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The Best & Worst Of 'World War Z'

by The Playlist Staff
June 24, 2013 4:36 PM
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World War Z

So so

The Zombies Themselves
It’s strange that as much reinvention and unique takes the zombie genre has received as a whole over the past few years, the actual undead themselves have remained relatively untouched. For the most part, they still attack humans (fortunately going after "brains" seems like a dropped trope), getting bitten by one is an (un)death sentence and in many contemporary versions, they move really, really fast. And so it is with “World War Z,” which presents the zombies as more plague carrying threats who move at a seemingly unhuman like speed and like flocks of terrorizing birds or schools of insane fish. And to the filmmakers’ credit, they do get some potent and frightening imagery from the sheer mass of moving zombies, sometimes being unleashed like a tsunami threatening to end humanity as a whole. But unfortunately they are also a rather indistinct, familiar enemy that even as the characters in the movie try and figure out what they are, the audience is already well versed with. Being truly scared means becoming confronted with something unexpected, and perhaps beyond your imagination, but “World War Z” is content with relying on the zombies audiences know, rather than pushing things one step forward, and making up their own unique rulebook.

World War Z
Tonal Confusion: Is it a procedural or an action tentpole?
It’s commonly been said that a movie is made three times: once in the script, another time while it’s filming and then finally when it’s being edited. And by all accounts, “World War Z” was made six times, given the extensive overhauling the script and finale had during its very public restructuring, and thus it’s hardly a surprise that the movie isn’t always sure of what it wants to be. For the most part, the picture does hew to its “Zombie Dark Thirty” aspirations, going for a procedural thriller motif, shot almost like a documentary with Brad Pitt’s Gerry Lane traversing the globe looking for an impossible cure. But every now and then it seems like producers reminded the filmmakers they needed some action beats too, leading to sequences like the nighttime/rainsoaked zombie attack as a plane is reloaded with fuel in South Korea. And even in the otherwise solid Israel sequence, the zombie takeover becomes an excuse for massive gunfire and swarms of crowds running in all directions. This imbalance isn’t a dealbreaker per se, but it’s the first of a handful of seams that show quite clearly in a movie that wasn’t sure what it wanted to be from the outset.

World War Z, Brad Pitt
Gerry Lane Is An Invincible Cypher With Little Dimension
Again, perhaps there were more shades of grey to Brad Pitt’s Gerry Lane in the original drafts of the script, but in the finished product, he’s nearly indestructible. While the screenwriters take pains to establish that he’s left his previous U.N. duties after being emotionally and psychically scarred by what he’s seen in civil conflicts around the world, opting instead to be a stay-at-home Dad, it seems nothing that’s happening with zombie plague poses a problem. While Gerry has his arm twisted to get back on duty, the horrors of what he sees not only out in the world, but on the streets of Philadelphia, have almost no effect on his ability to take the lead and kick some ass (when he's wandering around, looking at stuff and taking phone calls). But it’s not just spiritual wounds that Gerry survives, it's physical ones too -- a big chunk of airplane shrapnel through his torso barely hinders his ability to walk to the World Health Organization and get patched up (that he even survives the plane crash when almost everyone else dies is a bit ridiculous). And not long after that, he’s playing Russian roulette with the world’s deadliest diseases and manages to survive with barely a sniffle. Gerry’s journey is one that’s certainly fraught, but his seeming ability to continually survive each escalating disaster diminishes the triumph that should be felt when he finally returns to his family, with the future of world on the path to recovery. However, you gotta hand it to Pitt and his skill as an actor that despite of all this, Gerry still remains a compelling character to follow, if only because he sells his dedication to the cause with natural ease and relatable emotion.

World War Z Brad Pitt
The Action
Director Marc Forster's last action outing, the Bond romp "Quantum of Solace," was largely defined by an incoherent, blurry muddle of action set pieces in which spatial geography and narrative clarity were thrown out the window, in an attempt to create a kinetic, "Bourne"-type immediacy. The results were often confusing, nauseatingly so, and besides a couple of well-choreographed fight sequences, the movie was a disorienting muddle. The action in "World War Z" is cleaner and more precise, but often times things become a jumble – especially in a sequence when Pitt and his family are trying to escape an infested apartment building in Newark. The way Forster chooses to shoot the stairwell is to just throw the camera around a bunch and hope that something (anything) catches the light. The Israel sequence, as mentioned above, is masterful, but too often you can feel when Forster pulled his punches and while his frantic camerawork does much to emphasize the intensity of the situation, there are still moments where we'd love to actually see what's going on. This is made worse by a truly atrocious 3D post-conversion job that was worse than unnecessary - it actively takes away from the experience of watching the film, making dark scenes even dimmer and more unfocused.

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  • josh | August 11, 2014 11:52 PMReply

    I am so late to this post, but i have to say nice work. I find myself torn with this movie. I in general love it and have watched it many times. However there are certain scenes I think stretch my patience. The plane scene was one of them. Why the hell was a zombie in a dumb waiter and they just happen to survive the crash close enough to walk to the WHO with no zombies to eat them. That and Gerry is so bad ass yet he leaves his stupid cell ringer on when he is in Korea. WTF.

    Regardless, I still love the movie and it is one of my favorite zombie and virus movies!

  • 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;

  • 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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