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MOVIES: World War Z – A trite, but harmless tentpole – Review

In Hollywood, Brad Pitt can pretty much do whatever he pleases. I don’t say that to be disparaging – I generally like him as an actor – but to highlight, in the words of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility.” When the rights became available for Max Brooks’ clever and subversive novel World War Z, Pitt and his production company, Plan B, snatched up the hot property as a starring vehicle for Pitt himself (never mind that in the book there really is no single protagonist). In a rush to get the movie in theaters, many critical components, such as coherence and polish, were lost.

While it has its entertaining moments, World War Z feels jumbled as if the pieces of three different puzzles were being forced together. This makes sense considering the film credits four separate screenwriters as having some hand in the script’s development. The first script was completed by Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom) and J. Michael Straczynski (Changeling). Later, Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) and Damon Lindelof (Prometheus) were brought in for rewrites. The result is an amalgam of four very different screenwriting styles and a film with no clear sense of direction. This floundering feeling is exacerbated by director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) who has routinely struggled with imbuing his films with a consistent tone.

After an outbreak of a seemingly unstoppable virus, former-U.N. globetrotter Gerry Lane (Pitt) is enlisted to help fight a rapidly increasing army of zombies. Once bitten, a person can be turned into a zombie (or “Zeke” as the army refers to them) within ten seconds, leaving behind any sense of the human they once were. With incredible speed, the zombies are able to invade and infect an entire city in a matter of hours. Gerry, having seen the worst of the worst overseas, is humanity’s only hope.

The first half of World War Z plays like any outbreak thriller where the goal is to discover the cause and cure as quickly as possible. Proving once again that he has no idea how to stage or film an action sequence (see the opening of Quantum of Solace for proof), Forster adds confusion to his chaos by keeping his shot time below half a second throughout nearly every set piece. We don’t know what we’re looking at because our eyes aren’t given enough time to transmit the signal to our brain before something else is being splashed across the screen. I imagine a four-year-old child who is given a mixture of Red Bull and Pixie Stix would have the same cinematic output if he or she was given a digital camera and told to run in circles.

As frenetic and disjointed as the first two acts are, the film takes a strange left turn into a morality drama for its climax. The film’s final act is quite good, actually, and more suspenseful than the rest of the story. It just doesn’t fit with what we had been watching for 90 minutes. Again, think of the mismatched puzzle pieces. The only consistent aspect of the story is Gerry’s devotion to his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos), and their two daughters. His love for them is what sustains him and Pitt, a dedicated family man himself, gives the relationship great weight and truth. Pitt is arguably the best part of the movie despite his inappropriately good looks. Pitt and Enos have terrific chemistry when together so it is unfortunate they spend so much time apart.

Despite all its flaws, the movie does have some pretty badass zombies. Early in the film, the Zekes (CGI, of course) swarm over cities with seemingly nothing able to stop them. Their only motivation is blood which means they don’t hesitate before jumping off a building or throwing their bodies in front of a car. The movie’s money shot is the zombie pyramid that appears as the bloodthirsty predators crawl over one another to scale the giant walls surrounding Jerusalem.

Later, we get to see the Zekes up close. The extras cast as the zombies all do a terrific job and the makeup is equally impressive. Here we get to see how truly terrifying they are not just because they seem to be unstoppable but because they have ceased being human. The detail that went into the zombies’ creation should be applauded.

Despite its director’s penchant for horrible filmmaking, World War Z still manages to be a decent summer popcorn flick. Just don’t think too hard about the disjointed storyline and questionable science and you’ll likely enjoy yourself.

Grade: C-

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