Verdict: Three stars out of five. Trust Hollywood to take a nuanced, complex novel and boil it all down to “Brad Pitt saves the world”. But at least he does it in style, via some jaw-dropping set pieces and smaller, downright claustrophobic moments that amp the fear factor through the roof. Try as it might though, World War Z somehow lacks heart, and the sense of a catastrophe that could swallow us whole is never quite there.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the movie bears about as much resemblance to the novel as I do to white people. But let author Max Brooks sum it up for you: the only thing the movie and the book share in common is the title.
Now, on to a proper World War Z review. The movie has more than its fair share of loopholes, and despite its portrayal of former super UN operative Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) as a dedicated family man, it lacks that most vital of ingredients – heart. You never quite buy Pitt as a man fighting to get back to his family, and as action heroes go, he seems strangely subdued and low-impact here. But as action movies go, it’s definitely worth your time.
Director Marc Forster cleverly starts with an extended montage of news reports on the various environmental ills plaguing the world today, from global warming to disease to beached dolphins, linking the zombie virus to current events. We then cut to an idyllic, picture perfect (too perfect) family scene of Lane with wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and his two daughters. But it takes all of 15 minutes for things to go wrong, and the zombie horde to be unleashed upon us. Before you know it, Lane is drafted back into action by his old boss, speeding round the world to trace the origins of the zombie virus.
The chaos and confusion of disaster – looting, robbery, people turning on each other – is expertly orchestrated, and high tension set pieces abound. Forster is smart enough to reduce the disaster to a very human level, trapping Lane and co in enclosed spaces like a high-rise building, a plane, a laboratory. The tension never lets up as we go from micro-disaster to macro – the astonishing sight of voracious, fast-moving zombies literally piling on top of each other gives new meaning to the term ‘sheer weight of numbers’.
This truly is all about Pitt, despite one or two interesting supporting players. A bearded James Badge Dale pops up as a Special Forces captain, while Israeli actress Daniella Kertesz makes the most of her role as a young Israeli soldier. Of late, Dale seems to be making a good job of bit part roles in summer blockbusters, from Flight (2012) to Iron Man 3 to the upcoming The Lone Ranger. Given Kertesz’s impressive performance, you can expect her to pop up in more blockbusters too.
But while the trail leads from Korea to Israel to Wales, the plot points never quite seem to link up together. The usually excellent David Morse gets stuck with a silly role as a rogue CIA agent who points Lane in the right direction, while there is also a hilarious and terrifying illustration of why you should keep your damn handphone off during the zombie apocalypse
All the things that were great about the novel – how people respond in a crisis, the way the virus is spread by air travel and organ trafficking, people banding together to fight back – are all missing from this adaptation. And while this World War Z review would love to call it a great movie, it’s nothing more than an above average action flick.
World War Z is showing in Singapore now. Did you like it? Leave a comment and tell me what you think of it.
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