Tuesday, July 9, 2013

World War Z (2013) – Review

Review: World War Z is, while predictable, an entertaining thriller with a message of hope. The film is about the chaos humanity faces when the Zombie Apocalypse overruns the Earth. U.N. investigator Gerry Lane is sent on desperate fact-finding mission to locate patient zero. The hope is: if Lane can find where this all began, maybe he can also uncover a cure or way to combat the infection.

Director Marc Forster combines two kinds of films with World War Z. First, the film feels like a horror thriller, as legions of the undead run rampant in the streets (and behind every corner and down every dark ally). While it is not overly scary, Forster does a great job managing suspense. Like most of these kinds of films, the audience more or less already knows what is going to ultimately happen, but suspense is still key in keeping them invested in the drama by maintaining some level of gripping excitement. Here, Forster keeps the thrills coming, while also avoiding the cheapness of impact cuts. He employs a much more effective and classic style of suspense (playing on the fears of the audience – like darkness, isolation, and fear itself).

Second, the film feels like an international spy or adventure drama – like a James Bond or Indiana Jones film – as Lane hops across the globe following his leads. This international flare brings a great scope to what is more of an intimate story. Basically, the narrative follows Lane only (and the drama of him both wanting to find a cure and get back to his family) with all the other characters being people he meets along the way. Most zombie films also revolve around one character or a small group and their attempt at survival. By including an international scope to the narrative, World War Z feels more epic and sets itself apart from those other films as something different (which is nice).

However, the film working both as a thriller and an action adventure film is contingent on the audience caring about the characters – specifically Lane (as really he is the only protagonist). Forster does a great job here too. The first act is almost entirely dedicated to creating character moments for Lane as he protects his family from the onset of the Zombie Apocalypse before being rescued by the U.N. and set forth on his mission to find a cure. This character work early pulls the audience in, giving them a stake both in Lane personally (which is paramount in the film working as something more than spectacle) and in the survival narrative. It also allows Forster to focus on the story for the remainder of the film.

This summer has been filled with massive action films filled with grander action set pieces than audiences have maybe ever seen before – and also more mindless destruction (with many of the films featuring larger portions of cities being destroyed with hundreds of thousands of faceless casualties – and Pacific Rim has not even come out yet). World War Z also has a huge amount of destruction and death (as humanity is practically on the brink of extinction – like any other apocalypse film), but it feels different. The film carries a message of solidarity and hope – something that our world seemingly needs more of, as at times humanity feels overly fragmented and hostile. It is refreshing to see an action film that while filled with big entertaining action approaches it from a grave perspective instead of gleeful joy and disregard for human life.

World War Z has a strong lead character that the audience cares about, compelling action and drama, and an easy to follow narrative, but it has a few issues as well that hold it back from being something great. Chiefly, the third act feels somewhat tacked on. Forster abandons the international dazzle retreating back into the zombie genre troupe of a small group of people isolated, trapped, and needing to come face-to-face with zombies to achieve potential survival. Essentially, the film just becomes like almost every other zombie movie – and thus extremely predictable, which extinguishes some of the great tension that Forster had cultivated throughout most of the narrative. But, by the same token, this is at its core a small, personal story (in terms of it following one protagonist and his journey) masquerading as a grand international adventure thriller, and thus it seems fitting that in the end the narrative would minimize its scope down to a small secluded group – to makes things feel more intimate.

The bigger problem lies in the narrative feeling incomplete, like it is merely the first chapter to something bigger – and yet, there is no indication that there is anymore to this story. The end is the end. The tacked on ending is somewhat abrupt and feels too easy, although this allows Forster to keep the film at a brisk sub-two hour runtime (while many blockbusters are bloated and overindulgent).

All in all, World War Z is one of the better summer movies to be released this year. It grips its viewer from the opening and holds their attention throughout with a strong lead in Lane and big zombie action moments. It just does not aspire to be anything greater than an entertaining zombie thriller (succumbing to genre troupes and clichés in the end – but there is nothing wrong with that).

Technical, aesthetic and acting achievements: Marc Forster has had an up and down career. He has made some good dramas (Finding Neverland and The Kite Runner), a good comedy (Stranger Than Fiction), but his previous thrillers have not worked (though, I would argue that as a direct companion piece to Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace is solid, and probably provided a lot of useful experience going into this film). World War Z is by far his best action thriller, and maybe his best film to date (still, however, he has never been able to make something great despite his noticeable talent).

Marco Beltrami’s score does a fine job reinforcing the horror/thriller aspects of the tone while giving the action sequences an extra oomph. Ben Seresin’s cinematography is very good as well. Forster’s camera is often frantic matching the disarray that would come from zombies suddenly consuming the Earth’s populace. The look of the film is very desolate with mostly dimly lit interiors. Nigel Phelps’s production design also gives this feeling. Many of the scenes take place in claustrophobic confined spaces. However, despite the supernatural aspect of the narrative (i.e. the zombies), Phelps’s design along with the documentary-feeling camera grounds the film in reality, which helps amplify the suspense and tension.

World War Z does not really offer much to it cast as all the characters appear in small bit roles, save for Lane and two other characters. Plus, the film is much more plot driven than character driven. In these small roles Peter Capaldi, David Morse, and James Badge Dale (especially) are good. Daniella Kertesz is strong as an Israel soldier who accompanies Lane on his mission (it could serve as a mini-breakthrough for her). Mireille Enos is also very good in support as Lane’s wife. She gives a lot of weight to the early character moments. Brad Pitt (as usual) is great as Lane. He is believable in the role and brings a great emotional resonance to the character (the audience really gets behind and cares about him), which enables everything to play bigger.

Summary & score: For a summer film, World War Z is very good. For a zombie film, it is also very good, but not among the genre’s elite. 7/10

No comments:

Post a Comment