Brad Pitt in World War Z.
World War Z is another big budget, in your face summer blockbuster. Despite featuring zombies, or at least infected undead, there's not many scares, but lots of action.
Brad Pitt produced and stars as Gerry, a United Nations employee who, when a zombie outbreak occurs, is sent on a mission around the world to discover its origin. In various locations around the globe, we watch Pitt and a changing series of co-stars run from and do battle with zombies in several very well filmed, large-scale set pieces that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Although you'd normally think of zombie movies as horror, this is much more of an action movie. And it takes very little time to get to that action. After a very quick opening scene that introduces Gerry, his wife and two daughters, the action starts and rarely lets up until the finale, which shifts gears. Gerry and his family's opening escape from Philadelphia is particularly well done and is a real popcorn munching 15 minutes. Although later action scenes are technically well done, you never quite feel the same sense of edginess, partly because the emotional stakes are raised in this first scene as we watch Gerry try to protect his family, where later the characters he's traveling with aren't usually given enough time to generate much empathy from the audience.
Reshoots and changed endings are pretty standard for Hollywood, but the reshoots for this movie made news because of the huge budget and scale of the film. The original ending that was shot took place in Moscow and featured another large scale zombie attack. It also reportedly ended on a much more ambiguous note that was to have lead to possible sequels. This new ending, which required 7 weeks of filming, changes all that. It is a low key ending when compared to all that came before it. It ups the tension while reducing the action and confining it to one building in Wales.
This new 3rd act, which begins when the airplane crashes, leads to several quieter, tense scenes where Gerry and a couple of others must sneak quietly through a building. Earlier zombie scenes feature the endless hordes of zombies that have been featured so heavily in the previews, but these later scenes reduce the numbers drastically. They work quite well, but feel different from what came before them.
While the epic, CGI filled action scenes are entertaining, the quieter moments are never as effective. Pitt brings movie star good looks to Gerry, but that's about it. He's a blank slate without much personality. We never feel much for him personally or for any other character in the film, other than we would for any fellow human being. The brief pseudo-science, which never really does explain what started it all, is also questionable. The final solution seems dubious at best.
Gerry spends most of the movie in motion and while he's moving the entertainment is high. It's not a movie for investing much emotion, but as big budget eye candy goes, it delivers.
A swarm of zombies in World War Z.
World War Z is a new kind of zombie movie. It features less gore than one normally associates with the genre. It contains moments that startle and several high-tension close-calls, but for the most part it avoids things like showing the infected feasting on human flesh in close-up as previous zombie flicks have done. It doesn't feature rivers of blood but instead relies on the fact that these creatures move very quickly in swarms like a hive of insects, for its scares. When the human population has been depleted or if the infected are in an isolated location they go dormant, moving slowly and without purpose. But at any loud sound or movement by a living person they switch instantly to attack mode.
One other difference is in its scope. Although other zombie movies have attempted to suggest a world wide pandemic, this is the first one I've seen that successfully shows us the disaster on such a large scale. The opening sequence in Philadelphia is brilliantly done. What begins as a common movie traffic jam quickly morphs into life-destroying chaos as the Lane family runs for their lives. It is a terrific start to a very satisfying motion picture. Once they are safely aboard the aircraft carrier the story takes only a few minutes to catch its breath before it is off and running again.
What follows is one exciting action sequence after another as Brad Pitt travels the globe in search of a cure. The scenes set in Israel are the most epic in scale and require the most CGI, though it's less than you see in your average superhero movie. The least believable bit is the plane sequence, which is thankfully fairly short and leads to the edge of your seat finale at the clinic in Wales.
This last part feels the most like your typical zombie movie since most of them seem to have been set in an isolated and enclosed environment, often similar to this clinic with its sterile white hallways and labs. The discovery Brad Pitt's character makes might be scientifically dubious but then we aren't exactly dealing in logic in a movie where the “undead” eat living human flesh are we? That part didn't bother me. In fact I thought it rather clever.
I also disagree about Brad Pitt's performance. He does what the part calls for, which is to be superhuman. He's the perfect family man around his wife and kids, as well as being incredibly heroic and nearly indestructible. And what's more he turns out to be the one person on the globe that is able to connect a with b and figure out something that should be fairly obvious. Any fault with the character can be chalked up to the screenplay.
The director of World War Z understands its strengths and weaknesses. It excels in its action scenes and Forster was smart enough to make them the focus of the movie. But it also has to tell the intimate personal story of one man's family and his struggle to keep them safe. The audience needs someone to identify with after all. In my opinion they spent just enough time on the quieter moments. Enough for me to care about them as individuals but not so much that it slowed down the action. World War Z is solidly entertaining summer movie fare.
Director Marc Forster seeming to get direction from Brad Pitt during the production of World War Z
It seems that some movie stars suffer from a mid-life acting crisis. Robert Downey JR did a few years ago when he realized that he had never starred in a blockbuster summer film and decided to do Iron Man (2008). Making him now one of the most sought out actors. It seems that Brad Pitt had a similar middle life acting crisis when he decided to single handedly star in and produce a zombie film.
My brothers disagree on Pitt’s performance, but I will side with Scott in that all Pitt truly brings is his movie star good looks, which is the most notable thing Pitt has ever brought to any film. Pitt first became famous as a blonde with a big flirty smile and six pack abs in Thelma and Louise (1991). To this day he is still, in some ways, still living off that moment. He has chosen dramatic film roles after dramatic roles to prove his acting chops but the only time he ever makes any impact in a film is when his role is light.
The only time he truly contributed something to a film was in movies like 12 Monkeys (1995), Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005), Burn After Reading (2008), and Inglourious Basterds (2008). In those films he demonstrated real comic ability and was at his most charming. I could add the Ocean movies but they are an ensemble piece so it is hard to tell what he added to it other than name recognition. His best dramatic work was in Money Ball (2011), but it is a very light drama, so much so in fact that Jonah Hill was nominated for an Academy Award.
In World War Z we have Brad Pitt starring for the first time in a big budget film all on his own. No you cannot count Troy (2004). Orlando Bloom, who was hot off the Lord of the Rings movies, sold as many tickets or more, than Pitt did to that misconceived epic. In this film he is the only recognizable face on screen. It is up to him and the abundance of special effects to sell this movie.
My brothers mentioned the large scale execution of the zombie attacks and they are interesting to behold. However, the plot seems riddled with coincidences and illogic. When Pitt arrives at the military base, on the first leg of his journey, he learns that the zombies respond to noise. So when he plans to take off, why do the soldiers not simply go up onto the roof and fire rockets as far away from the plane refueling as they can? If the zombies are that easily motivated then a diversion would be the logical idea.
When Pitt is in Jerusalem, he notices that they are letting people into the city in an orderly fashion, even though we are shown that there are zombies just outside their walls. Those people would have been storming the walls, in a desperate attempt to save their own lives, as much as the zombies do trying to get in. When the woman starts to sing, it takes Pitt far too long to realize that it was not a good idea. The zombies show up in seconds and we have the famous scene of them scaling the wall en masse.
The intimate ending in Cardiff, Wales is tense on a different scale. As my brothers wrote, it becomes a more traditional zombie type film. It also jumps the shark. Pitt and the girl are the only ones to survive the plane that they themselves take down. They are responsible for the deaths of the pilots. She had her hand cut off, while Pitt has a piece of metal shoved through his abdomen and out the other side. Being that this is a movie, all either need to recover is a bandage and some sleep.
The movie ends with Pitt’s nauseating narration about helping each other and overcoming the tragedy. Like many zombie movies, this one is trying for a social statement. It would have worked better had we had more personal moments. Gerry’s family picks up an orphan along the way, who is given barely a mention afterwards. How about a scene where Gerry’s family is given special treatment because of his position and the mom has to insist that the boy is with them? That would have made the point of his narration all the more meaningful.
Although I agree with Scott on Pitt’s performance, I do agree with Patrick that the real problems of the film are due to the screenplay. World War Z is based on a book written by Max Brooks, son of Mel Brooks. The screenplay is attributed to four other writers and I have no doubt in my mind that Pitt had a say in much of what was filmed. Either way, the story is swallowed up by CGI effects that will be the only thing anyone remembers about this film.
Robert Downey JR was able to demonstrate his charm with Iron Man and it led to numerous roles and the height of a career most movie stars only dream about. With World War Z, Pitt’s career will not gain or lose anything. After all, he still has his aging movie star looks to remind us of why he is famous. If he wants to build his career he needs to embrace one simple fact. He is not a great dramatic actor but is capable of some truly good comedic roles. Sorry Brad, but like Marilyn Monroe pursuing dramatic parts, you are only suited for the lighter ones.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (2013)