MOVIE REVIEW: World War Z

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Film: World War Z
Starring: Brad Pitt
Directed by: Marc Foster

Let’s get this out of the way right off the top: Anyone who read Max Brooks’ World War Z and spent the last few years wondering how a novel with no central character would be brought to life should know before paying see this film that the title is about as referential as things get. There are mentions of scenarios that played out in the book, as well as a relatively decent attempt at weaving certain events together, but as a whole nothing that appeared in the worldwide bestseller that inspired the $300 million+ film production that opens this weekend actually makes it into the film’s final cut. This is a tentpole Hollywood epic leaning on a popular title for support, but unfortunately for Hollywood, a familiar title isn’t enough to save World War Z from becoming a forgettable mess.

Let’s try and forget for a moment that World War Z is a film that started production without an ending and ultimately spent months being re-shot and re-edited together as if it were a jigsaw puzzle waiting to be assembled, and focus solely on the final product. The films opens with Brad Pitt and his family going about their usual weekday routine. While sitting in thick New York City traffic an explosion occurs up the street from where our family sits stuck in the vehicle, and very quickly things go from wrong to completely unhinged. There is chaos in the streets, and though no one knows it yet, their neighbors, siblings, and family are the ones causing all the terror. A virus has begun to spread, turning everyone it infects into a form of zombie in a matter of seconds, and once transformed, those docile humans become ravenous beasts who flock anywhere fresh flesh awaits. The family escapes this initial encounter and eventually find temporary safety, but as soon as that happens viewers learn Brad Pitt has a history with the United Nations, and soon our father figure becomes the protagonist the world will depend on for salvation.

The setup of World War Z is executed in a brilliant, large-scale fashion that will surely live on well past the end of the calendar year. In spite of everything it lacks, there is no denying that this is a BIG movie. The set pieces are huge, the number of CGI zombies seems endless, and there are a number of sequences (all shown in the previews) that offer sites literally never before seen on the big screen. It’s clear the studio knew they had a summer tentpole on their hands and that no expense was wasted on making everything larger-than-life, but somewhere along the line the process of creating that epic feeling, almost all heart was lost from the film. Brad Pitt doesn’t interact with the world torn asunder as much as he walks through it, bouncing from over-the-top scenario to over-the-top scenario with little-to-no injury to himself even though countless thousands are dying mere feet away. Much like the book is a series of observations about a battle that has waged for years, Pitt’s character spends the bulk of his time observing the world around him from a variety of locales and viewpoints, only this time the story told is a much more compact one than the enormous set pieces would lead you to believe.

The main problem with World War Z is that it bites off more than it can chew early on and eventually runs out of gas twenty minutes before reaching the finish line. It takes roughly ten minutes for the initial outbreak to occur, and from that moment the film lunges from epic scene to epic scene with minor moments of exposition woven through for added dramatic effect, but then hits a wall at the end of the second act that it cannot scale. Instead, the film chooses to spend its final chapter in the smallest, least enthralling way possible. The switch from scenes growing bigger and bigger to scenes becoming essentially tiny seems intended to bring home the emotional weight of everything, but in actuality does almost nothing to offer a satisfying conclusion. You’re expected to feel a sense of urgency and heartache given the chaos displayed throughout the majority of the preceding two hours, but amidst the madness it never takes enough time to develop the emotional connection with viewers needed for the closed-quarters final chapter to really work. You want to see the world put back together, of course, but you never care whether or not Brad Pitt and his family survive.

Watching World War Z, I was overcome with a sense of disappointment I had not felt in quite sometime. I knew not to expect anything on par with the content of the source material, but I would have preferred a complete dud arrived in theaters instead of the mediocre journey littered with moments of brilliance never fully realized that opens this weekend under the name Word War Z. This movie had the potential to be an iconic, larger-than-life ode to the unending obsession with zombies that has thrived in horror for decades, but unfortunately fumbles all emotional depth by focusing too heavily on the possibilities of modern CGI. If you must see it, leave once the scenes you saw in the trailer have occurred. Everything they have yet to show you is exactly where the film doesn’t work, and you’ll be just as satisfied leaving 100 minutes in as would you would be sticking around the last half hour.

Score: C

Review written by: James Shotwell (Twitter)

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