The definition of a fun, harmless summer blockbuster.
The pre-, mid-, and post-production struggles on “World War Z” were well-documented on every film website known to man. After a draft by J. Michael Straczynski (the underrated “Changeling”) achieved a studio greenlight and received tremendously positive feedback on the internet, Matthew Michael Carnahan (the similarly underrated “Lions for Lambs”) was hired to rewrite. This draft, which was unfinished at the time shooting began, thus causing much footage to be missing, was the basis of the first version of the film. That film had many problems, according to everyone involved. Depending on which outlet of news you read, star/producer Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster may or may not have had major on-set disagreements. But once completed, everyone involved agreed that the third act of the film wasn’t working. So the studio brought in much-maligned Damon Lindelof (“Star Trek Into Darkness”, “Prometheus”, “Lost”), he of the “JJ mafia”, to pitch them a solution. He proposed two. One was a complete reworking of the entire third act, and the studio bought that one (at the considerable cost of very expensive reshoots, almost unheard of for a film of this size) and brought on Drew Goddard (the really underrated “Cabin in the Woods”) to help Lindelof as he got busy with other projects. But none of that I had an issue with. Unfortunately, it was also revealed that several of the scenes shot in Budapest were dropped from the final cut in order to water down the film’s political undertones, and steer it towards a more generally friendly summer blockbuster. Yuck. Just because something’s fun, doesn’t mean it can’t be smart or challenge an audience. Intelligence is not anathema to entertainment, studios. Okay, rant over.
The result is imperfect and doesn’t fulfill its potential, but it’s still quite a bit of fun. We’ll likely never know what the Straczynski draft would have become (some even went so far as to call it “Best Picture material” and compare it to “Children of Men”, with its reportedly political emphasis), but the screenwriting here isn’t bad. There are bold, inventive action and horror setpieces throughout, and while the character development doesn’t really exist, this isn’t a movie about Gerry Lane (Pitt)–though we do get just enough “family time” to care about his outcome–this is a movie about action, zombies and figuring out the root of the big zombie problem.
The film is designed to launch a franchise. I’m not sure if it will. It’ll have to do huge business to do so. But it works fine as a standalone. It’s not must-see, but if you’re into big blockbusters, this is a zombie movie that certainly deserves being seen in a theater.
The highlight of the film is actually Forster’s direction. He keeps the tension consistently high, throwing jump scares in at select times to keep you off-balance. The camera movements and action choreography are designed very effectively to place you in the unique world, maintaining a sense of realism and palpable fear despite the obviously false nature of such a scenario. He has a gift for creating atmosphere, and he gets great performances from his actors, including the kids, despite a script that’s thanklessly procedural in its nature. Pitt’s performance suitably carries the film.
Tech credits are solid all-around, with an added bonus of Matthew Bellamy‘s additional compositions performed by his band Muse. They blend in nicely with Marco Beltrami‘s suitable, subtle and strong score.
If you like good, fun blockbusters, you’ll like this. It’s not gonna win Best Picture, but Best Visual Effects is definitely on the table, and I’d give it at least a nomination for Best Badass Female Character.