CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: WORLD WAR Z (2013)
By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: An airplane on a transatlantic flight. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA are in their seats. A FLIGHT ATTENDANT approaches them)
FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Would you gentlemen like something to drink?
LS: A flagon of ale would do nicely.
MA: A “flagon of ale?” What is this, the Middle Ages? You’ve been watching too much GAME OF THRONES.
LS: Don’t worry about it. Just tell her what you want.
MA: Hmm. I’ve never had a “flagon” of anything. Make that two, please.
(FLIGHT ATTENDANT walks away)
LS: Welcome, everyone, to a new installment of Cinema Knife Fight. This time, we’re reviewing the new Brad Pitt movie, WORLD WAR Z. It’s based on the bestselling novel by Max Brooks and is yet another movie about a zombie apocalypse.
MA: I detect an edge in your voice. Tired of zombie apocalypses?
LS: Hell, yeah. Aren’t you?
MA: Not really. I’ve been enjoying the recent explosion of zombiemania.
LS: Well, I haven’t, and when I first heard about this one, I immediately thought, not more end-of-the-world-with-zombies nonsense. There was a time when I used to say that George Romero’s first three “Dead” films were my favorite movie trilogy, but there have been so many zombie movies in the last decade—and most of them have been pretty bad—that I’m just tired . I’m really getting sick of this subgenre.
MA: I’m not as sick of it as you are.
LS: Good for you.
In WORLD WAR Z, Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former United Nations envoy, who spent time in several war-torn regions before retiring to spend more time with his family, which includes his wife Karin (Mereille Enos, best known as Sarah Linden on the AMC series THE KILLING) and their daughters Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove). As the movie begins, they wake up to begin a typical day, but something goes wrong when they’re in the family car later that morning, caught in traffic outside of Philadelphia. Something strange is happening.
There is a sudden rash of attacks as seemingly normal people become violently aggressive and begin to bite other people. This is first suspected to be a rabies epidemic, but it’s clearly something even worse. When someone is bit, it takes only 12 seconds for them to start flopping around on the ground, having convulsions, and then turning into an undead zombie. And the disease, whatever it is, is spreading fast.
MA: I enjoyed this plot point. I liked the idea of the dead people turning into zombies so quickly. That being said, I don’t think the movie used this to any great effect.
LS: The Lane family finds themselves in the middle of it all, and try to stay alive, eventually getting helicoptered off of the roof of an apartment complex and taken to an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic. There, Gerry’s former boss, Theirry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena) tries to convince him to help them find out what is happening and why. Gerry is reluctant and doesn’t want to leave his family, but then it’s made clear to him that if he doesn’t help them, he and his family will not be given shelter on the ship.
Gerry goes with a group of Navy Seals and a gifted young doctor to South Korea to follow a lead pointing to a possible “patient zero.” Meanwhile, the zombie population continues to multiply at an alarming rate, threatening to overtake the earth.
Gerry’s travels will take him to Korea, Jerusalem and Cardiff, Wales before he can get any answers and even begin to confront the vile disease that is running rampant.
I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this one. As I said, I’m really sick of zombie movies, and the last one we saw this year, WARM BODIES, wasn’t much of a treat.
MA: No, that one wasn’t.
(The seat in front of them shakes violently).
MA: Hey, take it easy up there, will you?
LS: What’s his problem?
MA: No idea. (Strange grunting is heard) Maybe he didn’t like his peanuts. Anyway, you were saying?
LS: WORLD WAR Z also was getting the reputation of being troubled project, from hiring several writers to polish the script, to going over budget. But I know from experience that this kind of “trouble” does not mean a movie is going to be bad. Both APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) and JOHN CARTER (2012) had bad publicity before they were released, with people complaining about “troubles” during their makings, and both are great flicks.
MA: Well, APOCALYPSE NOW is, anyway.
LS: But still, watching this one, it was much better than I was expecting.
MA: Yeah, I had a lot of fun watching this one. It actually sold out right after I bought my ticket. I hadn’t been in a packed sold out theater in a long time. Of course, the reason it sold out was because unlike the recent blockbuster releases like IRON MAN 3 and MAN OF STEEL, it wasn’t playing on a zillion screens in the multiplex! It was only one two screens, one in 2D and one in 3D. I saw it in 2D. I bet the 3D version didn’t sell out.
Still, a sold-out show is impressive, and the audience was buzzing with lots of energy.
LS: I actually saw it the first night it came out, which was Thursday for some odd reason. Summer movies have been coming out at odd times this year—THIS IS THE END had a similar early release—and I had just come out of seeing MAN OF STEEL when I realized WORLD WAR Z was playing that night as well, so I bought a ticket. It wasn’t sold-out, mostly because I don’t think a lot of people knew it was opening early, but there were plenty of people there. And I didn’t even know there was a 3D version of this one!
Anyway, back to the review. First off, Brad Pitt is pretty good here. It’s not one of his best roles, like Jackie Cogan in KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) or Tyler Durden in FIGHT CLUB (1999)—Gerry Lane is more passive than either of those characters—but he can definitely carry a movie.
MA: I agree. Pitt is very good here.
And he’d better carry this movie because he’s the only character in the film with ample screen time. But the bottom line is he does carry the movie quite nicely, as he’s enjoyable to watch. That being said, there are a number of other characters in this film who I also liked and wish that they had been developed more.
LS: Yeah, you’re right, there are several underdeveloped characters here. But overall, the whole cast is pretty good. I’m starting to like Mareille Enos a lot, for example. She’s excellent in the series THE KILLING, and while the role of Karin Lane was more of your standard “significant other in peril” type of thing, I’m just happy to see her getting more opportunities to be in bigger films. I thought she was an interesting choice for Pitt’s wife, since she seems more “real” than the usual supermodel type.
MA: Yes, I liked Enos, too. I liked Daniella Kertesz even better. She plays the Israeli soldier Segen who accompanies Pitt’s Gerry Lane for most of his adventure, and loses her hand in the process.
LS: Kertesz is a standout here. Once her character gets in the thick of things with Pitt, she really shines. She might have been my favorite character in the movie. I want to see more of her.
MA: David Morse enjoys a brief bit as an ex-CIA agent who gives Lane some valuable information, and Fana Mokoena does a nice job as Pitt’s former boss Thierry Umutoni.
I also enjoyed the entire group of scientists at the World Health Organization. As I said, there were a number of characters that I would have enjoyed seeing developed more, but that’s not where this one goes. It’s all about Brad Pitt and the zombies.
LS: And director Marc Forster —whose resume includes everything from MONSTER’S BALL (2001), THE KITE RUNNER (2007) and the James Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)—does a good job of focusing on key scenes that build a strong sense of suspense.
MA: I really enjoyed Forster’s work on the James Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE. It was one of the most efficient and fast-paced Bond movies ever, in a series famous for overlong over the top action scenes. I thought he did just as good a job here with WORLD WAR Z.
There are some key scenes of suspense, especially early on in the movie. I especially liked the sequence at the beginning on the crowded streets of Philadelphia when Pitt and his family first encounter the zombie threat. The scenes near the end of the film at the World Health Organization were also very suspenseful.
LS: There’s also that great scene with Pitt and Kertesz trapped on a plane full of zombies! Don’t forget that one.
MA: But better than the suspense, I thought Forster made this one very cinematic. Pitt’s character travels all over the world, and there’s great use of these locations, or at least it looks that way. I’m sure there’s a lot of CGI involved, as I don’t think they filmed in South Korea or Israel. But the point is, the film looks good, and there’s a grand sweeping cinematic feel to it. Most of the time, heavy CGI use looks fake, but I got the sense in this one that I was actually at these places all across the world.
LS: But the most important question is, no doubt, what about the zombies?
MA: I don’t think that’s the most important question. I mean, I love THE WALKING DEAD, but it’s not just because of the zombies. It’s because of characters.
LS: I agree. But at the same time, it’s the zombies that first grab people and pull them into the theaters. They want to see the zombies in action.
(FLIGHT ATTENDANT comes over and hands them two flagons of ale, then goes to the next passenger in front of them)
FLIGHT ATTENDANT: And what would you like to drink, sir.
(PASSENGER STARTS GRUNTING LOUDLY)
FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Oh my God, he bit me! (RUNS down the length of the aisle)
MA: Uh oh, that’s not good.
LS: Excuse me a moment (drinks some ale). What were you saying?
MA: I was saying that it’s bad news when the passengers start biting.
LS: Yes, that certainly is bad.
(Seat in front of them starts shaking violently)
MA (bangs on the back of the seat in front of him): Hey! Want to keep it down? We’re trying to review a movie here!
LS: Rude bastard.
(HIDEOUS ZOMBIE leaps up from seat in front of them and growls at them menacingly. LS pulls a gun from underneath his seat and shoots the zombie in the head.)
MA: Nice going, although you really don’t want to be shooting off a gun on a plane.
LS: Why not? They explode a grenade on a plane in the movie.
MA: Yeah, that wasn’t one of the more realistic moments in the film. So what did you think of the zombies in this movie?
LS: Well, it’s a PG-13 movie, so I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised.
MA: Really? I wasn’t. But continue.
LS: Some of the zombies are actually kind of cool. The effects, which I am assuming are a mix of makeup and CGI, looking convincing and visually keep your interest. And these zombies are really fast and love to tackle and bite people, which is how they reproduce. At first, I thought they were just contaminated people, but it eventually is made clear that yes, these people are the reanimated dead, and they are incredibly dangerous. It seems though that only people bitten by the zombies are transformed in death. People who die in other ways don’t come back.
They also move in very fast-moving packs. In a scene in Jerusalem, for example, hundreds of angry zombies climb up on top of each other rapidly, like crazed ants, to reach the top of a high stone wall and get over it, to the people inside. These creatures move like a swarm of giant insects, which was just different enough from what we’re used to to make them interesting.
MA: Yes, I agree about the swarming. That was different. But I wasn’t impressed with the zombies here at all, and I actually thought they were the weakest part of the movie. I like the zombies in THE WALKING DEAD much better, and the zombie kills in that show are much more graphic and squirm-inducing than anything seen in WORLD WAR Z. To me, if you’re a fan of zombies, you might be disappointed with this one.
LS: I don’t know, when the zombies slow down a bit and are more individuals, they’re kinda scary. I thought the zombies in the World Health Organization complex were pretty cool. The way they look, and their weird movements and sounds. I didn’t think they were bad at all.
Look, it’s PG-13, so they don’t show any gore. For the most part, the zombie killings are pretty bloodless. While I understand the rating is meant to attract a bigger audience (i.e., more money!), I think it was a dumb move. More explicit zombie attacks mean more scares, and more effective zombies. I’m not saying the zombies in WORLD WAR Z are perfect, but they’re better than I expected for wimpified, PG-13 zombies. Hell, if THE WALKING DEAD was a movie instead of a TV show, I bet it would get an R rating for violence. So right off the bat, WORLD WAR Z has a disadvantage. We knew it wasn’t going to be gory or scary enough. That said, the zombies are pretty good here.
WORLD WAR Z is not a home run, but it’s much better than it has any right to be. I give it three knives. And I’m sure, if I was still a zombie fan, I would rate it even higher.
MA: I disagree. I think zombie fans might like this one less, because the bar has been set so high recently with THE WALKING DEAD.
LS: Look, anyone coming into this movie expecting something as good as THE WALKING DEAD is going to be disappointed. THE WALKING DEAD is like the gold standard for zombie stories right now.
MA: That being said, I liked WORLD WAR Z a lot, and I had a lot of fun watching it, but that’s because it told a convincing story, was helmed by a talented director, and had an enjoyable cast led by Brad Pitt. But in terms of actual zombies, I just didn’t think they were all that memorable. They didn’t come close to the zombies in THE WALKING DEAD or any of the Romero movies. They simply weren’t scary enough. I don’t think I was scared once by a zombie in this movie, and that’s not a good thing.
But there was plenty about this movie I liked, starting with Brad Pitt. He really is a terrific actor, and it’s rare for me not to enjoy him in a movie. Here, as United Nations agent Gerry Lane, he comes off as a man devoted to his family, driven by the desire to keep them safe, yet he also easily makes the switch to effective envoy, as he puts his considerable talents to use to do his job and get to the bottom of the zombie pandemic. Lane’s investigation into finding the origins of the zombie problem, which makes up the bulk of the movie, held my interest throughout.
As we already said, the supporting cast is terrific, as is the direction by Marc Forster, and the screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof tells a compelling story from start to finish. While I wasn’t a fan of the actual zombies in this one, I enjoyed the story a lot.
The guy behind me didn’t share my sentiments, however. As soon as it ended, he shouted out, “That was stupid!” I didn’t find it stupid. I found it an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.
Sure, I would have preferred it to have been scarier, because it’s not scary at all, which is weird when you think about it. It’s a zombie movie, for crying out loud! Why isn’t it scary? But it is suspenseful and engaging.
LS: Yes, it’s much more suspenseful than scary. But for what it is, it works.
MA: I also give it three knives.
(Things get suddenly very quiet. LS and MA stop talking and look up, to see they are surrounded by hungry zombies clacking their teeth)
LS: Uh oh.
MA: Looks like we’re suddenly on the menu. (to zombies) Could I interest any of you in flagon of ale? (holds out flagon)
(Zombies grunt and shake their heads).
MA: Now, what?
(LS lifts a baseball bat and hands MA a hammer)
MA: What are these for?
LS: To bash in some zombie brains, of course!
MA: Things are going to get mighty messy.
(LS & MA attack zombies, as BATMAN-like signs are superimposed on the screen with the words, SPLAT!, THWRPP!, GURGLE! CRUNCH! and RIP!)
© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda
Michael Arruda gives WORLD WAR Z ~ three knives!
LL Soares gives WORLD WAR Z ~three knives, as well!