Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Mother Nature Is a Serial Killer"

World War Z (Warning: Mild Spoilers)

Directed By: Marc Forster

Very Loosely Based On: World War Z by Max Brooks

Why I Saw It: A "mom date" with my 14-year-old son and because zombies are just bad ass

James's and My Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Hobbies are important to young teens, who are discovering their strengths and passions. When I was about my son's age, I was into reading, European history, stamp collecting, and the raunchy soft-core porn women euphemistically call "romance novels." My son's favorite hobbies are video gaming and preparing for the inevitable zombie apocalypse.

When the undead begin to consume the world, sending our species spiraling toward its doom, he'll have worked out plans for what to stock up on (perishable food first, then canned goods), where to hang out, and what weapons to use. And he spends time preparing himself for the upcoming apocalyptic shit storm by -- you guessed it -- playing lots of video games ... and occasionally practicing his sledgehammer skills, much to the consternation of the neighbors.

The undead seems to be a very hot topic in popular culture right now, and I am loving it. Supernatural terror usually doesn't scare me. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, invading aliens ... meh. I am generally more susceptible to books and films about horrors that could actually happen. I am riveted by more realistic terrors. Random acts of violence. Home invasions. Wars. Infectious illnesses. Raising teenagers. Thirty years of mortgage payments. But for some reason, zombies seriously creep me out. Whatever primal human fear this whole walking dead thing taps into, well, it works really well for me. Those bastards scare the crap out of me.

Why are the the people in the background standing and gawking? In the words of The Doctor, "Run! Just RUN!"

I went to World War Z with modest expectations. I am a fan of the book by Max Brooks, which I reviewed, and I knew this would be an adaptation only in the loosest possible sense. While this is a seriously flawed film, that took on a bigger story than it could tackle in a feature length movie, I found it to be a fun ride.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a retired UN employee, well versed in dealing with volatile situations around the world, who must protect his wife and daughters when the zombie crisis erupts. He reluctantly agrees to return to duty with the UN when it's made clear this is the only way his family will be able to remain safely on an aircraft carrier. He finds himself flying across the world in an effort to track the source of the epidemic: "Patient Zero." His journey takes him to Korea, Israel, and Wales. And he talks to several intriguing characters along the way, including soldiers, a former CIA agent who sold weapons to the North Koreans, an Israeli leader, and World Health Organization workers. This aspect of the movie gives us snippets of clever, interesting dialogue and offers faint glimmers of the original source material.

Near the beginning of the film, Gerry and his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) are on a frantic mission to find inhalers for their asthmatic daughter. Their excursion into a Newark drug store and their scramble to find sanctuary for the night afterwards offer fleeting but interesting glimpses of society in turmoil. We see the raw terror and mayhem into which the public has quickly devolved -- this reminded me a bit of Steven Soderbergh's Contagion. We also see moments of helpfulness and compassion among strangers.

Luckily, Zombie Armageddon hasn't interrupted phone service.

Most of the movie's early scenes feature action on steroids, moving at a frenetic pace with erratic camera movements. This was probably intended to give us a sense of the frantic speed at which things spiral out of control and the disorientation and confusion characters are experiencing. But it distracted me from the story, occasionally causing me to lose interest.

The latter half of the film guides us into the mystery of where the virus began, which remains unanswered, and how to fight it. This part of the movie was intriguing, though uneven, leading to a suspenseful climactic scene.

This film didn't waste much time on character development, but strong performances by Brad Pitt and Mireille Enos gave me a sense of the fierce, loving bonds among Gerry and Karin's family. And excellent work by Pitt, Enos, and Daniella Kertesz, who plays a young Israeli soldier, made me care about the characters. 

On the other hand, Gerry is -- in James's words -- one-dimensional. On one hand, Pitt's acting ability allowed us to occasionally see his fear and vulnerability, making him thoroughly human. On the other hand, we never see him as a flawed character. He is always brave and compassionate. Let's face it -- most people act like dicks upon occasion, and under a lot less stress than this guy was facing. Furthermore, as James aptly put it, "This dude can do everything! He can shoot, fly a plane, ride a bike at top speed, he's practically the only survivor of a plane crash ..." Well, you get the idea. Gerry is an uber-action hero who never has an emotional meltdown or runs into the limits of his competence. This had both of us rolling our eyes. On the other hand, Gerry he does get seriously injured. I suppose we should give the filmmakers a few points for that.

They're breaching The Wall! Where's Jon Snow when you need him?

In that vein,  while one definitely goes to a zombie movie ready and willing to suspend disbelief, this movie sometimes pushed the limits of credulity further than we were willing to go. Most notably, we find ourselves in a country that had the foresight to get a hint of the coming storm and surround themselves with a wall. Keep in mind this is a nation with one of the most well-trained, disciplined militaries in the world. People are gathered in the streets singing, and no one is guarding the wall! When the undead start swarming over the wall, who is the only person to notice? You guessed it -- our intrepid hero. Boo!

On the whole, James and I both enjoyed this action-driven flick. It kept a bit of the novel's international flavor, the acting was strong, and the zombies were creepy and interesting. Even my son, who, having played ALL the cool video games, is a tough customer when it comes to the undead, thought they were cool and showed us something a little different from anything we've seen before. The movie was flimsy but fun, and I'm glad we got to see it on the big screen. 

Notable Quote: "Mother Nature is a serial killer. No one's better.. more creative. Like all serial killers, she can't help the urge to want to get caught. And what good are all those brilliant crimes, if no one takes the credit? So she leave crumbs. Now the hard part, why you spend a decade in school, is seeing the crumbs for the clues they are. Sometimes the things you thought were the most brutal aspect of the virus, turn out the be the chink in its armor, and she loves disguising her weaknesses as strengths."

My Final Verdict: Read the book. But if you like zombie flicks, this one is worth a look. Flawed and somewhat unsatisfying, but entertaining. Unless you really want an outing with a zombie-loving 14-year-old boy, you can probably wait 'til it comes to DVD.


  1. Thanks for this review! My boyfriend enjoyed the book a year or so ago, and had heard that the film was greatly different to it. I think I'll show him him this post, however, as you've nicely outlined both the positive and negative aspects of the adaptation. It does sound better than I thought it would be, and I'm glad the acting isn't bad.

    Zombies scare me too (alongside many other things!) I do like films that have other interesting parts to the plot and aren't simply about scary things, however, and so I may give this one a go.

  2. I enjoyed reading your review. I tend to agree with it... I left unsatisfied and thought, "Is this how all "zombie" movies start and end?" (other than I Am Legend, this is my 1st! ;)
    I thought the 'twist' at the end was interesting, but am, again, new to this genre, so it may or may not have been done before. Don't want to give an *spoilers*.
    Kelly K

  3. WHy are they in Newark? Do they show that Newark is a place no one wants to be? Newark is pretty scary without zombies. But i am intrigued...probably wait for video though.

  4. Ha! Loved the Jon Snow reference. I think I'm going to see this tomorrow. I've been debating back and forth with this and Man of Steel, I think I'll settle with this one.

  5. Yeah, it was flawed, and I think Pitt carried the film. I'm actually getting a little tired of zombie movies, so I was hoping for something better. Though it was fun, I never felt invested in the characters. Overall, I'd call it a letdown, but not a total miss.

  6. Nice review Steph! Ahah, funny that you put raising teenagers in the same scary league as wars and infectious illnesses :D That's an interesting quote, did Pitt's character say that? I haven't seen it but his character does seem one-dimensional as he's portrayed like a superhero of sort, but heck even Bruce Wayne has flaws :D

  7. Loved reading the section about the things that scare you. Mortgages scare me too! A lot of my friends were disappointed with this particular flick, but couldn't elaborate about why. They just said it started out edge of your seat and then finished with an anticlimactic ending. It's why I look for your reviews. Now if I only had more time for movies...

    Peace and Laughter!

  8. Better late than never, this review is great. Turns out me and your son saw this the same way. I'm pretty sure I whispered to my brother, "Um, is there anything that this guy can't do?" I know he's supposed to be a badass, but it gets slightly ridiculous.

    Oh well, I still enjoyed the film more than I thought I would.

  9. I enjoyed this one but more as a thriller than as a zombie flick. Where was the gore? Also you could tell this film had about 6 writers and had been reshot, it felt like you were watching at least 3 separate films.


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