Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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World War Z

Film #366

THE PLOT

United Nations employee Gerry Lane traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself.

Year 2, Film #1

THE REVIEW: Year 2 is beginning in the theater with World War Z. As you can probably tell, the layout of this post is a bit different than usual. No longer am I including a “Before” section which I often found to be a hassle to find something to write for. Now, if I do have some interesting insight about the film prior to my viewing, or there is general things to discuss about the marathon, I’ll just include them in the first paragraph here, as I’m doing now. The heading now includes the number of films for the year and in total (both years combined) - no longer is there a “day” counter. Ratings will remain out of five stars. Now onto the film.

To say I was skeptical going into the film would be an understatement. One of the reasons I chose to see Now You See Me on the last day of year one was because World War Z looked like a tossup: it could have been really great, or it could have been a total bomb. After seeing it, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised and highly entertained throughout. In terms of realism, it missed the mark in a few key ways (not the whole zombie thing; more practical issues) which led to some distractions, but what is really great about the film is its ability to take your mind off these issues.

Yet again we have a film that’s based off a book that I have not read. From what I’ve heard, World War Z the film is quite different from the novel and removes some of the more political and environmental messages of the film opting instead for a more traditional summer blockbuster type movie. It definitely has the feel of a summer blockbuster with some big stars - namely Brad Pitt - and epic action scenes filled with visual effects and numerous extras (many of which are CGI). But it’s more than just a brain-numbing, sit-back-and-watch film; the story requires your attention and is engaging. While many parts are predictable - both when watching and certainly in retrospect - the energy of the film carries you along and maintains excitement nonetheless. You may know what the end result will be but in this case, watching how everything unfolds is just as interesting. Plus, World War Z has some very scary moments. Often I find horror films disappointing because they don’t make me jump in my seat, let alone scream like a little girl. World War Z didn’t deliver on the screams for me (the same can’t be said for the woman who sat behind me) but it did make me jump in my seat a few times, something I give major props for.

The story here is what separates World War Z from just being a mindless action film that’s fun to watch (read: Transformers). But the story is also what prevents it from being a great film. Zombies are a major part of the film (the “Z” in the title refers to zombies) but the real focus of the film is on the spreading of disease. I find it eerily similar to Contagion except that instead of the disease killing people, it turns them into undead creatures. Speaking of which, I feel as though I was spoiled by seeing Contagion first because that certainly established my level of knowledge about global pandemics (why shouldn’t I use films as the basis of my understanding of medicine?). While I certainly believe the information I learned from Contagion is accurate (at least to some degree), the example shown also made much more common sense. Disease can spread quickly, but it’s exponential growth, which means it’s slow to start. The other main idea I learned from Contagion is that it’s vital (for a reason I’m not completely sold on) to find patient zero so that vaccines and cures can be produced. Why it can’t be synthesized using a later patient or even someone who is immune to the disease, I don’t know.

But that’s getting away from the point. World War Z is not Contagion and it doesn’t need to do things exactly like it. In fact it should do things differently. But while they touched briefly on these broader topics (like finding patient zero) where the film began to lose me was with the common sense. As you get further into the film, the more you hear about the origins of this disease that’s turning everyone into zombies. But in the beginning it’s like a switch was flipped and all of a sudden, the outbreak became a worldwide thing. One day there were no zombies and now over half the population of Earth is infected. Again, as Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) conducts his investigation some details about the origin are revealed, showing that it was more than an instantaneous change. The spread of the disease started anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks prior to the time shown in the film (an exact start is never really found). But even now, I still have a hard time believing that there were no warning signs about this that would have signaled a response by military and health officials around the world. Everyone seems to have been taken by surprise by the sudden appearance of zombies, which doesn’t really make sense. To do a little arithmetic (what, math on a movie site!? - outrageous) I’ll work backwards. The value 3.5 billion infected shows up ever so briefly (as a little graphic on computer screens in the base of operations on the Atlantic Ocean) which is half of the roughly 7 billion inhabitants on Earth. Given exponential growth (take, for example an increase by a factor of two every day) that means just a week earlier, less than 30 million people would have been infected. That’s less than half of one percent of the Earth’s population. This isn’t to say the spread of infection could have been contained and prevented; it’s that it should have been less of sudden occurrence that takes everyone by surprise.

That’s quite an elaborate explanation of something that really doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the movie. While it certainly peeved me a bit, doubting the believability of the film paled in comparison to how engrossed with the story I was. It far exceeded my expectations and countered my skepticism of a movie about zombies by delivering something much more compelling than a generic action/horror film. For fans of those genres, you won’t be disappointed, but for those who aren’t necessarily big fans (like myself) I’d still recommend giving World War Z a viewing. You’ll probably be surprised by how good it is as well.

THE RATING: 4 out of 5