were shaved away, leaving only the bare essence of the movie, a raw engine that a narrative is loosely draped upon. Sometimes those connective moments are lost (there seems to have been a lot more with that family in the building in Newark at some earlier point), but most of the time the "all killer, no filler" approach works brilliantly. It adds to the tension and suspense since structurally and pacing wise, the movie flies along like it's being chased by an army of the undead. Even the final act, which seems slightly more luxuriously staged (by comparison, at least) bolts forth.  

Its Truly Terrifying In Parts
"World War Z" goes to great length to note that it's not just the zombies that are terrifying - you've got to worry about people, too. This is exemplified in a sequence where Gerry and his family go into a pharmacy for supplies. The windows have been smashed out and everyone is looting (obviously). When Pitt goes behind the counter to grab some asthma medicine for his young daughter, he's confronted with a young man with a shotgun… Who then identifies himself as a pharmacist and tends to Gerry's needs. It's a nice reversal and adds to the intensity of the following scene, wherein Gerry's wife (Mireille Enos) is nearly raped by some dudes in the same pharmacy. When a policeman comes in, it's to seemingly restore some kind of order (or penalize the near-rapists) but instead he runs by desperately clutching onto bottles of baby foods he also drops on the ground as he rushes to get back to his child. This scenario is chilling, with a rather pessimistic view of a humanity faced with dire cicrumstances. The zombie scenes were pretty intense, too, obviously, both in terms of the overwhelming carnage of the Israel sequence and the quieter, more moody scares of the final act. It's rare for a big studio horror movie to be scary, even less so when it's hampered by a restrictive PG-13 rating (more on that in a minute), but despite all of its limitations, "World War Z" still managed to occasionally and genuinely thrill and scare.

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17 Comments

  • Trax | October 4, 2013 10:53 PMReply

    Uhh did you even watch this movie? For instance, your take on the pharmacy scene. First off, the young man never identified himself as a pharmacist. Second of all, he was holding a pistol, not a shotgun.

    This is why I generally avoid blogs, I wouldn't trust bloggers like you to pump my gas, let alone form a coherent thought.

  • Jerome | September 23, 2013 1:04 PMReply

    Your piece on the plane scene? You are an idiot. Contain the outbreak? With one gun that has half a clip in it? If you believe a human being could truly contain somthing as erratic as that you are a embecile. The grenade IS the only way out of that. (Yes it is extremely unlikely to survive the crash but to choose between getting eaten or dying a painless split second death? Choose wisely.)

  • TT | July 2, 2013 1:30 PMReply

    A decent movie very loosely based on a pretty-good book. I'm also puzzled by a sequel for the same reasons. However, I don't think it's crazy to think that the zombies will "adapt" in some way - especially since they dropped a few clues along the way (virus "turned" people much faster once the plague got going in earnest, zombies become slower and dormant in the absence of prey, etc). With some hand-waving virology, maybe they become slower, book zombies able to see through the "camo." I could see something like Act 1, clearing zombie strategy starts to break down but gives society the time to setup safe zones, Act 2, total war transformation within safe zones, Act 3, humanity goes on the offensive to reclaim the earth.

    Once they decided to go with fast, insta-zombies, the basic overarching narrative in the book had to be jettisoned - no way any military could stand against that. With the camo, the balance swings the other way and the zombies become easy pickings. So it seems the only way to move the story along is too hand-wave some sort of trade-off - zombies can see through the camo but become slow and shuffling. Of course, the stuff about slower infection times and dormancy might not be clues, but rather red herrings left over from rewrites and reshoots.

  • matthew waller | June 30, 2013 9:27 PMReply

    PS: An HBO miniseries that actually follows the book would be one of the best shows on T.V.

  • matthew | June 30, 2013 9:13 PMReply

    The movie was entertaining to say the least. As for the story dynamic and character development it was a little lacking, but remember; it's a fucking zombie movie. I've seen countless zombie movies with no inherent story or purpose ( don't you dare argue 28 days/weeks later, it was the exact same), as for the PG-13 rating, it limited the time of mindless gore and allowed them focus on sci-fi instead of horror. Maybe most people go to zombie movies to watch a stomach get ripped open like rice paper or to see a couple skulls turn into applesauce, but I value the idea over the effects. This film offered a new sci-fi perspective on winning instead of hopelessly surviving; which is the theme for the entire genre.

    As for the events after Israel, the dynamic of the movie was fast paced and mysterious- as it should be. I personally didn't want the movie to just switch from 3rd gear to park in Russia. World War Z was meant to offer perspectives from all over the world, about a seemingly hopeless epidemic; spending 45 min in a evil Russian death camp is fucking retarded. The ending was rushed (like much of the almost 2hr movie) but still sound.

    And As far as a sequel goes I agree with Lexgreen, does a silencer make you invincible, did the invisible predator win against Schwarzenegger, Hell no. One key advantage doesn't guarantee victory, and they still had no idea where it came from. Possibilities: organization bent on world destruction(classic), monkeys getting buttfucked in the jungle( HIV), strain of rabidness translated from similar animals(28 days later), no one knows shit. There is even room for a prequel. Furthermore, the Professor said on the plane sometimes nature's greatest strength is it's biggest weakness; now that the sick humans are off the menu is an entire of species of 4 billion gonna roll over and die. What if they infect animals, start to have weird zombie rape sex or contaminate the water supply; not mention that's a virus that has already evolved to infect faster( it can and will evolve with such a massive host population. What the fuck are the people gonna do then, ( call in super rambo genius gerry perhaps)? It's not over till there is a cure or everyone is dead. I'm sorry but your an bumbling idiot if you believe that life and especially viruses gives up that easily, go watch Jurassic Park (all fucking 3 of them) and then tell me there wont be a sequel.

  • Jd | June 27, 2013 6:25 AMReply

    I really liked this film which surprised me considering all the bad press it got. Initially I thought the part in Wales was odd but it was very tense & quite good, much like the rest of the film. Much better ending then the original which can be found here;
    http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/world-war-z-endings-the-bloody-battle-in-russia-vs-damon-lindelofs-rewrite-what-was-changed-why-20130625

  • lexgreen | June 26, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    Almost Nothing About The Plane Sequence:

    1) The stowaway probably got on the plane by jumping the landing gear before takeoff and
    got on the elevator from the lower part of the plane. The plane took off in a hurry, so there
    was no time to search for castaways. Stay away from airplanes? The only route of escape
    at the moment Jerusalem was being over run. Pitts character was on the tamac because
    his own "private plane" had just bolted on him.

    2) Barricade of suit cases. Only resource available in a moment of desperation. And, like
    the curtain, it could had screened the forward passengers from view for a while at least.

    3) Grenade? 'Do you try to contain or kill the outbreak?' How do you do that, every 10
    seconds the number of zombies increases. You're trapped a few doors away from the
    pilot's door, which is locked. With only a few seconds left, you're on the floor, and a
    grenade roll's by, you might consider the 2 alternatives. Certain induction into the
    zombie hoard, or you've got a chance to stop them all and maybe the plane holds
    together (remember the Hawaii airliner ?).

    Over all, in the context of the movie, plenty of plausibility holds the scene together. Could it
    have been blocked or shot differently, absolutely. The moment Pitt tosses the grenade, he
    should have been on his back with a Zombie drooling in his face . . .

    The title sequence works ok, because it's reasonably short. It's the world as a "ball of confusion" made up of familiar images. And it sets up as "you think *this* looks bad? just wait . . . "

    Sequel: well, we still don't know where they came from... and, like a virus, what if the zombies last long enough to develop a "disease resistant" strain? The anti-virus is no longer stong enough and the only way to be avoided is to give yourself Typhus, Meningitis, and Rocky Mountain fever all at the same time . . . And the sequel needs to bring back Morse, whose first brief appearance in the jail cell effectively steals the show. You want to know more about this guy and his insight could be useful in hunting down the zombie origin.

  • jd | June 27, 2013 6:00 AM

    Would have to agree with Lexgreen on every issue. Sure the plane just landed & took off again, there was no time to check if any zombies hadnt gotten into the holding area. As for the other issues the author has that Lexgreen disagrees with, I really think that the author was nickpicking any tiny issue he saw. However I do agree with the author about the PG-13 rating. We got to see nothing which was a slight pity. Plus no mention of finale in the lab which I quite liked.

  • Nicole | June 25, 2013 3:11 PMReply

    I didn't find the film remotely scary, but it was entertaining, if massively disjointed. The lowest points were Piers Morgan's massive mug and the blatant Pepsi ad near the end.

  • gert | June 25, 2013 3:07 PMReply

    Just came from the cinema - enjoyed it, in fact i thought it was a really short flick which at its running time is obviously a compliment. Time flied by. Plane sequence wasn't that bad, they were putting up bags to avoid being noticed (they also tried being really quiet) and as for grenade, well what other options did Pitt have. Anyhow the only thing missing for me was: at least one scene with Peter Capaldi swearing at some zombies(or anyone else), that would have been brilliant and a great reference to his In The Loop/Thick of It character, in fact he was so mean looking i thought he was gonna start dropping some f bombs :)

  • John Eddy | June 25, 2013 9:53 AMReply

    I thought it was an ok zombie movie and, yes, I wholly agree about the excitement level (although some of the trailers before WWZ scared me more than the movie itself), but my biggest beef was the final act.

    Why in the heck were the Cardiff 'Scientists' so paranoid? I mean, yes, I get tying up Gerry to make sure he didn't turn, but, at the same time the 'Why are you here?! WHO SENT YOU!?!' sort of interrogation he got (while Segen seemed to be given a grand tour and treated like a welcome guest) seemed odd.

    Also... why didn't they try to call any other CDC/WHO locations? They had a sat phone. They had connection to the flotilla. Why not, before just heading into Zombieward, see if someone else is out there with a more ready supply who may, even just possibly, want to run the tests? It could even have been handled with practically 2 lines of dialog.. 'Hey, UN, is there another site who can try this out for us?' 'We just lost touch with the last location. You are the only site we have contact with. It's you or nothing.'

    That said, I thought it was a horrible adaptation. We knew it would be hard. The book doesn't necessarily convert to film, unless you want to do a HBO 10 part miniseries like Band of Brothers. But, that doesn't mean you couldn't interweave the book into the film. I had hopes when they landed in Israel and it was matching the same, most are welcome vibe going for it, but, then, rather than the internal conflict (which I thought was more compelling of a story and could have been just as tense) from the book, they went with zombies and the (likely) fall of Israel where as in the book they apparently survived unscathed.

  • Ben | June 25, 2013 2:12 AMReply

    I agree 100% with the comments on the PG-13. And in discussion after the movie, said the exact same thing about TWD and NBC having more horror. It isn't that it has to be a gore-fest but you can feel them cutting away from things to be ratings-safe and that doesn't allow the zombies to have any sort of cool characterization. I didn't connect with the sequences as much as I should have and that's a shame because there are some genuinely great things here.

    Maybe if they had made a rule that they kept the camera at Gerry's level and only showed the carnage from his perspective, it would've done two things: made the movie more intense and cut the budget so they could have afforded the R.

    I was joking that this would've been perfect as a "28 days Later" prequel ("28 Hours Later"?) and if they could've shot it with those aesthetics and at that budget level, it may have been great. As it is, I was entertained. And would watch again. But can't help but think about the better movie it might have been.

  • Strangerthanfiction4 | June 24, 2013 10:45 PMReply

    You are so on point with this critique. I wish they had filmed two movies, the PG-13 version and an R-rated version.

  • Al | June 24, 2013 9:32 PMReply

    I kinda agree with a lot here but boy was it a thrilling ride. Pretty much liked most of it. The airplane sequence well if I was faced with a hoard of zombies you're damn right I'd do anything no matter how ineffectve to stopmthem getting to me. And Brad was quietly building a wall of suitcases with the hope that it prevents the zombies from seeing him, not from stopping them. Then a uitcase falls and draws the attention of the zombies. The most logical thing to do would be to try and get in the cockpit, since he already gained access once. But then wouldn't everyone try and get in the cockpit if there was nowhere else to go? See, there's no real solution to such an outlandish sitution!

  • Mike | June 24, 2013 6:51 PMReply

    I though Warm Bodies is the sequel where the zombies turned into human again.

  • Bill T | June 24, 2013 5:45 PMReply

    What a great movie. I highly recommend. Brad pulled it off. Bravo!

  • Mike | June 24, 2013 5:32 PMReply

    Totally disagree about the plane sequence. Thought it was terrifying. Also, what else could he have done on the plane to survive? There was no way he wasn't going to be ripped apart by the zombies unless he did something drastic. The dog barking was straight out of the book. In fact, in the book, that's how the Israelis knew who was infected and who wasn't. Would've like to see some of the geopolitical politics involved (class vs. humanity), and why on earth did they kick his family off the boat after they thought he sacrificed himself to save humanity? Seems the least they could so was make sure his family was safe after making the ultimate sacrifice.

    But otherwise, this was a terrific film. Exciting from start to finish. Minimizing it in the third act really worked, because how can you top that Israel sequence? That was masterful.

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