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Review: World War Z – Can a zombie war be Hell, without blood?

Posted by on June 21, 2013 – 12:05 am

World War ZWhen the philosopher George Santayana said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war,” you can bet he never envisioned World War Z, the new film based on bestselling book by Max Brooks. While this film bumps the zombie genre up to a global scale, it loses the intimacy of Brook’s excellent novel and is likely to leave zombie-purists groaning their objections.

World War Z is rated PG-13 and I’m certain that Paramount Pictures took proactive pains to retain that rating because, let’s face it, kids can then go to the movie without Mom & Dad and the studio makes more money that way. The graphic violence you would expect from this film is toned way down and there is nearly no blood seen at all; so while I’m in the mode of citing famous quotes on war, this one by Mao Tse-tung seems appropriate, “Politics is war without blood, while war is politics with blood.”

You are likely to see more blood & gore in the first five-minutes of any episode of The Walking Dead than you will see in the entire 116 minutes of World War Z. Not that I’m not a proponent of gratuitous gore, and to be honest it seems the older I get the less tolerable I am of enjoying bloody carnage as entertainment, but a zombie movie with almost zero blood just seems sacrilegious.

If you enjoyed the Max Brooks book, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, then you know it reads like a mash-up of journal entries, with personal and realistic war stories as told by people from around the globe. So if that’s what you are expecting from this film, get those thoughts out of your brain right now. The movie only touches briefly on various moments from the book, but if you are a fan, then you probably already know this going into it. (If you haven’t yet read the book, it is highly recommended that you do.)

The World War Z film opens to a scene of simple everyday life with the Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) family eating their morning breakfast and preparing to go on a trip, while in the background, if you are paying close attention, you can pick up bits from a television broadcast that foreshadow the grave events to come.

World War ZWhile the family is stuck in traffic the apocalyptic scenario starts to unfold with what at first seems to be an explosion and some sort of terrorist attack, but is quickly revealed to be something horribly worse as hyper-fast zombies are running through the streets and head-banging car windshields to try and reach the tasty occupants.

Amidst the chaos, Lane and his family commandeer an RV and manage to make their way out of town until the retired UN Investigator (it’s never really clear what his position is) receives a phone call from his former boss (Fana Mokoena). The UN needs Lane’s unique skills in order to track down “patient zero” and figure out where the zombie pandemic started, because, it’s thought, this is the only way they will ever be able to develop a cure.

Gerry and his family have to make their way through the zombie and looter infested city to an apartment building where they hole-up overnight until the UN helicopter can airlift them from the building’s rooftop, where they narrowly avoid the undead who are leaping at the copter as it departs.

The family ends up on a Navy aircraft carrier where they are given preferential treatment as “essential personnel” due to Gerry’s special skill set and his assistance in finding a zombie cure. He’s told that if he doesn’t help out, then the family gets tossed from relative safety back into the general population.

So reluctantly Gerry sets out on a globe-hopping expedition to find a way to combat the zombie plague; traveling to Asia, where he loses the one scientist that the United Nations has banked on to save the world, the Middle-East, where he gains a rough and tough companion in the form of a female Israeli commando (Daniella Kertesz), and Europe, where the film scales way back with a zombie showdown inside the laboratory of the World Health Organization. In between, the hero always seems to be in the right place at the wrong time as he narrowly avoids swarming hordes of ultra-fast and strong zombies.

World War ZThe screenplay for this film was touched by everyone from Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom) and Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) to Damon Lindelof (Star Trek Into Darkness) and comic book author J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5). To its credit, at least this movie acknowledges “zombies” as a part of pop culture and the creatures are eventually called by their proper nomenclature (the military call them “Zeke” in a derogatory way), and people don’t pretend like they’ve never heard of the undead before.

If you loved the book and if you are a “die-hard” zombie fan, then you are sure to find plenty to complain about with this film adaptation, with the aforementioned lack of gore being one of the lessor issues. If you are just a discerning moviegoer in general you can find plenty of film-flesh to tear apart as well with plot-holes, weak editing and mediocre performances. But overall, World War Z is not without merit.

Despite its problems there are some extremely intense action sequences in this film and many of the special effects are quite spectacular. While I may not technically buy-in to the speedy ant-like swarms of ghouls, those scenes are pretty darn cool nonetheless. I admit to being on the edge of my seat more than once and I might have even jumped a couple of times.

World War ZDirected by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace), the biggest problem with World War Z is similar to the issue with its biggest competitor in the theaters right now, Man of Steel, in that it’s more about tearing civilization down than building characters up so that you care about them and become emotionally involved in their struggle. The book accomplished this feat repeatedly with nearly every story vignette between its covers, but the film doesn’t even succeed with its primary character. This is an old story with big-budget summer blockbusters and if all you’re concerned about is spectacle, then you’ll most likely be happy with this film.

There’s no denying that World War Z packs a pretty big adrenaline rush, but I don’t feel it’s quite the epic zombie film that it promised to be. I realize it’s a tall order to pack the entire world-wide apocalypse into a two-hour movie and have a logical resolution at the end (which this film does not), but you can disengage your brain and chomp on some popcorn and still have fun at this movie. Grade: 6.5/10

Photos © 2013 Paramount Pictures