World War Z (2013)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #469


Number of Views: One
Release Date: June 21, 2013
Sub-Genre: Zombie/Sci-Fi
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $190,000,000
Box Office: $540,000,000
Running Time: 116 minutes
Director: Marc Forster
Producers: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Ian Bryce
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof
Story: Matthew Michael Carnahan, J. Michael Straczynski
Based on World War Z: : An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
Special Effects: Neil Corbould, Gábor Kiszelly, Gyula Krasnyánszky, David Watkins, Trevor Wood
Visual Effects: Scott Farrar, Matt Johnson, Jessica Norman, Andy Robinson, Simon Stanley-Clamp, Merzin Tavaria, Adam Valdez
Cinematography: Ben Seresin
Score: Marco Beltrami
Editing: Roger Barton, Matt Chesse
Studios: Skydance Productions, Hemisphere Media Capital, GK Films, Plan B Entertainment, 2DUX²
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox, Ludi Boeken, Fana Mokoena, David Morse, Elyes Gabel, Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga, Moritz Bleibtreu, Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove


Suggested Audio Candy

[1] Muse “Isolated System”

[2] Muse “Follow Me”

[3] Marco Beltrami “Wales”


War is ugly. Period. I’ve always been something of a pacifist and believe that violence invariably ends up breeding violence. It saddens me that we can’t all just get along and, while that may seem like a rather naïve wish, I live in perpetual hope. Both World Wars 1 & 2 were done and dusted well before my time and the Vietnam war wrapped up just months after I burst from my gestation sac so I consider myself fortunate not to have witnessed the horrors of war outside of Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and the like. However, I’m mindful of the fact that things tend to come in threes and just pray that it doesn’t come to pass in my son’s lifetime.


While the prospect of war as a means to an end leaves me cold, the thought of a one-sided battle against millions upon millions of famished soil-dwellers makes my chilblains tingle. The zombies have had plenty of opportunities for cinematic world domination already and, more often than not, it involves a small ragtag group of survivors penned in together while they attempt to find a way of winning the battle. Meanwhile, the war still very much rages on. The novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks arrived in 2006, three years after his well-received survival manual The Zombie Survival Guide. It dealt with global conflict in the event of a zombie apocalypse and it went on to become a commercial hit worldwide. By taking a look at the bigger picture and commenting on the ineptitude of those leading our nations, it struck a particular chord.


A year later, after a fiercely fought bidding war between Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Way and Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, the latter secured the screen rights and work commenced on a film adaptation immediately. In J. Michael Straczynski’s original story, it was intended as a mockumentary set ten years after the outbreak, focusing on how society had adjusted to its new cohabitants. Marc Foster was Pitt’s first choice to direct and he decided that the story would be too intellectual for the mass market and called in David Carnahan for a rewrite. In 2008, that script was leaked and in June 2009, Foster admitted that it still needed further development. Eventually, duties fell to Matthew Michael Carnahan and, even then, things weren’t clear-cut. Indeed, tweaks were still being made by Damon Lindelof after filming started including a completely overhauled final act. I haven’t even mentioned that it came in grossly over budget and was considerably waylaid from its optimistic 2012 release date. In short, it was a fucking palava.



Having said that, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Despite the above and many other problems, World War Z soundly rocked the Kasbah, becoming not only the highest-grossing film of Pitt’s career, but the highest-grossing zombie film. Period. I would imagine he breathed a significant sigh of relief, especially given that it received a reasonably warm reception from critics. Some picked fault with it straying from the source material but most celebrated Foster’s movie for being the crash, bang, wallop extravaganza it had promised to be. As for me, I was pretty much done with zombies at that point, and didn’t give it my attention. Anyone you knows me will also be aware that I love nothing more than to arrive late at the party. I got there in the end and finally sat down to see what all the fuss was over.


Initially, the inclusion of a big name such as Pitt concerned me. Had he swallowed some of what Tom Cruise has been drinking? Maybe the title Pitt vs Zombies would have been more apt. Of course, I was utterly foolish to think that he would choose that path as this isn’t your conventional hero. He plays Retired United Nations investigator Gerry Lane and here he prefers to be known as dad. By all accounts, Gerry is your everyday schmuck, albeit a little more dashing than most. Early exchanges between him and his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and kids Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel Lane (Abigail Hargrove) offer no clue as to why he will prove so critical to the world’s chances of overcoming the threat which lays in wait.


It isn’t long before shit goes down and, when it does, he is forced to think on his feet amidst the chaos of gridlocked Philadelphia streets. The first act focuses on his personal struggle to ensure the safety of his loved ones and it’s standard, but exhilarating, stuff. There’s a great sense of dissolution as the sheer scale of the disaster becomes clear. It pays to have contacts in these dark times and soon Gerry and his family have been relocated to a secure offshore U.S. Navy carrier while he is given his brief by superiors and cunningly tempted out of retirement with the proverbial carrot. Save the world or we’ll make your family walk the plank is the long and short of it and Gerry reluctantly agrees to those terms. Here, we engage in a dash of globetrotting as he travels to different locations across the planet in attempt at locating a possible vaccine. No pressure then son.


There can be no denying the grand scale of our battleground and a thrilling center piece in Jerusalem is as exciting a set piece as you could possibly hope for. Once the rakshasa begin thinking on their feet, clambering up the wall to infiltrate the only safe haven, we are thrown into disarray once more and it is here that we meet an understated, but particularly influential character.


Israeli soldier Segen (Daniella Kertesz) seems pretty inconsequential at first and, when she loses her trigger hand after sustaining a zombie bite, it seems that an early bath is all that beckons. However, this is not the case, and suddenly we have ourselves a true ally. Until that point, all supporting players have felt expendable, and the fact that she does too adds another layer of consternation to proceedings. After another stunning scene aboard a plummeting charter plane, with the dust still settling, I found myself searching like a frantic parent for Segen first. Oh good, Gerry’s okay too.


It is the third and final act, moreover, the one which was tinkered on in the 11th hour, that brings home the bacon as far as I’m concerned. For all its multiple bells and whistles, it is the World Health Organisation Research Lab in Cardiff, Wales where things really shift into gear. Wide open battlegrounds are replaced by intimate trappings as Gerry and Segan are forced to take the final leg of their journey. The realization that a potential solution exists is tempered by the fact that the only means of collecting the necessary samples involves surpassing a horde of twitching zombies fresh from having their ears syringed. There have been a number of crowd-pleasing moments en route but a zombie apocalypse never hits home until you’re ensnared in tight corridors against overwhelming odds like rodents.



When you look at the usual summer blockbuster rule they ordinarily follow a certain path of escalation which culminates in a huge climactic showdown. However, World War Z does nothing of the sort and that may appear like a bum steer when actually the exact opposite is true. It needs a little intimacy and Foster’s film only benefits from changing tact. For the first 80 minutes I dreaded that, whilst undoubtedly I was deployed in good time territory, the whole experience would be briskly forgotten soon afterwards. A far more than workmanlike turn from Pitt, a stunningly poignant one from Kertesz, some great cameos from Peter Capaldi and vaguely unhinged David Morse, and a gloriously insular finale, thoroughly doused those fears.

World War Z

World War Z is some spectacle. Never before has a zombie apocalypse been shown on such a global scale and, as an action movie, there’s more than enough here to pull in the punters by the drove. However, once it has reeled us in and we prepare to watch Pitt rip his shirt wide open and crack a zippy one-liner, it totally doubles back on itself. Thank God it does. It also acts as a sober reminder of one thing: ultimately we’re all ants. Sure, we can shift a picnic hamper right under noses should we work together, but a particularly large size eleven will soon remind us of our lowly stature unless we’re fortunate enough to slip through the cracks as it falls.


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: World War Z is plenty violent but without ever taking it to extremes. The action is frantic and this suits the PG-13 rating it received upon its theatrical release. Despite any lack of discernible grue, bad shit goes down on nary a second’s notice and you don’t have to see it to feel its impact. The visual effects, by a team almost as vast as the zombie extras, came under some scrutiny but, what it does, it does decidedly well.

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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