Saturday, 13 July 2013

World War Z, reviewed by Douglas J. Ogurek

Zombies storm the box office, again. Last winter, romantic zomedy Warm Bodies reached number one at the box office. This summer, a different breed of zombie film clambered its way to the top.

Something threatens the fate of the world. Cities burn. Monuments crumble. In government control rooms, dumbed down charts and maps glow with death tolls and devastated regions. One man will make a difference. We’ve seen it with weather. We’ve seen it with disease. We’ve seen it with aliens. We’ve seen it with robots. But we haven’t seen such worldwide chaos with zombies. And, we haven’t seen it with Brad Pitt. Until World War Z (directed by Marc Forster). Or perhaps a more fitting title would be World War GQ.

Embraced by the general public and endured by critics, WWZ combines a more intense manifestation of the “fast zombies” popularized by 28 Days Later (2002) with the big budget action of War of the Worlds (2005).

The inciting scene relies on the “things go haywire while protagonist sits in traffic” cliché. Nevertheless, WWZ pulls it off. Cars crash. People scream and scramble. The camera cuts. Who’s human? Who’s zombie? Thus the viewer plunges into two hours of suspense, chases, attacks, and fashionable hair and scarves.

Gerry Lane (Pitt) has dropped his UN special ops gig to flip pancakes for his forgettable wife and daughters. As zombie attacks escalate, military leaders pressure Lane into accompanying a young doctor and a group of GIs on a mission to find a way to stop them.

Though Pitt’s practised calm seems a bit unlikely as zombies rip into their victims, he does manage to avoid the exaggerated cool that would have mauled the film with a less competent actor. Would a more ordinary protagonist work just as well? Perhaps an average-looking accountant instead of a GQ cover boy special agent? Maybe. Or how about another actor? Tom Cruise, Will Smith, or any big budget barnstormer could have pulled it off. But casting Pitt makes good economic sense, mainly because we haven’t seen him in this type of movie. Also, Cruise and Smith can’t pull off a scarf like that.

Pitt proves his versatility. He does the sociopath (Kalifornia (1993)). He does the rebellious youth (A River Runs Through It (1992)). He does the lunatic (Twelve Monkeys (1995)). And now, Pitt does the action hero.

Enough about acting. WWZ isn’t really about acting. It’s about evading a brutal death and dealing with the zombie problem. “Nature is a serial killer.” So says the part charming, part annoying doctor who is passionate about finding a solution to the pandemic. Thus, the film, like 28 Days Later, gives the zombie infestation a semi-scientific bent, and offers a plausible resolution.

WWZ also ups the ante on collective zombie terror with its ant colony-like portrayal of group attacks. Note how zombies pile on top of one another to reach new heights.

The film does not confine its scenes to large-scale urban attacks. For instance, in one scene Lane and comrades ride bicycles down a dark, rainy alley where zombies may just be lurking. And the climactic scene strays from the familiar explosions and gunfire by entering the quiet halls of a zombie-infested laboratory.

I harbored delusions that WWZ would be a testimony about technology’s potential to tear apart the nuclear family. There are no hidden themes in this film. The protagonist’s and antagonists’ objectives are as straightforward as those in a Scooby Doo episode. And despite some critics’ complaints about underdeveloped characters and generic scenes, WWZ entertains. Isn’t that why people see movies?

Do expect a sequel; what draws more people to the box office than the threat of their annihilation? – Douglas J. Ogurek

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