World War Z (2013)
Contrary to a lot of the pre-release doom and gloom regarding re-edits and extensive new footage being shot, World War Z turned out to be far from the disaster that some critics implied. Ultimately there were some good ideas and snatches of interesting dialogue. Some of the characters were unusual and there seems to have been an attempt do something different with the genre. All of these things are laudable. Unfortunately, despite these positive attributes the movie clearly shows the signs of post-production interference and material from the extensive re-shoot is all too apparent. That’s not to say that is bad because that is not the case. It’s because it is noticeably different in style and tone from the rest of the film.
World War Z performs best in the first act, in which the global disaster is convincingly set up. We are efficiently introduced to a likeable lead Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family and within minutes they are caught up in a major outbreak incident in Philadelphia. The movie excels at showing large scale and convincing scenes of destruction, scratching that perennial cinematic itch audiences seem to have for scenes of an apocalyptic nature. Yet even at this point, the narrative has moments of hesitation which undermine the overall movie. World War Z is reticent to clarify exactly whether this is a true Zombie scenario or some sort of viral outbreak. If this was done for dramatic effect, I can understand it as a plot point to reinforce the sense of national confusion. But I feel the ambiguity is actually a result of the movies re-editing.
The plot soon takes on a globetrotting sub plot as our World Health Organisation hero (Brad Pitt) travels from South Korea, to Israel and then to Wales in attempt to find patient zero. We meet many characters along the way, yet few of them have sufficient screen time to become anything more than just a means of exposition. The Navy seal officer who sacrifices himself, the ex-CIA agent turned arms trader, the Hispanic parents who become infected and turn on their own children, all show promise dramatically. The dialogue also has possibility, showing a leaning towards the more philosophical. Perhaps an extra twenty minutes of material could correct these deficiencies. Zombies hurling themselves at potential victims cannot sustain a movie.
As I stated earlier the final act, although interesting, doesn't sit well with the previous two. Set in a WHO laboratory in Wales, it is a far more sedate and traditional denouement. The absence of the shaky cam and lightning editing of the first hour is noticeable. There is also the incongruous casting of Peter Capaldi as a research scientist which, after years of seeing him as Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, it becomes hard to see him in a role where every other word is not a profanity. Furthermore, the movie's conclusion, although plausible within the context of the story, is derailed by it being solely the brain work of Gerry Lane. The whole point of World War Z is surely its global dimension and thus its resolution is based upon the involvement of multiple parties. The one man saves the day concept seems somewhat lazy.
Ultimately, despite promising concepts World War Z fails to satisfy any of its target audiences and demographics. The PG-13 rating forces too many restrictions upon a genre that by its very nature has to be visceral. Death is cruel and ugly, and zombies reflect this. Yet such a low rating has meant that the producers have had to obfuscate and fudge the violence and horror through rapid editing and out of shot framing. The movie does have a dark and brooding tone, but this is not enough to sustain the horror theme alone. Perhaps Max Brooks' book, which is very challenging to adapt, would have been better suited to a TV mini-series. But is that required in the wake of The Walking Dead? I certainly question whether Marc Forster was the right person to direct World War Z. In the mean time if you do elect to watch World War Z then seek out the unrated version which at least has a little more gore and an increase sense of urgency.