Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

World War Z

Zombie apocalypse now.

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World War Z is a real surprise. The movie's release was preceded by tales of extensive script-whacking and panicky reshooting. But however desperate these measures may have been, they now seem justified – the picture flows smoothly from one sensational set-piece sequence to the next; it's unremittingly tense and often very scary. It is a full-on zombie movie, but one that relies less on the usual gut-slurping gore and more on the gathering dread of a plausible apocalypse for its horrifying effect. It rises above its genre.

There have also been early grumblings about the film's lack of strict fidelity to its source, the 2006 novel by Max Brooks. But this was unavoidable. The book is constructed as a long series of interviews with survivors of a worldwide zombie plague that nearly wiped out human life. There is no central protagonist to provide a narrative through-line, which is something a big, mainstream movie naturally requires. (The picture reportedly cost $200-million or more to make.) There was also no way to cram in all of the book's themes of cultural and governmental insufficiency in a way that a mass audience would be willing to sit through. (WWZ runs just under two hours – three cheers.)   

And so now we have a hero and a more concise story. The movie's focus is on Gerry Lane (effortlessly charismatic Brad Pitt), a former United Nations human-rights investigator who has thrown aside his career as a traveler through the world's hell holes in favor of a more gratifying life in Philadelphia with his wife Karin (Mireille Enos, of the AMC series The Killing) and their two small daughters (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove). Director Marc Forster quickly sketches Gerry's warm domestic contentment with an opening scene in the family kitchen. But then the movie gets right down to business. Gerry is driving Karin and the girls through town when traffic suddenly comes to a halt. There's an explosion down the street, and within moments a stream of terrified people is coursing through the lanes of idling cars. We don't see the cause of this chaos very clearly at first. Then Gerry observes a man being attacked by a rampaging figure; the man falls to the ground, twitches and twists, then rises to his feet, dead but hideously alive. His transformation, Gerry coolly notes, took exactly 12 seconds.

This cleanly designed sequence effectively stokes our sense of foreboding. If human beings can be so quickly converted into flesh-rending monsters that are largely impervious to gunfire (unless the bullets are precisely aimed at their heads), then the customary tactic of deploying large groups of military defenders against them can only serve to increase their numbers exponentially. We immediately understand the awful implications, and fear the very worst.

Fleeing Philadelphia, Gerry gets a call on his phone from his old UN boss, Thierry (Fana Mokoena), who's in a helicopter over Manhattan, which is also being overrun. Thierry is on his way to an aircraft carrier 200 miles off the coast. He needs Gerry back in service to track down the source of this gruesome epidemic – to determine the identity of Patient Zero. He tells Gerry to make his way to a certain apartment building in Newark, where a helicopter will pick him up and ferry him and his family to safety aboard the ship, which is now a floating command center.

There follows a night of nail-chewing tension at the apartment building, where zombie invaders are making their way from door to door and we, too, crouch in mounting terror. After a frantic escape, Gerry and his family arrive at the ship, where Gerry is informed that the zombie plague is worldwide, that the U.S. East Coast is completely infested, and that "life as we know it will come to an end in 90 days." Gerry's family will be sheltered onboard, but only if he departs immediately in search of information that could lead to the creation of a prophylactic vaccine. Gerry climbs into a plane and takes off.

From this point, director Forster and his editors, Roger Barton and Matt Chesse, build a sense of growing unease into full-blown horror with unflagging skill. Gerry's first stop is Korea, where the plague is thought to have originated. (In the book, it's China; but China is a major movie market with a famously sensitive government, and so…Korea.) Gerry's rainy-night arrival at a South Korean military outpost is filled with haunting imagery. The airfield is littered with dead bodies, and corpses hang from wire fences in failed mid-flight. A number of highly alarming events transpire (as well as an encounter with a possibly deranged CIA agent, memorably played by David Morse). Then it's off to Jerusalem, where the Israeli government has enclosed the city behind a high wall, with uninfected Israelis and Palestinians packed inside.

This section of the film drives home the fearsomeness of the zombie plague in spectacular fashion. (As one character tells Gerry, "I lost my son to something that had once been my wife.") Outside the Jerusalem wall, a growing army of zombies clamors insatiably. Gerry's local contact, a Mossad agent named Warmbrunn (played by Israeli filmmaker Ludi Boeken), only half-shares his sense of incomprehension. "People don't believe something can happen," he says, "until it already has."  Accompanied by a buzz-cut IDF officer named Segen (gritty Daniella Kertesz), Gerry barely escapes this chaos aboard the last plane out of the city – where a truly hair-raising sequence takes place. Heavily banged up, Gerry and Segen finally arrive at a beleaguered W.H.O. facility in Wales, where we get to see some of the zombie predators very close-up. They have a familiar implacability (and an equally familiar ability to move very fast, in the Danny Boyle manner); but some of the details of their conception – the way they bump idly against walls when unengaged in mayhem, the eerie way in which their teeth clack together when they sense the presence of prey – are supremely creepy.

In positioning its zombie plague as an international public-health crisis, Brooks' story stirs obvious real-world connections in our minds. (The picture also bears some resemblance to Steven Soderbergh's Contagion.) We're appalled by the epidemic possibilities and excited by the picture's unrelenting action; and by the end, we're pretty thoroughly wrung out. Early last year, before the difficulties of finishing this film had completely kicked in, it was suggested that World War Z would be the opening installment of a trilogy (Paramount has also secured the rights to two of Brooks' earlier zombie books). This sort of grand announcement is rarely welcome. But the movie that Forster and Pitt (who's also a producer) have delivered is such a well-crafted thrill machine that you may find yourself thinking: Bring it on.     

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39 responses to “World War Z

  1. The movie’s release was preceded by tales of extensive script-whacking and panicky reshooting.

    This movie was conceived and written back during the bath salts epidemic. They later reshot many scenes to write that out of the plot. The zombies are now caused by Brad Pitt’s mom’s endorsement of Mitt Romney. True story.

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  2. Not a this movie sucks…but this movie is worth your dime review? The pattern is broken!

  3. I was already planning to go see it this weekend for a good concealed-flask, watch the world burn action movie, but this review has made me really look forward to it now.

  4. Loder liked a movie? Wow.

  5. Man, the CGI “Zombies” in this film look faker than shit in video games from 10 years ago…I can’t get past that. No way I am shelling out theater money for this crap.

  6. I’m surprised. I didn’t have high hopes. Maybe I’ll have to reconsider.

  7. Why didn’t the movie reveal the truth that the zombie war was initiated by the Koch brothers in order to created their Randian Fascist super state where WE THE PEOPLE have been completely eliminated. and the Corpurashuns finally rain supreme.

    1. That’s coming next week…

    2. That’ll be the sequel with Sean Penn.

    3. Um, that would be the Resident Evil franchise.

      1. +1, Did anyone who created the back story ever wonder for even the briefest moment why the Umbrella corporation would make the zombie bio-weapon it did, without any means of control? The stock answer was they made a lot of money by selling it to everyone. But exactly what good is money you can’t spend. A more app name for the franchise would have been Stupidly Evil.

  8. “lack of strict fidelity to its source” – Did they keep one scene from the book? I really have no clue why they spent the money licensing the book other than to get the title.

    1. It’s a really good title.

  9. There have also been early grumblings about the film’s lack of strict fidelity to its source, the 2006 novel by Max Brooks. But this was unavoidable. […]
    And so now we have a hero and a more concise story.

    Okay, that’s all well and good but this:

    (and an equally familiar ability to move very fast, in the Danny Boyle manner)

    Boooooooo

    Watching the trailer, its just so annoying to see how they fucked with the actual zombies. Like the producers read how eventually zombies would swarm and start piling atop each other and decided to make that the central feature, almost as though they are piling up intelligently.

    1. I know! I hate it when fictional beings don’t behave the way we all know they do.

  10. I wish they’d called the movie something else. I’d be more inclined to like it, I think.

    I read the book a little after it came out, and I thought it was brilliant. I write horror (albeit poorly) and am a big fan of the genre, and the mid-00’s zombie thing was sputtering to a halt when this came out and really did something new with the theme. It was a horror novel, but it was really, really smart. It talked about what happens after Night of the Living Dead happens. It touches on how geopolitics changes, how national politics changes, the psychological impact, the sociological impact, hell, even how military tactics change. Even if the movie “rises above the genre” it’s still just a good zombie movie. World War Z as a book actually analyzed every facet of a world where zombies are real, and in a matter-of-fact way that was really compelling.

    Part of the appeal of the book was the narrative arrangement. It’s a series of vignettes collected by a reporter, and, taken as a whole, it tells the story. You could have easily done this in a film, and horror used to do it all the time: V/H/S recently did it, Black Sabbath was an excellent Karloff vehicle from the 60s, and Dead of Night (40s) is a fine example of classic British horror that maintains a core narrative thread.

    Of course, anthologies don’t lend themselves to A-list celebs dominating the screen, so…

    1. I normally don’t read horror but thanks to your review here I may have to pick that one up, even though I’m bored with all the zombie stuff. time for a new villian “Attack of the Obamabots” iguess thats old news too

      1. http://www.amazon.com/Theories…..0691147833

        Good companion book. I’m not necessarily on board with Drezner 100% of the time (his recent analysis of Obama’s Syria policy in FP is interesting, but his conclusion is, IMHO, flawed) but he’s a smart guy with a healthy respect for economics and structural realism.

      2. His review is pretty accurate and thus WW Z does not follow close to a normal zombie horror theme.

        It’s not the typical end of the world scenario, but more like (as the name implies), an after the War documentary. And it emphatically involves mankind winning the war.

    2. Part of the appeal of the book was the narrative arrangement. It’s a series of vignettes collected by a reporter, and, taken as a whole, it tells the story.

      I read it shortly after my course work in historiography and discussing the oral history format. Brooks absolutely nailed “oral history” without sacrificing a progressing narrative. I think the only thing he missed was the unreliable nature of the narrator in such histories (but it’s been a while since I read it).

      1. No, I think you’re right. As I recall, there are never conflicting understandings of the zombies, etc., within the same period of time in the story. Generally, once something is established as fact within the timeline, subsequent narratives never challenge it.

    3. How would you have done The Mothman Prophecies?

      1. I’ve never read the book, I’ve only seen the movie. From what I’ve read about it, I get the impression that the book is intended as a non-fictional account of Keel’s investigation into the whole Mothman thing. Is that right? If that’s the case, from what I remember of the movie they did a pretty decent job of doing a movie “about” the book, rather than a movie “of” the book.

    4. While I agree that he did a good job of asking questions about what would happen to real world in a zombie apocalypse, I thought the answers he created were generally naive and sometimes downright lazy. That was my biggest problem with the book.

  11. “lack of strict fidelity to its source” – Did they keep one scene from the book? I really have no clue why they spent the money licensing the book other than to get the title.”

    All filmmakers want to create their own tale on someone else’s dime. Moneymen reluctant to risk 200 milli on an “unproven” script (read: script w/out a big, established fanclub).

    Solution: Con moneymen into buying rights to a “proven” story, then just make your own 200 million dollar movie. If it sucks you can always blame the author.

  12. Suderman hated it.

    Attention future zombie auteurs: There’s a lesson to be learned from “World War Z,” the most expensive zombie movie ever made: You can spend big bucks to make big-screen zombies faster, more aggressive and more numerous. But a larger budget, bigger stars and higher-grade effects doesn’t necessarily make them more interesting. Indeed, in “World War Z” it has the opposite effect. The movie’s fundamental problem is that it’s boring. It should have been called “World War Zzzzzzs.”

  13. Saw it this morning. Basically nothing from the book, and just relentlessly stupid. Notly only does it continue the idiotic trend of fast zombies, but makes them superhumanly fast and strong.

    Also, they cannot make up their mind if these zombies are still alive or not. You cannot stop them by shooting them anywhere but the head, but then the scientists say that the virus needs a working circulatory system. And if you can kill these zombies by shooting them in the head (and destroying the brain) then why doesn’t doesn’t it kill them when the zombies use their heads as battering rams or fall off buildings.

    Or take the Korean landing. It might be “filled with haunting imagery”, but the whole time I was thinking “why would you time your flight into a base that you have no contact with at night when you cannot see anything?”

    I could list another 15 or 20 things easily in just the thoughts that occurred to me while watching. If you enjoy movies where things jump out of the dark at you and yell boo, this is the movie for you.

    And since the book actually put a lot of thought into practical realities, it is really aggravating to have something this stupid associated with it.

  14. Maybe everyone else knew this, but I was surprised to learn that Max Brooks is the son of Mel Brooks.

    1. Now there’s a movie I’d go see. A Mel Brooks zombie film.

  15. The book sucked. Every single character had the same narrative voice. The farther away from the book this movie is, the greater the chance I’ll go see it.

  16. There have also been early grumblings about the film’s lack of strict fidelity to its source, the 2006 novel by Max Brooks. But this was unavoidable. The book is constructed as a long series of interviews with survivors of a worldwide zombie plague that nearly wiped out human life. There is no central protagonist to provide a narrative through-line, which is something a big, mainstream movie naturally requires. (The picture reportedly cost $200-million or more to make.) There was also no way to cram in all of the book’s themes of cultural and governmental insufficiency in a way that a mass audience would be willing to sit through. (WWZ runs just under two hours ? three cheers.)

    So in other words, they stripped out all the features that made the story unique (and thus noteworthy in a sea of zombie material) and turned it into a generic action movie.

  17. It doesn’t sound like the movie really is directly based on the book. Particularly the part about finding a cure. In the book, the war lasted 10 years. The “cure” was cutting the head off of every remaining zombie.

    On the other hand, I never liked the books initial section which had the US Army act incredibly stupid, and had the zombies overrun US units that used “cold war tactics, such as anti-tank weapons and demoralization through wounding; but these prove ineffective against zombies, which “can’t be shocked and awed”. However, I also realized, it would have been a short book, if the US Army had just used it’s tanks to drive over the zombies and while incredibly obvious this would have spoiled the narrative.

    So if they turned the book into a big budget block buster, it’s not in my mind a great loss. An I’m sure the movie will be worth the cost of a Netflix delivery.

  18. The lesson that I learned for the movie was that all the people in Israel can come together and work in harmony despite their differences. But, when you celebrate peace and diversity, please just do it a lot more quietly when there are zombies near by.

  19. til I looked at the draft 4 $5046, I didnt believe that my mom in-law was realey receiving money part time at their computer.. there mums best friend has been doing this 4 only about and by now repaid the morgage on their apartment and got a gorgeous Porsche 911. this is where I went,
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  20. There have also been early grumblings about the film’s lack of strict fidelity to its source, the 2006 novel by Max Brooks. But this was unavoidable. The book is constructed as a long series of interviews with survivors of a worldwide zombie plague that nearly wiped out human life. There is no central protagonist to provide a narrative through-line, which is something a big, mainstream movie naturally requires. (The picture reportedly cost $200-million or more to make.) There was also no way to cram in all of the book’s themes of cultural and governmental insufficiency in a way that a mass audience would be willing to sit through.

    Lack of strict fidelity? The only similarities is that there are zombies and a few character names. The butchering of the source material is just awful.

    It should have been made as an HBO mini-series where each story was expanded into an hour episode. It would have been amazing.

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  23. This zombie movie is weak on the very thing that zombie movies should be known for: up close zombie kills.

    Most of the up close zombie kills are in the dark and or shot with a Blair Witch shaky camera. Either way, they are not clear and in your face zombie kills.

    It seems like the budget for exploding skulls was about $100.

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