They're coming. Ready?
After all the press about the budget and the production woes, what it comes down to with this film, or any film that has such a runaway connotation, what's the product? What's there? World War Z carries a pretty smart pedigree - based on a book (well, loosely based on, it's NOT the oral history of the zombie outbreak) by Max Brooks (son of Mel, but believe me, read it, it's a smart, serious book). It's directed by Marc Forster, mostly a director of dramas and independent thrillers (and one comedy, Stranger Than Fiction). And Brad Pitt is there, so it elevates it from 'just' a genre movie into the A-list Hollywood Blockbusting pantheon. The money is up there on the screen too; I could see this being, in a long-roundabout-way, a tribute to those old-time epics with a big star going through lots of countries on adventures. Um... this time there are zombies though. Millions.
The movie follows in as basic a path as possible, albeit with some context here and there sprinkled, a former UN inspector played by Pitt who, with his family, has to escape first from Philadelphia, then Newark, and then is given his orders on a military ship in the ocean (oh, and by the way, the president is dead, government in shambles) - he is to be sent out to find out where this whole thing began, the "Patient Zero". Reluctantly, he goes around to South Korea, Israel, and then, ultimately, a W.H.O. building where he will have to get a firm solution to save the human race. In this world, we do see the WORLD for sure. You ever complain watching 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead what else is going on in the world? Well, here you go.
I do give credit, at least at first: it's big. Pretty darn big. You get hordes of people running in the street with an outbreak of hundreds, thousands, maybe almost millions. This is surely impressive in the opening sequences in Philadelphia and somewhat in Newark. It's shot with a fast (but *coherent* most importantly) style, and we're with our characters deep in the action. But by the time we get to more and more of the hordes, like in Israel, I felt disconnected from it. The CGI doesn't help - in smaller doses, it's fine, but in the HUGE spots, it just looks like ridiculous dots of people - but it's also knowing the predictable nature of the trajectory of this character. Not to mention, also not a big problem at first but then it too wore on me, the lack of gore is also disconnecting. I don't need or even want to see tons of it, it's probably not quite that kind of sensationalistic film anyway. But there are certain shots where it's clear the director is turning away, not to be creative but because, frankly, it's a PG-13 rated film. Which goes without saying how many dead folks are seen in the film flying out of planes, getting shot off walls, being blown apart in other ways... just without blood. Or, you know, what's there in reality, which in little doses could add to the trauma.
That though is more of a nitpick. If I had a main issue with the film it's that Brad Pitt's character Gerry is not super memorable. In a way, despite Pitt's acting chops and his ability to convey some emotion (especially around the kids, who themselves are pretty underdeveloped as simple child ciphers, one has asthma, one doesn't), he doesn't bring a ton of that certain 'something' to make his character stand out among other heroes of his ilk. He can convey Gerry's intelligence, but I could see just as well other stars playing this role, maybe even better or with an extra level of charisma. By the time it gets to Gerry's conclusion, it's been foretold script, but I only wished Pitt had just a little extra more than being, well, Brad Pitt (i.e. look at Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds, which this feels just a bit indebted to, or Will Smith in I am Legend).
So why the high rating with all these complaints? It's still a well-made movie throughout, technically, and the camera-work from Robert Richardson (though he may have been credited with another name or another DP was credited altogether) has that sharp, dynamic sense of lighting but also the compositions so we're not left in the dust in the action - and the editing too makes me realize Forster CAN direct action with some flair after his lackluster Quantum of Solace. But most importantly, after a kind of dull mid- section in South Korea and (yes) Israel where big things happen but not quite of consequence as far as the journey to find the 'Patient Zero' or 'antidote', the stakes are raised as Pitt and his unlikely one-handed companion find a World-Health center and Pitt has a new theory about the virus that could save those who are living. I won't say what it is here, but it is so clever, and then the action and suspense and (yes) horror of having to creep through a connected building to get the medical materials, that is brings the whole movie up. It really feels more intense in this more contained space, ironically enough, as now we're stuck in this place with them as they have to find what they need AND get out.
A nice irony considering, if one knows, the production problems and how this whole third act was written and produced from scratch only in the past year (thanks in large part, and it's really his best writing in a long time, via Damon Lindelof). World War Z is very big, so big scale, that if only Forster and company had strengthened the human relationships - Pitt's family the very basic lot of characters that need to be saved but lack the personalities of a cast like in 28 Days Later or on TV's the Walking Dead, even in such limited time it could have been done - then it would really be something. It's a fine spectacle, but it could have been more, especially with this source material.