World War Z is in fact a pretty intelligent action thriller. While the basic concept is a bit like Contagion, the narrative is a restless one and the pacing brisk. A realistic style dominates throughout most of the film and, although the “zekes” hurl themselves somewhat sloppily at their victims, they actually do look like the undead might really look. Oscar for makeup?
Kudos to the DP and editor. Cutting between day and night, grisly military bases and pristine medical labs, vast panoramas crawling with the undead and gorgeous close-ups of the key characters - especially Pitt, who (aside from Matt Damon) is probably the most subtle and human of action heroes and whose underplayed, reflective style throughout the film makes the frenzy around him bearable.
Thanks to a $190 million dollar budget, the film zips from a wide variety of locations, the most novel being Jerusalem and most terrifying an airplane. Lots of helicopter shots ramp up the mass hysteria, including a staggering image of a tower of zombies scrambling up a 50 foot high wall.
Unlike the rest of the audience, I found myself bursting into the occasional chuckle at really preposterous moments (possibly intended by the filmmakers?) such as when only Pitt and his Israeli sidekick survive a spectacular plane crash (albeit with a seat arm, minus the padding, skewering Pitt through the abdomen) only to see a zombie chick flailing away in a neighboring seat...(why was she buckled in?) For me it was all good fun.
The casting is also excellent, with a wide variety of ages and types being represented. Clearly they didn’t waste any dough packing the flick with big names aside from Pitt. Especially well chosen are Pitt’s wife, Mireille Enos (who played a Mormon polygamist’s wife in Big Love), and Daniella Kertesz, the young Israeli Army girl with an awesome buzz-cut. She survives a zombie bite in a brutal way... and continues to battle at Pitt’s side. She’s an up and comer, for sure.
Perhaps it’s not at all surprising that Director Marc Forster has created such a genre-bending epic. His filmography is about as diverse as they come - Finding Neverland, Stranger than Fiction (a hilarious surreal comedy with Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson), Kite Runner, Monster’s Ball and Quantum of Solace. While I was bored to tears by the latter, possibly due to the Daniel Craig’s 2-D Bond, Forster has made up for that with WWZ’s star. (Of course much is owed the book’s author, one of whose strokes of genius was making Israel the only country to be prepared for the onslaught.)
Thanks, I’m pretty sure, to Pitt, the film carries a subtle environmental message. Tipped off by the title sequence, a blender spin through the most depressing news footage of the day, the audience gets the picture: we’re overpopulated, contagion spreads in nano-seconds and in some regards, we are all zombies, consuming ourselves into oblivion. But we can still make awesome depictions of our own hypothetical demise and still envision the heroes that will lead our way clear of it.
(Although Haig Hovaness may beg to differ, in his Realize article Zombiemania...)