(25 June 2013)
Director: Mark Forster
ln a word, World War Z is intense—Not your typical zombie movie in the traditional vein in terms of an all-out-gross-fest of gore (although the zombies are truly disgusting and terrifyingly fast and vicious), but more of a taut, emotional journey of the lead character to save the world. It wasn't until Brad Pitt decimated a zombie and they didn't show it, that it hit me, hard, that I missed seeing it. YEAH! Goosh that head in. Let some zombie brains fly up in your face. Get your hands bloody up to the elbows. Sure, Brad gets zombie blood in his mouth, but I was really surprised they didn't show the gnarly kill. Can a not-so-gorey zombie movie still be really good if it's not bloody disgusting? Yeah, it can. (I was hoping for more gore in World War Z Unrated, but there's still almost no blood.)
The movie opens with a surprisingly powerful video montage of various recent events, interspersed with images of animal and insect attacks and swarm behavior. It's a comment on the current human condition worldwide. Being in Miami, I couldn't help but catch the few seconds of footage of the attack on Ronald Poppo, sadly and tellingly listed on Wikipedia as the "Miami Cannibal Attack". The credits perfectly set the stage for the carnage to follow . . .
Although there is a just the right amount of normalcy to start with in the movie, showing Brad Pitt's character "Gerry Lane" and his family, they jump right into disaster. Once Gerry realizes that the world has gone mad, he follows a speeding truck creating a path through traffic. This lasts only until the truck crashes, and a little too much parental concern on Gerry's part causes him to take his eye off the road, and they wreck. This is an edge-of-your-seat scene because it's not some bad ass chasing or being chased by a bad guy, this is a family with two little girls, one panicked and crouching on the floor of the backseat. When they are hit, it's about as hard a crash as you can imagine them surviving.
The family then runs to get to an abandoned RV. In this first close-up attack scene where we see the zombies' behavior for the first time, we realize the filmmakers really have upped the zombie game with speed and aggression. As many zombie movies and TV shows as there have been, you would think it would be hard to still make them scary. This hyper-aggressive strain, though, does the trick, as one even bashes her head through the windshield of a vehicle to get at the passengers.
Thanks to the real-life horrific attack on Ronald Poppo being caught on video by The Miami Herald (nope, not putting a link to that), if you saw that footage, you couldn't help but feel for the first close-up victim in this movie, depicted here in the street as Gerry watches and counts the seconds from the start of the victim being attacked, to his conversion to a zombie. What was previously unthinkable except in a zombie fantasy, was now all too real to me, elevating my emotional involvement with what's at stake. Brad Pitt's character's wherewithal to time this attack gave a hint of his logical mind and the skills he brings to his job.
Once he makes contact with his previous employer (the U.N.), it's all about surviving and getting out of the overrun city. Society unravels very quickly as panicked people loot for supplies to hole up in their homes. Gerry's daughter needs an asthma inhaler so the family is forced to join in the looting. It really ramps up the empathy and drives home the situation. Leaving the store, the RV they commandeered has been taken, and the family has to flee to a nearby high-rise apartment building where Gerry has arranged to shoot flares from the rooftop so the U.N. can pick them up. Unfortunately, the U.N. chopper can't get there until the next morning.
The family finds shelter with another family. The big surprise in this movie is how much compassion there is. As Gerry's family is let in by another family that answers the door to a plea from Gerry's youngest child, the two families share a camaraderie for a limited time that reminds us of our humanity, and how selflessly helping others in times of crisis can make you feel good in the face of great danger or hopelessness; can help you forget for a moment or two. This movie is all about Bravery and Nobility, and duct tape.
Fashioning shields and augmenting his existing weapon, Gerry makes duct tape look like the #2 thing you should have in case of a zombie attack (after a gun). Gerry tells the other family (who speaks Spanish) "movimiento es vida" "movement is life". The sheltering family are too scared to go with them, however, so the next morning, Gerry's family makes a run to the rooftop without them. Later, zombies break into the apartment and, presumably (they don't show it as typical zombie movie would), kill everyone but their little boy who makes it to the rooftop and off the building with Gerry's family. There is much more to the scene than shown here.
A huge part of what makes this movie work is Brad Pitt's character's role as a father, never more evident than when he stands on the edge of the high-rise apartment building roof, prepared to jump off if he is infected by some zombie blood he got in his mouth after killing some. Teetering on the ledge, he counts the 12 seconds and then realizes he's okay. Talk about intense!
You knew the helicopter-on-the-rooftop scene was coming from the trailer, but how it plays out is gut wrenching. Magazines and duct tape save Gerry's life more than once. It's scary how fast and fearless the zombies are, and with a 12-second conversion rate . . . innumerable. As if the run to escape to the rooftop wasn't nail-bitingly tense enough, it's very emotional when the little boy makes it, and you know his family is gone.
Post 9/11, whenever there are scenes of terror in the streets, you wonder about art imitating life. In this movie, what hit home was the line "the airlines were the perfect delivery system" referring to the spread of the virus worldwide. It drives home the fragility of our sense of security. When Gerry is convinced he needs to help ("if you can fight, fight"), he meets a brilliant young scientist "Elyes Gabel" who is going to help them find some kind of 'cure' by figuring out how it started and ways to fight it. Luckily he explains his thinking to Gerry because he's killed off all too quickly. Gerry has to step up and see the seemingly unimportant details that will be clues to the solution. Gabels' speech is intriguing: "Mother Nature is a serial killer. She wants to get caught, she leaves bread crumbs, she leaves clues . . . Mother Nature knows how to disguise her weakness as strength. She's a bitch."
When they land at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, you gain insight and even more respect into the life of the military. I loved this line: "These guys are hammers" is how the protection detail is described. My first thought was that means that they hit and they hit hard, but then I realized in their military capacity, they are tools to be used. Their lives come down to this one moment of protecting Gerry so he can do what he needs to do to save the world, and they don't even know yet what that is, or if he even can. They die to get an airplane refueled. Comic relief takes the form of military lingo like "Turn zeke" and "Get zeke on the ground", and you respect the courage it takes to joke around in the bleakest situations.
The soldiers have figured out and pass along the information that the zombies are drawn to sound, and that they have a hive mind where if you kill one, they all get crazy angry and come after you faster. With this in your mind, you know that Gerry has forgotten to turn his satellite phone ringer off (looks like an Iridium Extreme), and of course, his wife calls and 'wakes the dead'. They do a super-fast (too fast) refuel. Really, how much gas could they possibly have pumped in that little time? But anyway, they take off and have a next stop to go to, another piece in the puzzle. They head to Israel.
The Israeli portion of the movie was fascinating. Explaining the "10th Man" principle they are operating under, the Israeli commander says that because, historically, they were so sure several unthinkable things would never happen, but did, they decided that whenever 9 out of the 10 men vote unanimously that they think something will never happen, the 10th man has to prepare for it to happen. So they thought it can't really be an outbreak of zombies, but they acted as if 'what if it were' and secured their borders. They finished their city walls a week before the outbreak. It was an amazing concept. I already think Israel is amazing for living the way they do and having all their high school kids do time in the army after graduating (men and women). When the commander says they are accepting everyone who wants shelter inside their walls he explains "Every human being we save is one less we need to fight." The scope of the devastation really hits home.
Forgetting to pass along the fact that the zombies are attracted to sound and have a hive mind, the whole thing turns to shit when the crowd begins singing. The zombies go mad and this is when we see that incredible stack of them scaling the wall from the trailer. Even though you've already seen it, the bloodthirsty-ness of the swarm is an incredible sight, and you know, despite all their preparations, even Israel will fall.
As they overtake the city, Gerry is on the run again. Now the scale gets bigger and bigger. He manages to get on a flight (not the one he was supposed to be on) and get off the ground. Stephen King's The Langoliers came to mind. How safe are you in the sky when there is nowhere to land? As the plane takes off, they show them using flamethrowers on seas of zombies overrunning the city. They also show zombies ignoring the sick. The horror of a sea of running zombies flowing around a too-thin boy is almost as poignant as the child in the outhouse in Schindler's List.
The lesson learned from the Israeli soldier detail that was protecting Gerry is to carry grenades. Not only does the one remaining soldier save them with one (one of two female soldiers who are the last two left defending Gerry), but it comes in handy mid-flight. When there is an outbreak onboard (a zombie managed to get in the plane from the cargo hold, the passengers create a barricade of suitcases between their section and coach. Talk about the unreality kicking in. They don't even get the barricade finished before it comes down. This is the most intense part of the movie to me. Brad Pitt's character coming face to face with zombies and fighting them off. Imagine having to choose between a zombie death and using a grenade inside a moving airplane!
Years ago, when I heard of the seeming back-to back real-life tragedies of the April 1988 Aloha Airlines Flight 243 (below), and then shortly after, the February 1989 disaster of United Airlines flight 811 (at right) where passengers were sucked out mid flight because a portion of the plane ripped away, I couldn't imagine what that death must be like. One minute you're in your seat, the next, you get sucked out at x-thousand feet over the freezing cold Pacific at night. Do you pass out from lack of oxygen or do you scream in terror in the longest free fall of your now-over life? As we watched the World War Z passengers get sucked out from inside and go flying by from outside, you have to give the filmmakers credit, it was incredible! It says a lot for our level of tolerance that we can watch such things. I wanted to take my mother to see it, but I don't think she would like seeing these things happen. It's that intense.
This movie does a good job of continually ramping up the Action and the stakes. After Gerry and the female Israeli soldier survive the grenade explosion, the plane crashes!! I don't know how they did that. It looks like they crashed a full-size plane? How do you control that or even a scale model of that? If it's all CGI, that's even more amazing. That alone was worth the ticket price! I was still (am still) in awe of how they did the sucking-out bit.
After the plane crashes, the look of the scenes with the wreckage is astounding. It's leagues beyond "LOST". This scene was very Pam Am Flight 103, the Lockerbie bombing (middle of nowhere crash/wreckage). Both Gerry and "Segen", the soldier, survive the crash. Gerry seems to have a sixth sense. The character's journey also brought to mind M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs". There are no coincidences. Maybe the scientist would not have figured it out. Gerry does though. They reach their final next destination on foot. A bio-medical research station.
Once the made contact with the surviving scientists inside and decide on a plan of action, Gerry and the others have to cross a skybridge to another wing of the labs to get some vials of germs. I remember feeling exhausted. It's so intense and so emotional. The movie is very 'video game' to me, and never more so than in the dark apartment building, the airstrip/jail, and here. It's like segments of scenarios or maps where they have to get from point A to point B. What killed me at this stage was the noises the zombies made (besides their general complete disgustingness) (the teeth-clicking guy will stay with you). They are almost hard to look at, but you can't look away.
Ultimately, it comes down to one man, and Gerry has to make the incredibly brave sacrifice to infect himself to test his theory (of course, you knew it would come to that), and then stand right in front of a twitching zombie. He's come full circle from refusing to go. It works—of course, you knew it would—but what you didn't know was how incredibly relieved you would feel when he finally gets back to his family. Getting philosophical in the end, the movie tells you . . .
"If you can fight, fight" "Help each other" "Be prepared for anything" and "Our war has just begun." Leaving the door open for a sequel which I heard they were making (a trilogy!). Yes, I want to see that. The idea of colony on Nova Scotia was too cool, and I'm a sucker for end-of-the-world movies.
Two cool things I learned after:
2) Brad Pitt keeps on getting better and better looking. Is he Dorian Gray? He's 49!
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