World War Z,
directed by Marc Foster
(Paramount, 2013)

The pre-production was deeply troubled and the end result strays far enough away from the original source material to make the relationship between the movie and the novel very tenuous; ultimately, though, World War Z is a solid hit in spite of a few major holes. It adds a new wrinkle to an overdone plot device, which freshens up the material nicely, but the real winner isn't producer and star Brad Pitt, though he does very well in a rather generic role. WWZ's most winning asset is old-fashioned, by-the-book thriller-suspense storytelling, which makes it an edge-of-the-seat ride that's quite satisfying.

The story breaks down along two lines: the large-scale disaster and the smaller, personal stories that comprise the heart of the plot. Pitt as reluctant action hero defending his family is a theme that's been done since the beginning of movies, but it's done to good effect. Mostly, though, WWZ is all about the action.

Pitt is a retired United Nations troubleshooter who's blackmailed into helping what's left of the government find the source of a pandemic that turns people into rabid, flesh-chewing monsters. He trots all over the globe, from Korea to Jerusalem to Wales, in search of the missing pieces of the puzzle. Yes, the plot borrows from many notable films, none more so than 28 Days, but it carries forward the concept of contagion as a means of creating un-dead people from known diseases that have mutated.

Spread out over a number of interesting setpieces, from streets filled with mass panic to a breakout that happens in the middle of an air-bound plane to the inside of the World Health Organization itself, is a wonderful tension that builds and builds to a conclusion that is not splashy or dramatic; instead, it's steel-cuttingly intense, going from a scream to a whisper. But it's the kind of whisper that hits your ear the way an unfamiliar noise in a dark room sets your teeth on edge. It takes versatility and creativity to open a movie on a wild, sprawling scene of total anarchy and finish it in the hushed quiet of the WHO while ratcheting up the stakes in every scene. Director Marc Foster proves that less is more, whether it's leaving intestine-baring gore to popular TV shows or spectacle-endings to generic action flicks. There is a certain amount of sociopolitical proselytizing to get through but it's done well enough, adding to and not subtracting from the drama.

Overall, the movie coheres well on most if not all fronts. It's smart, riveting, near-perfect popcorn fare for anyone, not just zombie fans.

review by
Mary Harvey

3 August 2013

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