At the Movies with Alan Gekko: World War Z “2013”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Action-Horror/ Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox, Ludi Boeken, Fana Mokoena, David Morse, Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga, David Andrews/ Runtime: 116 minutes

I think it is safe to say that among the ingredients of mainstream entertainment that are big right now, there are few that are more wide reaching than the group known as the undead or zombies if you prefer. Indeed Marvel films, with DC actually showing some promise finally, and kiddie material, or just Disney in general, may still be some of the best of the best when it comes to the box office, but when you bring together the worlds of movie, television, video games, and comic books/ graphic novels and it would be difficult to find a lot of other than things that have managed to engross the general public’s curiosity as thoroughly as a world in which the dead have come back to life and started chowing down on those of us still alive. Yet with all of that being noted, I guess for me the question still remains: why is this so popular? I mean what is it about this very concentrated fear, complete with ensuing chaos and violence, of this distinct variation on a post-apocalyptic world so intriguing to so many? I mean is it because of just how many crazy, and no-positive outcome likely situations there are? Is it the fantasy of escaping the day-to-day of reality and feeling alive courtesy of an almost-certain demise? Or is all of this just a fad that will eventually fade into the background that I am reading way too much into? I mean to be sure, within the greater pantheon of stories in this genre there is very little in the way of deep, and thought-provoking analysis about society or people in general anymore or at least not since the days of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead back in 1978. A fact made that much more apparent when you see newer entries in this time-honored genre such as The Walking Dead focus more on drama between characters and a gritty sense of realism more than any pointed statements about the world around us. Be that as it may be, the undeniable fact is that zombies are a hot topic in the world of pop culture and it doesn’t look like they are about to go anywhere anytime soon. This brings us to today’s movie, a true gem from 2013 known as World War Z. Like its’ modern counterparts here is a film that although largely devoid of any social analysis, is able to conjure up some truly engaging entertainment on a scale that I don’t think has been done before in any entry in the undead genre. Yet by also engaging in some truly intense and top-notch visual effects work that is void the stomach-churning blood and guts that is normally present alongside a top-notch story with terrific work from film icon Brad Pitt in the lead role, World War Z is truly the best starting point for anyone who would like to know just what the big deal about zombies is really all about.

The plot is as follows: World War Z tells the story of a man by the name of Gerry Lane. A man who, when our film opens, is a former United Nations Investigator who has chosen to step away from the career that assigned him to circle the globe through some of the most perilous lands on Earth and exchanged it for being able to be at home and making every minute count with both wife Karin and daughters Rachel and Constance. That all changes however when what starts out as just another regular day out in the city of Philadelphia turns into the terrifying beginning of an ever-growing nightmare when the family finds itself caught in the middle of a shocking sight in the form of crazed individuals attacking people at random with startling speed and tenacity. Even worse however, is the fact that those who are attacked also are turned into the same kind of crazed maniacs that attacked them in the first place thus enabling them to attack and turn others as well.  Fortunately for our hero and his family, to say nothing for those of us watching the movie, they are able to escape the madness and eventually be rescued thanks to the aid of Gerry’s former boss and friend Deputy Secretary-General to the United Nations Thierry Umutoni. Sadly however there is a caveat or a clause in their rescue and continued stay on a full-to-the-brim ship: a clause that consists of Gerry being strong-armed back to work and charged with hunting down the origins of what, by this point in this film, is being called a “zombie outbreak” and see if anyone has been able to find a cure. Thus we soon see our intrepid hero undertaking perhaps the most dangerous assignment of his life since, unlike before, there really is no clear indicator that anywhere he goes has been spared from the chaos and destruction and above all there is no telling if a cure is even possible let alone exists….

Now World War Z manages to be an absolute jolt of pure adrenaline disguised as a film that manages to conjure up a wonderful vibe of panic and urgency that, from the moment things start going down, never lets up for a second. Indeed although the film is best defined by the opening act in Philadelphia, this is a movie which through and through serves as a fast paced and completely incredible yet realistic look of a world gone haywire in an apocalyptic setting that is unfurling itself before the eyes of you, the movie goer. To that end, it should be noted that film helmer Marc Forster does a wonderful job at both making the action in this film as vivid as possible, but also bringing the party to you in a way that is seemingly non-stop in nature. Indeed if this film isn’t moving forward, then it is building to that point and yet it is never forward motion simply for the sake of forward motion. Rather, this film seems to possess a kind of kinetic energy that is constructed from within the narrative as we see Gerry travel on his mission, the cities he visits quickly sink into chaos, and just how his quest for the missing pieces to the puzzle has roadblock after roadblock set before it. Indeed this film is a unique entry amongst the zombie genre for as much as it is about the prerequisite zombie attacks and destruction, it is also about the “how this started”, “the why this is happening”, and most important: “what can we do, if anything, to stop this before any more lives are lost?” Indeed it is this gift to bring a sense of pathos and humanity to the horrific chaos and destruction that proves to be one of this film’s finest strengths. Indeed this is a fine example of what happens when a movie also happens to function as a really engaging and quite thrilling journey through a world that is both falling apart as fast as the camera showcases it and sinking into the kind of insanity that only the zombie genre is able to provide an audience.

Now it should be noted that the vast majority of this film’s sense of panic and urgency is largely brought about due to the undead that run rampant like the hunting dog in pursuit of the fox rather than the slow and steady shell of what was once a human being walking towards you because it wants your brains and other organs for dinner. Indeed these undead are not the casual walkers from back in the day of Romero which were easy to shoot and take down provided a group of them didn’t overwhelm you. Rather they are more like the roid rage-fueled running undead from 28 Days Later. Yet it should also be noted that this film is about more than just the undead stars of track and field which have no problem reaching a fresh human to turn. Indeed this is a film which manages to construct a character atmosphere that is quite believable and as a result our main character and his family are characterized quite strongly and actually provide the film with a purpose that goes far and beyond just simply surviving. Indeed I really like how the main character of Gerry is both sympathetic and yet believable in his heroics instead of becoming a practically invincible superhero. Indeed this is a man whose heroics come more from his intellect and resolute sense of determination and less from his physical skill or skill with a gun even though in all fairness the latter do aid him a fair amount in his mission to learn both how the outbreak started and how, if possible, to cure it. To that end, it should be noted that star Brad Pitt does absolutely fantastic in the role of Gerry as he manages to be a face that the audience can both rely and relate to despite all the chaos and anarchy all around him almost from the word go.

All in all I guess I shouldn’t lie to you dear reader and let you know that World War Z doesn’t possess either the dramatic grace or the overwhelming blood and gore that is apparent in at least the first few seasons of The Walking Dead. Also for that matter this film is also lacking the ice-cold social analysis of a world gone seriously awry that was readily present and accounted for in the classic zombie films brought to us courtesy of George A. Romero. Yet do not assume for one minute that this truly is a bad film. I say that because what this film most certainly is not lacking in any way, shape, form, or fashion is an engaging narrative, a quick-footed sense of action, and some phenomenally-detailed work in the special effects department. Indeed suffice it to say that this movie is a riveting example of how giant and engaging filmmaking can be accomplished quite well by a helmer with a distinct take and a keen awareness for how to engage both the target audience as well as those merely taking in what is a fairly predictable, but also quite potent and very thrilling entry in the sub-genre of horror that deals with zombies, the undead, etc. Suffice it to say then dear reader that World War Z is meant to be an agreeable film, and in that regard it manages to succeed quite admirably. On a scale of 1-5 I give World War Z a solid 3.5 out of 5.