Personally, all things considered, Marc Forster is my favorite director. Every single one of his films has offered me something unique. One such film of his happens to be my favorite film: Finding Neverland. With that said, you’ve no doubt realized World War Z hit the box office a few weeks ago, and this review hasn’t happened until right now. If I’m such a fan of Forster, then why did I wait until this weekend to see this movie? Frankly, it didn’t look good, it seemed to basically be a rehash of The Walking Dead on a bigger screen, and Monsters University happened to be released on the same day. Needless to say, seeing World War Z was not a priority. Once the film became an international hit, grossing over $280 million worldwide already, I finally got around to it, and I’m kicking myself because I was very pleasantly surprised. I won’t be doubting Marc Forster again.
We all know what World War Z is about, right? Brad Pitt vs. the Zombie Apocalypse. Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. For example, the film is based on the novel of the same name by Max Brooks. I have not read this book, but the internet has made me keenly aware of the fact that apparently the film differs almost completely from the book. You know how much I care? I don’t. Now, I know there are fans of the book who passionately disagree with the liberties the film takes with the source material. All I can say is I don’t share your pain. It’s not only because I haven’t read the book, but it’s also because I’m okay with the idea that film, as a medium for conveying a story, differs greatly from a book. Telling a story with a film is drastically different from telling a story with a book. Granted, I would probably be more sympathetic to those crying foul if I didn’t like World War Z as much as I do.
In order for me to adequately explain what it is I like about World War Z, I have to convey to you what it is that I like about Marc Forster; so please bear with me for a short while. Over his career, Forster has displayed an ability to make films that are not only fairly unique in comparison to the films of others, but he’s a rare filmmaker who–in my opinion–is able to make films which are also unique in comparison to each other. With films like Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction he tells emotional, family dramas with realities that are slightly augmented by complementary special effects that purposely stand out. Usually, the effects are meant to be masked and unnoticeable, but in those films, Forster wants you to see them, and he uses them to enhance the story. Forster’s Stay uses effects in a similar way, but it is decidedly not an “emotional, family drama”.
The other kind of film that Forster has shown an ability to make well is the kind of film I’m certain got him hired to direct World War Z; these are films like Monster’s Ball, The Kite Runner, and Machine Gun Preacher. The worlds created in these films are starkly contrasted against those of Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction; the realities in these films are augmented only by reality itself. These are grittier, more “lived-in” worlds which are shot in an almost reportage look reminiscent of guerilla filmmaking. You’re placed deep inside these films, and the point of this style of filmmaking is to avoid anything that will, even for a moment, take you out of the film’s universe. Of course, films are subjective, so it can be argued as to how well Forster did or did not succeed at making those films, but the intent remains the same.
I say all of that because, with World War Z, I feel like Forster was tasked with combining those two styles of filmmaking in a way that seems like something completely new; I think he succeeded. World War Z manages to do something that I don’t think I’ve really seen before: exist as, basically, a suspense-adventure film. It definitely doesn’t carry the suspense, throughout, of a typical zombie film, but it does have those moments where I was on the edge of my seat with anticipation. Where the adventure twist comes in is with Brad Pitt’s character.
Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former UN investigator whose family is immediately thrust right into the middle of the Zombie Apocalypse. In the moments when the character needs to emote and have you buy into his plight, Pitt–being a great actor–does the job; he’s helped by that seemingly ageless face of his that has, over time, apparently gained the ability to force empathy out of you. Seriously, the dude just squints, and I’m like, “Why have you been forsaken so?!” (also, spoiler alert, even in movies, Pitt ends up with someone else’s kid. End spoiler alert).
Anyway, then there are the big, action set pieces–and, if you are a fan of big, action set pieces, this is a film for you because they are aplenty; the $200 million budget makes sense–in these scenes, Pitt’s character basically reverts to being the typical adventure hero. That means Indiana Jones; that means John McClane; you know the drill. These guys are essentially invincible; crashing planes, diving off crumbling overpasses, etc, and simply walking away. That’s a character that hasn’t really been used in a zombie film before. This trope also brings with it the only glaring problem I had with the film: Pitt is essentially the catalyst for absolutely everything that happens in the movie; that means, if some shit is about to get real, you can bet he’s going to be the one guy who sees it coming. I didn’t like that, but it’s kind of okay, though, because I could really not give less of a damn about any other character in the movie. If you’re picky, I suppose that’s also a problem, but I was fine with only caring about the one guy.
How I feel Forster’s style helped ameliorate the fact that Pitt is ostensibly an unstoppable terminator is his use of special effects to create a believably unbelievable world around this unbelievable character. You watch this movie, and you will believe zombies with a severe case of boneitis have overran the world because of how noticeably over-saturated with them the world of this film is; it’s Forster using the obviousness of the special effects to his advantage.
In the end, I highly recommend World War Z if, like I was, you’re on the fence about it. It’ll put you smack dab in the middle of a Zombie Apocalypse thrill ride. Tangentially speaking, with Forster’s knack for the active-establishing shot and tasteful shaky cam, I think he may have unintentionally unlocked the key to a good video game adaptation with this World War Z suspense-adventure formula. If something like Gears of War gets the big-screen treatment, perhaps Forster should direct it? Or, for a much more succinct review of the film, as ProFan Meghan described it, “World War Z turns into Black Hawk Down with zombies!”