Mini-Reviews: World War Z, Monsters University

World War Z:

There were reasons to be skeptical about World War Z, Marc Forster’s adaptation of Max Brooks’ terrific book. For one, reports that the film would bear very little resemblance to the book, which seemed to spit in the face of the fans, myself included. Also, reports emerged in nearly every publication about how troubled the production was: fights, over budget, reshoots, and an entirely rewritten third act. Finally, the PG-13 rating, which would inevitably disappoint all zombie fans expecting a slew of gore and violence, staples of the genre. A cloud of doom seemed to hang over World War Z as its release approached… which makes it all the more satisfying to find that, despite all reports, it’s an engrossing and satisfying action thriller. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel: it presents us with a simple premise and executes it capably over a brisk 2 hour runtime. Forster limits the perspective on the chaos for the most part, denying us the endless exposition which bogs down so many big summer films, keeping us on the ground with Brad Pitt as he tries to cling to his life, making the action inordinately claustrophobic and nail-biting. While the second act drags in parts, the first and third are among the most satisfying action filmmaking of the summer.

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is driving along with his wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters when he’s suddenly caught in the middle of a zombie breakout. You might expect this to happen half an hour or so into the film, after scores of character development– here, we get one brief breakfast before the action, instead learning about our protagonist family as we go. Lane tries to keep his family safe, in a series of harrowing near-misses and escapes, during which he (and we) learn about the zombies through brief visual cues. He watches a man get bitten and twelve seconds later turn into a full-blown zombie; later, after he fears he’s been infected, he stands on the ledge of a roof and counts to twelve. The economy of the storytelling is unfamiliar compared to the usual bloated summer film. The second act sends Gerry on a quest to find Patient Zero, which keeps his family safe and thus loses some momentum. However, the (re-written) third act is a doozy, all inside one building, full of unbearable tension and dark humor. Pitt is in top form considering he’s not given a great deal of character to work with, and Enos is a refreshing choice as the wife, radiating honest emotion and intelligence. There’s no gore, and one occasionally feels the film working hard to avoid showing the guts, but this isn’t a “zombie film” per se anyway. It’s an apocalypse film, focusing on end-of-the-world peril instead of melee carnage. Even as a fan of the book, I felt relieved by the streamlined world they presented here: a faithful HBO miniseries would suit the book material better, but for a two-hour presentation of World War Z, I was very entertained.

Monsters University:

Pixar is like the student in your class who gets straight As. They’ve put out many of the best films of the past twenty years and boast a track record that would put any other studio to shame. Unfortunately for Pixar, that means when they phone in a film like Monsters University, even if it’s still totally pleasant output, it feels like a bigger disappointment than if any other studio had made the same film. Monsters University is Pixar’s attempt at making a good prequel, an endeavor that has succeeded a single digit number of times in the history of cinema. This film falls prey to many of the prequel traps: we know how the film will end, so there’s no suspense, and it goes out of its way to create cutesy references to the original film, feeling very self-aware along the way. Sure, it has enough cute characters, likable moments, and laugh-out-loud one-liners to be enjoyable enough– and Pixar’s quality of animation and selection of voice actors are still light years ahead of its competition. However, Pixar’s standard of wit, heart, and surprise is so high that one can’t help but feel somewhat disappointed by the end result. It’s as if some very talented people are doing their best Pixar impression: close, but not quite. It also doesn’t help that this film came out weeks after The Internship, with which it shares countless plot points and characters (and The Internship is a better movie). As an audience member, you could do far worse… but if you’re a member of the Pixar creative team, I can’t help but feel like you could do far better.

~ by russellhainline on July 10, 2013.

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