World War Z (2013) Review

Flay Otters

World War Z Poster 1Ahead of talking about the film World War Z, I thought it apt to touch on adaptation as a concept. I’ve not read the source material by Max Brooks and so I don’t have a frame of reference to draw from in terms of comparing the film to the book. From what I understand, the book operates somewhat as an account about a zombie plague in an almost documentarian style without a central narrative, touching on multiple cultures and areas of the world. The film, on the other hand, focuses primarily on a family story and all the trappings of political and social reaction and/or commentary mainly serve as background to the primary plot.

I bring this up because I’ve read some pretty angry responses to the film over the last year or so from all across the spectrum from those who take umbrage with the supposed liberties the film takes from the book. While I can understand a certain love for the original novel and respect those who have a fierce loyalty to it, this film really seems to operate as its own animal and, I believe, shouldn’t be completely discounted for the liberties and departures they’ve taken from Max Brooks’ novel. One of my all-time favorite books (and films) is L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy. The film is such a beautiful, dark and gritty take on morality and justice and violence and power; the novel on which it is based is ten times heavier. In fact, the book employs well over a hundred speaking characters, boasts nearly five hundred pages and spans over a decade of time. The film cannot come close to that level of density but still was an absolute crowning achievement in filmmaking. Adaptation is not demonizing-automatic: it is what you do with the source material that matters.

In the case of World War Z, director Marc Forster has crafted a mostly satisfying, big time action horror/thriller that builds upon the well-worn devices of both disaster and zombie films in some (at times) clever ways. The film’s primary focus is retired UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), his wife Karen Lane (Mireille Enos from The Killing) and their two daughters. What starts as background chatter on the television about some odd goings-on in other parts of the world (in an opening scene with the Lane family) quickly becomes a very real threat here at home. The not-so-subtle comment about turning a blind eye to trouble around the globe by folks in the western world was well placed here. More, the suggestion that the lightning quick spread of the plague is aided by carelessness on the part of travelers coupled with the lack of engagement in world-trouble spots and possibly governmental disinterest is nothing if not relatable.

Anyway, most of us have seen the clip within the trailer of the traffic sequence involving the Lane family’s car mirror and the start of the madness (stuck in downtown Philadelphia traffic, motor cops acting weird, growing panic, explosions, people fleeing etc). This is essentially about ten minutes into the film and once it happens (and is much better in the context of the film than in the trailer) the film is off and running and doesn’t ever really shift down below fourth gear for the remainder of its runtime. This is equal parts fantastic and frustrating. Early scenes involving the hard charging and ever-growing swarm are pretty spectacular in the complete random, harried way they are edited. I tend to get a little stomach uneasy with too much jump-cutting stuff but here it aids the feel of panic and fear.

The pace from the traffic scene forward to about the halfway point is frustrating though because we’re never really given a chance to catch our breath and take stock of what has happened. This is the same for the characters on-screen and so you have to take on faith the choices they make and how things play would be the way they would happen in real life. As dumb as that might sound, it is a directorial/story choice that drains out a lot of the human loss and tragedy of it all which is odd considering the immense scale of human loss happening minute-to-minute. I tend to think the real impact of it would hit a little harder and be tougher to cope with and not being shown that and instead relying on the audience to assume it felt a little short-sighted. The only real humanistic anchor here is Mireille Enos’ Karen, a mother and wife having to brave and guess and bluff her way through this mess while putting on a strong face for her daughters. Her presence on-screen helps to thread the needle of humanity through the epic backdrop but does not employ unrealistic heroics to drive that point home. Credit to Enos for her work in this limited role.

Pitt’s Gerry is brought back into the governmental fold to try to make some sense of what is happening and help get to the bottom of it. Ordinarily this would (or should) be met with a large, resounding ‘yeah right’ but amazingly the suspension of disbelief over his being brought in holds up pretty well (his background in very dangerous areas being one qualification). That said, there are many things that happen during the middle range of the film that take a little more faith on the part of the viewer to accept. It feels like the midway point is the most bogged down in the film and suffers from pacing issues as well as some pretty large-scale leaps of logic. I recognize I said earlier the pace never really lets up and that seems to fly in the face of ‘pacing issues’ but somehow or other they were able to make the same frantic craziness seem sluggish. Thankfully, these issues don’t completely derail the film’s momentum and after some false starts we lock into the trajectory of the final act where the film really takes advantage of all it has done to set up its massive tragedy and disaster.

Gerry works against time and some pretty awful circumstances (a seemingly fortified city center at one stage, an airfield cloaked by rain and shadows in another) to try to get some plan together on how to stop the disaster or even understand it. This gives us the inevitable resident genius situation (you know, the scientist/doctor/hunter/shaman brought into a film to give it some chance of reaching a conclusion) but the way it plays out is not expected at all and I found to be pretty clever. On the other hand, this scientist character does do a bit of plot finalizing exposition that, quite frankly, I didn’t need. They even go so far as to play back some of his dialogue over earlier scenes just in case you weren’t paying attention, or are, say, six years old and couldn’t piece it together on your own. This whole bit might be fine for many but it made me a little nuts. I hate being treated as though I cannot remember 15 minutes prior and I certainly don’t like being told a bunch of stuff by one character to narrow the thing down. Show me, don’t tell me.

That grumbling aside, the final act of the film (either intentionally or by accident) gets into a larger meaning much more interesting than the social-political stuff early on. The roots of this threat are still bound by the laws of nature, of science and because of this, can be broken down and at least understood at a fundamental level. I absolutely loved that this seemingly obvious revelation carries the kind of common sense logic that doesn’t have to be discovered from an autopsy or a dusty ancient text. The way in which these creatures multiply their numbers, the way in which they interact with their environment makes a lot of sense when you look at it through the prism of how nature works. Fire ants, diseases, these things operate in a very specific way and to piggy-back onto that idea was one of the smartest things in the film, bar-none.
Now, I won’t go into how the final act plays out because it is better experienced first-hand. However, I wanted to quickly touch on a couple of things about the film that I feel are important if you’re deciding whether to see it or not:

1. PG-13 rating – Yes, one of the bigger drawbacks of the film is its PG-13 rating which renders the lion’s share of the violence bloodless and mostly at a distance. A scene involving a bus early on and later scenes in/around confined spaces (planes, labs etc) would’ve been greatly served with more creative freedom to really let loose with violence. However, I don’t think this completely neuters the film in the way some have suggested. Simply put, while the rating dials back the intimate nature of the violence and/or gore, the film still lays waste to wide swaths of humanity with blind disregard and I give them credit for that.

2. Script – I have seen many many big time films that are just completely undone by idiotic scripts and lousy dialogue written and targeted to, well, dumb people. Akiva Goldsman has made a damned career out of it. However, the script for World War Z doesn’t suffer from that dumbness and really only is hampered by some scattershot scenes that either were supposed to lead to something else but were cut, or, weren’t fully fleshed out to start with. Either way, it is not a perfect script but is certainly not a hack and slash mess that inspires nothing more than laughter.

3. CGI /effects – Those of you who’ve read a few reviews I’ve written might have noticed I’m very sensitive to the use/misuse of computer effects in horror movies. Trust me when I say that was on my mind when I walked into the theatre. Thankfully though, the effects are handled pretty well overall and didn’t give you those oh-so priceless moments of sitting in a theatre thinking ‘are they kidding? my nine-year-old could’ve done that’. There are a few scenes that I think could’ve been constructed better to minimize the full-on CGI in your faceness (and not, by the way, the human ant-pile thing from the trailers) but by and large it did feel real and not like a video game in the effects department.

4. The creature – The zombie of World War Z is a swarming, violent and very fast thing that uses the human body much more like a vehicle than a person. By that I mean that the infected people walking around do look like people but ultimately they are a vessel for the infection and regarded as such. This creates some great tension because their sensitivity to sound and amazing quickness are a real threat and not something that can be escaped by just being cute or clever (for long). The swarming scenes are pretty damned remarkable truth be told and while early effects shots last year might’ve not looked all that hot, the finished product is quite a sight to behold.

So to bring this all to a head, World War Z is absolutely not an overproduced, unmitigated disaster some have predicted it would be. It is, at times, a bracing and tense disaster epic that writes its own rules for not only zombies, but how to tell a zombie story. It does, however, lack some key moments of quiet contemplation that I think might’ve upped the human stakes and laid bare the emotional toll a disaster of this type would take. Taken as a whole, I enjoyed the film quite a bit and had a lot of fun with it for what it was. I’d definitely say the giant spectacle of it all is well worth the price of admission.

3.5 / 5 stars     


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      1. Humberto D June 8, 2013 at 6:48 pm

        LIES. Simply put, IF you’ve seen a zombie horror movie, you’ve seen all the “thrills” and “scares” offered in World War Z before. AND better. Let’s see, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen most of them, and the ones you haven’t resemble 28 Days Later (which the scene WWZ “borrowed” was done BETTER, PLUS, their infected were ALSO better handled than the SUPER CGI zombies in WWZ)

        BUT, let’s dissect this pack of lies from the writer:

        1) The rating is NO EXCUSE to have these unrealistic CGI horde of zombies. There are MANY scenes that are affected by the rating, and truly take away from the movie. MAYBE a little zombie gore would’ve made this a little better. The movie is completely neutered. There’s no fuckin’ “intimacy” anywhere by doing so.

        2) Script is decent, yes. BUT, NOTHING that you haven’t seen before.

        3) Writer is right about something, the swarming CGI zombies are not like videogames at all. I’ve seen BETTER animation in video games. What he’s wrong about is that, EVEN the ones that are human for the up and close encounters, are comical. (scenes in the climax of the film) MAYBE not all, but they’re no, AGAIN, 28 Days Later type of savage infected. NO. They’re WAY over the top and unbelievable, since they’re SUPER zombies when the story requires them to be, and back to more manageable ones in other scenes.

        4) AGAIN, all the BAD CGI you saw in the trailer is STILL THERE. Swarming Super CGI zombies is just too unbelievable. THUS, it just causes you not to care since there is no hope. They jump high, run fast, I was waiting for them to start flying and shit. AND the fact that the lead is Pitt also affects the sense that he’s in any mortal danger.

        Is this a serious website for horror movie fans?

        • Flay Otters June 8, 2013 at 9:06 pm

          OK, first things first. Let me humbly suggest you calm the ever-loving fuck down. Take a breath. Feel any better?

          Now, calling me a liar is pretty pointless don’t you think? A lie would suggest that I stated something that was not true in relation to a fact. That is essentially what a lie is. If I give you my opinion on something, it is my opinion. It is subjective. It is not a misstatement of fact. A misstatement of fact would be..eh, what’s the point? As a walking/talking/thinking human being, you ought to know what an actual lie is. Calling me a liar is baseless, pointless and childish.

          You asked if this is a serious website for horror fans – the answer is yes, yes it is. I would think the real question would be are you adult enough to participate with the rest of us, or, would you feel more comfortable discussing your interests with a mirror? At least with a mirror you’d be guaranteed a constant, attentive audience with no chance of being disagreed with. Its up to you pal, but I suggest if you want to continually take the tone with anyone else here that you took with me for no logical, rational reason then it’d be best you find somewhere else to troll around. Fair enough?

        • Herner Klenthur June 8, 2013 at 9:33 pm

          rofl at your first sentence 😛 I stopped reading after that point!

        • Ash June 8, 2013 at 11:36 pm

          Ha! you verbally whooped his ass. Flay Otters; word ninja! :)

        • Chris P June 22, 2013 at 4:04 am

          And this, Flay Otters, is why you are one of my favorite people I have never met. Thanks for the review and the laugh.

      2. Dorothy June 10, 2013 at 5:47 am

        this movie will gonna be awesome! i love the trailers. looking forward..

        • Flay Otters June 11, 2013 at 2:30 pm

          Thank you for your feedback, Dorothy. It is a fun, large sized epic spectacle type of thing and for what it is, it is enjoyable for sure. I can think of many horror/non-horror big-time films that were total messes and this one doesn’t fit that bill.

      3. David Roden June 15, 2013 at 1:31 am

        I’m sorry but there is no way that this is a good film. I have yet to see it but I will, out of curiosity. The novel is a masterpiece. If you don’t think it shouldn’t be compared to the novel then they should have named it something else. The problem is that now that this has been made we will have to wait at least a decade before someone else (who actually cares about the source material) comes along and actually tells the story properly. If I actually end up enjoying it, I will come back and eat my words…but I really don’t see that happening.

        • Flay Otters June 15, 2013 at 4:24 pm

          David, thank you for your comment and feedback. I can certainly understand what you’re saying regarding adaptation and changes (even drastic) to source material and how that flies in the face of those who care about the source material. I totally get that. However, I cannot (honestly) come out and talk about comparing this or that to the book because I’ve not read it and that would be a lame thing to do. What I was responding to, initially anyway, was some of what I’d read and heard other places that seemed to be a bit heavy handed. Regardless, I don’t think you have any words to eat in this regard. Taking it (the film) for what it is, or what it is not is entirely the decision of the viewer so my standard about it is definitely not the be-all/end-all by a long stretch. You make up your own mind and make your own judgement. Again, appreciate your comments.

      4. Mike June 19, 2013 at 10:27 pm

        Great review. As a huge fan of the book, I’m leaving all my preconceived notions of what this film should be like in the parking lot. Midnight showing here I come.

        • Flay Otters June 19, 2013 at 11:57 pm

          Mike, thank you. Much appreciated. I really do think that is a good plan going in, especially being a fan of the book as you mentioned. Have fun, because that should sort of be the idea, right?

      5. Vamp_Slayer June 22, 2013 at 1:51 am

        Another excellently written review. I still don’t think I will see it in theaters, but because from what I have read from you, I believe that we often hold similar opinions so I will more eagerly check it out when it’s available on dvd and bluray.

      6. ronnie1477 June 22, 2013 at 5:50 am

        I have read the book. Thought I would hate the movie. I was wrong I really enjoyed it, 4 out of5 stars from me. If was well paced, had a lot of tension and the action scenes were well executed. It was not perfect and there are plot holes but it was a surprisingly enjoyable zombie film. If your going to watch it see I recommend seeing it on the big screen – the scope of the action scenes needs to been scene on that scale.

        PS as for the CGI I hate bad CGI and I have to say the effects in the film are much, much better than the trailer suggested.

      7. Mike New June 22, 2013 at 9:03 am

        Too many people are going to react harsh to this movie because they want to compare it to the book. Now, keep in mind it was announced when this movie was filming, it was going to be a stand alone movie. The book is awesome, but I am glad it will be different from the book.

      8. Flay Otters June 22, 2013 at 2:26 pm

        Thank you for the comments Chris P, VS and Mike N. When you’re dealing with ‘tentpole’ type big budget epics, you’re going to get a lot of variation in reaction no matter what it is. I figure my angle on it might align with some here but others won’t go for it from the start. That’s okay.

      9. Maddie June 22, 2013 at 10:26 pm

        I saw the movie today. LOVED IT. And I agree with 90% of the main review. Humberto D clearly just likes Night of the living dead and anything that came before the 90’s. I loved the World War Z. The Pace was great. The action was tops. The Zombies were believeable. I don’t go for fast zombies, but the Dawn remake made me change my mind and see that it works. So did 28 days. In this WWZ the movie is in about a span of like 5 days. So your zombies are not gonna be these slow rotten humans. They are new, fresh and fast. Whichs makes the crazy walk climbing stuff believeable.

        The Story was great. Worked well and had be drawn in.
        The CGI wasnt bad. Didn’t lose me once on not thinking it was real.
        The PG13….yes it hurts the movie and in we could have gotten even bigger and bloodier but the PG13 movie worked. Hopefully the dvd will be unrated and give us more.
        Pitt was great and had me pulling for him.
        The Zombies were good. You don’t want to see slow rotten zombies in a fresh outbreak. The insane fast climbing over each other just to get from a to b works. What Humberto D says about them being fast and then slow when needed. I watched the movie and i don’t remember any slow zombies. There were ones that were just standing around cause they had no humans to eat or attack, but once they hear a sound….they went running. And close up they looked great. The very end with Pitt had the camera on one zombie for a long while and he was creepy.

        I would rather watch a tv show based on Pitt and his family in a zombie filled world then Rick and his on the Walking Dead. The only thing I feel Walking Dead wins over WWZ is the look of their zombies.

        All in all WWZ is a awesome zombie flick and a huge popcorn movies and for a horror fan I been waiting for a good horror movie in the theater for a while, cause the last horror movie out, the purge was a snorefest.

        I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

      10. Carlos Hernandez June 29, 2013 at 8:18 pm

        first I will say, I liked the movie…but it was completely tame….edited way too damn much, and over CGI’d. It could literally show on the Disney Channel. we are talking about flesh eating zombies. there HAS to be some amount of blood and gore. Not that im a Gore hound, but it just fits with the story. I did like the Global view of the zombie apocalypse, but it would have been a masterpiece of zombie lore, if they had just got some blood flowing, expanded on the drama of massive loss of human life, and gone with a few more practical effects, instead of CGI. in closing, put some balls in the next WWZ movie, and save the childrens movies for Pixar

      11. David Metcalf June 29, 2013 at 8:27 pm

        Since you think you can evaluate the film without having the slightest idea of what’s in the book, I didn’t feel the urge to read your entire review because you immediately relieve yourself of the requirement of discussing the transfer of the book to the screen. As a zombie movie, Brad Pitt has created a “28 Days Later” movie. This is World War Z in name only. I feel that Brad Pitt “played it safe” and made a conventional zombie flick. Had he actually taken a chance, he would have tried to remain true to the source material. If he had done so, he might just have made the best zombie film of all time. I’ve read the book 3 times. To call this movie “World War Z” is an insult to the fan base. For people who won’t familiarize themselves with the book, it is hard to explain how disappointing this film is. This movie has absolutely nothing to do with the book. A good review will focus on that fact. After reading your intro and realizing that you have not even the slightest clue how poorly adapted the movie is, I don’t really need to read a review that can’t discuss that issue.

        • G June 30, 2013 at 8:40 am

          Wait, so are you implying he CAN’T evaluate the film without having read the book? What ever happened to the right to an opinion? Besides, it’s a review of the film, NOT the book, and NOT a discussion of the merits of the film based on the book. The relation (or non-relation) to the book was a mere mention. Why can’t bookies get that?

          And you even left a comment saying you didn’t read the review because it’s not what you wanted? What the flying fuck? If it wasn’t what you wanted, move on and find it somewhere else instead of insinuating on the right to opinion or the proper way to discuss a film adaptation. You love the book, OKAY! Great! GTFO!

        • Herner Klenthur June 30, 2013 at 1:06 pm

          pretty much said it all. Well said.

        • David Metcalf June 30, 2013 at 3:03 pm

          Do I also have the right to an opinion? I gave my reasons why I didn’t feel the need to read a straight-up review that didn’t discuss the adaptation from the book.

          A discussion of the “merits of the film based on the book” is precisely what the “bookies” are so incensed about. What can’t the “bookies” understand? How the book was not adapted at all for the movie. As I said, had they even attempted to tell the stories from the book, they might just have made the best zombie film of all time. Instead, they made a straight up zombie film, and it is only an average one at that (in my opinion). THAT is my criticism. This could have been great, and instead it is only average.

          And yes, I was honest and admitted that I didn’t read the entire review, because for me, everything hinges on the fact that clearly a decision was made to completely abandon the book. Sometimes, a folly is so large that it dwarfs other considerations. The mistake to abandon the book is so large that it detracts completely from the movie entirely. What the “bookies” can’t understand is how one of the best zombie stories of all time was abandoned so hastily in return for a mediocre zombie story.

          I noticed a lot of the comments give us “bookies” a hard time. But criticizing a movie for abandoning such a promising concept is fair criticism. For light movie goers to say that “Well, I think this movie is pretty good. . .” when the rest of us are aware of how truly amazing it could have been. . . well, it’s just annoying.

          It’s fair to say that “you don’t have to take the discrepancy so seriously.” But the truth is–as I originally said–is that it is hard to describe how disappointing this movie is for those of us that were excited to hear of a film adaptation of the book. Think of Sphere by Michael Crichton. Say that instead of making a movie based on a book, they made a completely different story that had nothing to do with the book. Would you be telling me and other “bookies” to drop our criticism of the movie then? At least in film adaptations the movie is based somewhat on the book. That is not at all the case here, with “World War Z.”

        • Herner Klenthur June 30, 2013 at 3:18 pm

          You are most certainly allowed your opinion.

      12. Jet Edwards June 29, 2013 at 9:14 pm

        Why did they need to go through the legal battle to win the name and rights to make the book into a movie when they had no intention or interest in making the book into a movie? They still could have done the movie as it is and came up with an original title instead of creating confusion for the sole purpose of getting asses in seats (yes, I understand this was part of the intention, but that doesn’t make it good and only goes to show how uninspired and unoriginal Hollywood is becoming, which is a bad thing and a threat to all forms of art).

        These aren’t zombies… Fast moving zombies who don’t feast are as insulting and pathetic as sparkling vampires who attend high school. Zombies cannot move fast and they feast on live human flesh… They cannot run and they do not bite somebody and move onto the next. These are ghouls, not zombies. World War G would have been a much more appropriate title.

        It might be a great action thriller, but it is not a zombie movie, nor does have any business using the title it currently has. The CGI was awful and much of this has been done better in pretty much every other actual zombie story out there. (I do not include 28 Days later nor the remake of Dawn of the Dead as credible zombie stories).

        I would have loved to have seen what Leo would have done, should he have won the rights. He probably would have made one of the best miniseries to be on TV since Band of Brothers.

        • G June 30, 2013 at 8:46 am

          I *mostly* agree with the review except for the lack of depiction of human suffering, probably because I liked the breakneck pace and I liked the way the focus never left Gerry. You can get glimpses of human suffering, destruction, and desolation, and all those moments of sacrifice and other supposedly heart-tugging moments are all there, but VERY briefly shown.

          I guess I’ve seen too many horror flicks and zombie films where the focus WAS the suffering and the (in)humanity of it all. A bit more of that wouldn’t have done the film any favors because every other horror and zombie film has portrayed the same. Give me the plot and run with it. Gerry did that, literally.

      13. Rui Espadinha June 30, 2013 at 4:20 am

        I just needed to vent that what pisses me off is that I really wanted to like this movie… but I can’t. Trough the whole movie I got the feeling that the action was being fast forwarded and that I wasn’t being given the time to get all those feelings and thrills I look for in a zombie flick… it’s hard to put it in words, but I sort of felt as I watched a really long trailer. Above all, it bothers me that, as someone commented, it will probably take ages before someone dares to try to outdo this one with other mega production like this in the Zombie genre. This said, it was a good review, I just don’t feel the same.

      14. Saeri July 15, 2013 at 10:45 pm

        I think my biggest issue with this movie–which was otherwise alright, though not amazing or mind-blowing–was that it just wasn’t very cathartic. You’re right about the pacing; everything just moved so fast and abruptly and it was just *things happening* rather than *things happening to people*, which is generally what makes a work of fiction appealing.

        I didn’t feel very sympathetic to almost all of the characters, except for the female soldier from Israel, whose name might have only been mentioned once but obviously it wasn’t quite enough for the audience to remember. But even her character felt a bit hollow after the first bit. You might have caught glimpses of human suffering but they were never in the forefront enough (SPOILER:

        like the boy’s parents…he’s like what, 10? He’s coping way too well for a kid who just lost his parents and became zombies who tried to kill him).

        The movie wasn’t awful. There were lots of things that could have been done to make it awful. It just seemed lacking, I guess.