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Man of Steel (2013)
A good start for something new
The undeniably great Christopher Reeve ushered in the first generation of superhero blockbusters with 1979's Superman: The Movie. That generation brought us the Tim Burton Batman and little else of any success. The second generation kicked off with Bryan Singer's X- Men and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. With the reboot of The Amazing Spiderman, the re-invention of the epic blockbuster in The Avengers, the critical and commercial success of The Dark Knight trilogy, and a new team in X-Men: First Class, we have entered a third generation of superhero films.
Man of Steel is Superman's return to relevance, and his first truly great screen appearance since 1979.
An extended look at a much more realistic Krypton opens Man of Steel, and successfully sets the tone in a much darker way. Despite being Zack Snyder's film, the impact of Christopher Nolan is felt throughout; and although this sacrifices some of the light charm that Reeve's films were known for, it is a firm statement of independence that works in the film's favour.
Unlike previous incarnations, the back story of Krypton is key to the entire film, and true motivation is developed for Superman's Kryptonian parents and the film's big bad, General Zod (Michael Shannon). Slight alterations to the technology, physics, and explanations of Superman's Kryptonian DNA are brilliant manipulations of the classic story that bring it up to date for a modern superhero blockbuster. Batman Begins started the reset where audiences would not accept a superhero without logic and reason. Man of Steel's creative team, including David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, have brought the same respect for the character that rebuilt Batman so effectively.
Henry Cavill, the man who was almost cast as Aragorn then Batman and then James Bond, has finally found his blockbuster franchise. He fits the suit that few mere mortals are physically qualified for, and he manages to pull off the reluctant hero without appearing mopey or frigid. A downside to the origin story that this film tells is that we don't get much of his human alter ego. Part of what made Christopher Reeve's Superman so likable was his bumbling Clark Kent, but we'll have to wait until the next film to see if Cavill's awkward journalist is as good as his bulletproof hero.
Even though the film revolves around Krypton's destruction, Clark Kent's childhood development in Kansas, and General Zod's escape from the phantom zone for revenge, Man of Steel carves a very original path from the first two Christopher Reeve films. By the credits it has established a new Superman in the same way that JJ Abrams established a new Star Trek. All the characters and elements are present, but they have not been dropped in front of us for no reason. By the end of the film we believe in them, and we see the connections that make them cohesive.
With Batman joining Superman in the sequel, there is a danger that Henry Cavill's Man of Steel will get overshadowed by the (much more popular) Dark Knight. But it's possible that this film will get the Batman Begins status of being the somewhat successful opening act of great things to follow.
The Artist (2011)
Modern audiences could learn a thing or two
Most people do not watch silent films. In fact, most people do not watch black and white films. Judging by the box office lately it seems people are even giving up on theatrical 2D. So I know I have my work cut out for me when I say you must go see The Artist as soon as possible. It is silent, black and white, 2D and not even in widescreen. And it is going to be crowned the Best Picture of the year by the Academy Awards; if it doesn't I will have serious reservations about defending the Oscars' integrity.
It is the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent film star who is pushed aside at the start of the sound era; the classic rouge hero is quickly forgotten as new star Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) takes centre stage working for Al Zimmer (John Goodman) and the Kinograph Studios.
All of the performances, with Dujardin and Bejo at the centre, make this an extremely relatable film. Even modern audiences expecting to be frustrated by the lack of dialogue will be surprised by the expressive storytelling power that this film delivers. An equal partner to the actors is the film's score by Ludovic Bource, and director Michel Hazanavicius uses the music or removes the music with elegant ease.
Many will claim it is for filmmakers and cinephiles only, but that is not true. Filmmakers and cinephiles are just at the head of the pack because they already watch silent films and understand that they should not be treated differently. A moment of silence will bring a hush to the audience, as it should, but that is no different than any other modern film. When a joke is funny, you can laugh. When a shock surprises you, you can gasp. A great film is a great film, and this uses every trick developed in a century of filmmaking to tell the most beautifully realized love letter to cinema I have ever seen. Only Hugo and Cinema Paradiso have come this close to recreating the exhilaration I remember from seeing my first movies.
This silent, black and white, full-frame movie is a delight. I will be going back to see it again. I will buy it on blu-ray. I will make everyone I know watch it because, believe me, it is breathtaking.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
Hard to sell, hard to describe, because it's hard to reduce.
"Remarkable," "Convoluted," "Entertaining," "Sprawling," "Masterful," "Transcendant," and "Guaranteed to divide." Those are the words the critics have been using about Cloud Atlas. I prefer what was said by the film's three directors, Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachoswki, and Andy Wachowski, when they premiered the six-minute first trailer: "It's hard to sell, hard to describe, because it's hard to reduce."
Based on the highly-acclaimed (and highly-recommended) novel by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas is not one 3-hour movie much like the novel is not one 500-page book. It is actually a collection of six 30-minute movies spread across time, space, and genre. These short films have been chopped up and spliced together with interruptions and mid-sentence stops, with voice-overs carrying across multiple stories, and with connections both explicit and implicit. It is an ambitious and unusual film, but unlike other attempts to create grand scope and provoke philosophical debate, Cloud Atlas is also wonderfully fun and entertaining. Tree of Life is an attempt to interweave different eras and themes, but for all its artistic quality it is still a cure for insomnia. But Cloud Atlas' directors (creators of The Matrix and Run Lola Run) are eager to entertain, and for all the ambition driving the film it never forgets to tell a good narrative.
The ambition of the project is only clearer when the cast is considered. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant are among the main cast, and every one plays at least three parts. Several of the actors, including Tom Hanks, actually play six parts; one role for each section of Cloud Atlas, playing different personalities, different races, and even different genders.
In these six sections the film covers all the major genres and time periods: a dying doctor on a pacific voyage in 1849, letters from a composer to his lover in pre-war Europe, a conspiracy thriller in the 1970s, a modern-day comedy of a publisher committed to a nursing home, the future rebellion of a clone in Korea, and the post-apocalyptic survival story of a tribe living on Hawaii. Taken alone, any of these stories would be worthy films, but taken together they become part of a larger work that is offered up to the audience for their interpretation.
Unlike in the book, one of my favourite sections is the earliest, the 1849 travel of Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) as he is being cared for by Dr. Henry Goose. The eccentric doctor is brought to life by Tom Hanks, and is one of the best examples in the film of how the casting adds new levels of enjoyment to the stories. Like a blockbuster adaptation of "Where's Waldo?" it is a lot of fun trying to spot all the famous faces hidden under the make-up. At the end of the film the credits include the answer-key with all the actors' characters showing up alongside their name, and its likely that a few will come as a surprise.
Cloud Atlas is a film like The Avengers in that the people who like it and the people who don't like it will probably be saying the same thing; "So massive," and "Too massive," are reviews from personal taste. I've met people who hate Casablanca or The Fighter, but praise Valentine's Day for its originality, and I think those people are idiots. But that's my personal opinion. It's impossible to make a film that everyone likes, and Cloud Atlas is not for everyone. It is 3- hours, after all, and there is violence and romance alongside foul language and futuristic slang. Fans of Hugh Grant may find it difficult to see the rom-com leading man in the same light after seeing him play the warrior chief of a tribe of cannibals. But, for the other side of the audience, this film includes Hugh Grant playing the warrior chief of a tribe of cannibals! Depending on how you approach that line (exclamation point or period) might tell you if Cloud Atlas is a film you will enjoy.
The best I can say is that I enjoyed it. When I wasn't enjoying the characters and their stories, I enjoyed the filmmaking. When I wasn't enjoying the filmmaking, I enjoyed the music. There was never a moment where I felt the film was dragging too long, skipping over something important, or failing to hold my attention. It is a sprawling epic in the best way, and I highly recommend giving it the opportunity to surprise you.
Warm Bodies (2013)
Juliet and Zombie Romeo
Nicholas Hoult plays R, a zombie who cannot remember his full name. He shuffles around an airport with dry, witty narration filling his thoughts. M (Rob Corddry) is his best friend, and sometimes they get hungry and team up to go look for brains. During one of these meals out, R eats the brains of Perry (Dave Franco), and R finds Perry's feelings for his girlfriend Julie (Teresa Palmer) becoming his own. R then saves Julie and hides her in his Wall-E like shelter full of the remains of human society.
Director Jonathan Levine made the indie coming-of-age film The Wackness, which was reasonably entertaining if not very original. His follow-up feature was the terrific 50/50, which was a great convergence of actors and script. Warm Bodies ends up somewhere between the two. The highlight of the film in terms of both actor and script is Nicholas Hoult. His depressed narration includes most of the best lines and Hoult manages to get across a lot of emotion despite sticking to the grey, dead features of the classic Hollywood zombie.
The supporting cast fits the film, but no one is trying too hard to make Warm Bodies a very serious film, which for a Rom-Zom-Com is the best choice. Rob Corddry just plays himself, Teresa Palmer is a beautiful and relatable lead, and John Malkovich agreed to be in this movie, which is less impressive now that his recent work has included Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Jonah Hex.
As for the story itself, if R and Julie wasn't enough of a hint, Perry sounds like Paris, R's best friend is M, and Julie's best friend wants to be a nurse. The star-crossed connections become painfully clear when R approaches Julie at her balcony. And this is the main flaw of the film. Director Jonathan Levine keeps the focus on the Shakespeare romance instead of on the zombie comedy. This is only a problem because it places the audience in the awkward position of rooting for necrophilia, an obstacle that even the most dedicated romantic would have trouble overcoming.
Warm Bodies is an entertaining riff on Shakespeare that seems very original at the start, but soon reveals its conventional side. It's not gory enough to be a zombie classic, but it's good enough to be a worthwhile (unconventional) romance.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Some old territory, but still a smart sequel
This is the long-awaited sequel to a blockbuster science fiction franchise that has seen highs and lows over the past few decades. It is probably the best indicator of what JJ Abrams will bring to a Star Wars sequel, and I'd say things are looking very good.
After a thrilling James Bond-like opening mission, Kirk and the Enterprise return to Earth. In London, rogue agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) has bombed a Starfleet archive, and Kirk gets permission from Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to hunt him down.
From the opening scenario involving primitive aliens, cliff diving, and exploding volcanoes, the film keeps a pace going that would give the original series whiplash. William Shatner's crew may have had time for philosophy and contemplation, but with Chris Pine on the bridge the philosophy must be discussed between phaser blasts. Action fans can rejoice at this. Sometimes the speed and clutter of the frame was overwhelming, but JJ has proved to be a more than capable action director with a clear hold on his audience.
A superficial improvement in the sequel is the reduction of lens flares. It doesn't bother me, but many people complain that the first film has too many. Happy for you then that JJ is such a nice guy because he has bowed to the people's will and given you what you asked for. Giving the audience what they want, however, is exactly what causes trouble in the film. Not a lot of trouble, but enough to make this sequel not quite as good as its predecessor.
Where the first film had a streamlined plot that spiralled around it's time-travel premise, Into Darkness has an element of chaos that is both good and bad. As the plot unfolds and the villain surprises Kirk, the chaos plays to the danger and suspense that comes with such an unpredictable opponent. But in gaining mystery and suspense the film sacrifices tidy storytelling, which shuffles emotional scenes and action scenes in jarring ways. As far as criticisms go that one is pretty weak, but it's the best description I can give for the slight disappointment I felt.
The writers have picked up the alternate-time line characters where they were left and have followed them forward with the understanding that even on a new time line, they could encounter elements of the original series. At times, references to the original series get in the way of good storytelling. This is a problem that only Trek fans will have to deal with, however, since the film as science fiction, as action, as adventure, and as a fun ensemble is solid. Even if references to the original do get in the way, they are such good elements that it would have been a shame to lose just because Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) messed up the time line in the first film.
When sequels like The Dark Knight come along they are met with astonishment because good sequels have been so difficult and rare. Before Nolan returned to Gotham there was only The Godfather Part 2 and The Empire Strikes Back to cited as undeniably great successors. Though I won't place Into Darkness in their league, it is still a fantastic sequel. With JJ doing Star Wars it is unlikely we will see another Star Trek for 3-4 years unless a new director is found, but when the next film comes it will have a lot to live up to in both of its predecessors.
Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
Weak Die Hard wannabe
So here's the thing about action movies: ever since Die Hard, Hollywood has been trying to make another Die Hard. They've done every variation of hostage situation including several more office buildings, they've done every type of non-American villain except Canadian, and they've given every macho leading man from Harrison Ford to Alec Baldwin (in 1990) a shot at the title. But even Bruce Willis as John McClane fighting Russian terrorists in A Good Day to Die Hard couldn't recapture the magic. Now it's Antoine Fuqua's chance to direct, and Gerard Butler's chance to play the hero. Are the elements that make up the bones of Die Hard present? Yes. Do they work? No.
Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler) is kicked off the President's detail when he fails to save the First Lady from a car crash. Eighteen months later and he is working at the Treasury Department on the day that the South Korean delegation is visiting President Asher (Aaron Eckhart). Then a gunship bomber flies over DC and starts shooting at anything and anyone, tourist groups turn out to be heavily armed infantry, and part of the South Korean delegation turn out to be the bad guys. The fact that one of them is played by the diamond-faced villain from Die Another Day could have been a clue.
With the President and VP taken hostage and the White House occupied, the government is handed over to Speaker of the House Morgan Freeman. He has a character name, but all you need to know is he's Morgan Freeman, which is good because that's all the filmmakers give you. Party affiliations and character development have no place in action movies.
Something I hadn't considered in my excitement to see Die Hard at the White House was that the whole "lone hero" scenario requires removing the other heroes. Washington DC has a lot of possible heroes to remove, and this means that the debut siege is a bloodbath. This sequence is one of the most original in the film, and it feels like the part that got the script the green light, but it resembles Saving Private Ryan more than anything from the Nakatomi Building.
It may be unfair for me to constantly compare this film to Die Hard, but I can easily see Gerard Butler's character going home to watch the Bruce Willis classic and saying, "Why doesn't he just shoot them in the head? He should just shoot them in the head. Do you think he considered just shooting them in the head?" I didn't even try to count how many Full Metal Jacket brain splatters were the result of Butler firing a perfectly-aimed shot.
An essential part of the lone hero action film is the hero's motivation. It's not good enough that he wants to be a good guy and save everyone. John McClane would have left the building if his wife weren't in the hostages. The same goes for Harrison Ford in Air Force One. Gerard Butler's only motivation seems to be doing his job, which is fairly weak as far as action movies go.
But, at the halfway point, the film did not deserve much scorn. It succeeded in delivering what the trailers promised, which was a lot of action in the relatively new setting of the White House. However, in the second half, there is a device introduced that rises to Dr. Strangelove levels of stupidity solely for the purpose of raising the stakes higher than they needed to go. Nothing is easier to mock than a ticking clock, and a couple of plot contrivances leading up to it doesn't help the believability.
As far as action movies go, there have been plenty worse, and if you don't mind blood this was a worthy popcorn flick. It's not challenging or particularly well-crafted, but it does what it set out to do.
The World's End (2013)
Unique, but still in line with Shaun and Hot Fuss
Few cult classics of the last decade managed to be as popular as Shaun of the Dead, and I'd say no zombie film has been as entertaining. When Hot Fuzz came along from the same crazy team it managed to upend the action cop genre just as well as Shaun had upended zombie horror. Both films walk a very thin line between satirizing the genre and being a part of it, and both succeed brilliantly. Now comes sci-fi/alien/apocalypse comedy The World's End.
The film's aliens are actually robots that have replaced most of the town in a mix of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives. Party guy Gary (Simon Pegg) convinces his four high school friends (Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and Paddy Considine) to go back to their home town to finish the twelve-pub crawl that they never completed 23 years before. Soon the robot alien secret is revealed, and the guys have to fight for their lives and try to save the world.
Unlike most recent comedies, The World's End manages to include real character development, conflict, and drama without sacrificing laughs. Anyone who has had a few close drinking buddies in their life, and perhaps have gone too far some nights, will relate to these five old friends. They have their ups and downs, and still carry some old scars, but they are there for each other when the blue alien robot blood hits the fan.
Revered Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski made the famous "Three Colours Trilogy" with Blue, White, and Red. Film geeks Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have now completed their "Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy". Strawberry red was in the gory rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead, original blue is in the police-centred Hot Fuzz, and alien mint green is in The World's End. Along with a recurring set of actors and a few recurring jokes, the trilogy is mostly held together by Pegg and Wright's quintessentially British humour and Wright's love of fast editing, which is on full display in The World's End.
I hesitate to mention, but if I had one complaint with the film it would be, ironically, the end. Although the story wrapped up and climaxed in a wonderfully entertaining way, the last few minutes saw a sudden tone shift that I felt halted the momentum. In a way it was the perfect way to end the film, and it marked a clear difference from the other two Cornetto films, but it still didn't feel right.
Despite the minor issues I had with the ending, or with the somewhat underused appearance of Pierce Brosnan (with Timothy Dalton in Hot Fuzz, I'm sad that Connery or Moore weren't in Shaun of the Dead for a James Bond hat trick), The World's End was a wonderfully entertaining film.
Apparently Cornetto is releasing new flavours in the UK, so if the stars align and find themselves with some free time, perhaps the trilogy will expand. For now you can expect to see Simon Pegg expanding into drama with Hector and the Search for Happiness as well as more Star Trek, Nick Frost will be acting without Pegg for the first time in salsa dancing comedy Cuban Fury, and director Edgar Wright is finally working on Ant-Man for Marvel's Phase Two films leading to The Avengers 2.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Methodical, uncomfortable, but never boring
If you were thinking that two years is a bit soon to be making a film about the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, I have news for you: the film has actually been in production since 2009, two years before Bin Laden was killed.
Mark Boal won many accolades for the accuracy he brought to the screenplay of The Hurt Locker, and after he and director Kathryn Bigelow scored big wins at the 2009 Oscars they planned to work together on a follow up. At that time, Boal, through his military contacts, was following a Navy SEAL team's operations. As luck would have it that SEAL team ended up being involved on the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. Within two days of the assassination, Bigelow announced they were re-working Boal's Black Ops script into the film that is now Zero Dark Thirty.
So, how does a "based on true events" story turn out when the events and the film production ran parallel? Actually, quite well. The film, which is up for 5 Oscars including Best Picture, is a string of events filmed in the still-popular hand-held fashion that the Jason Bourne series used to excess. It is one third torture and interrogation, one third spy bureaucracy, and one third Call of Duty.
Central to the CIA investigation is Maya (Jessica Chastain) and her evolution from naive young agent to heavily-disguised operative. If this film wins anything at the February 24 ceremony it will be for Chastain's performance. She has given several great performances in ensembles over the last few years with The Help being a standout, but in Zero Dark Thirty she stands above a cast that includes a dozen recognizable faces including James Gandolfini. As the investigation drags on, her patience thins, and Chastain turns into the female equivalent of Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. To put it simply, she is the strongest female lead Hollywood has put out in a long time.
As the story progresses through the many terrorist attacks that have occurred in the past decade the tension continues to mount, and Bigelow succeeds in the same way Ben Affleck did in Argo, or Ron Howard did in Apollo 13. Even though everyone knows how the story ends, tension and suspense build out of the relationship that is built between the audience and the characters. It is a terrific feat of visual storytelling and performance that makes this a highly recommended film. And it's "history" is a perfect topic for post-viewing debate.
Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
The weak and gimmicky
The great debate over 3D rages on, and Oz the Great and Powerful is the latest battleground. The critics are split; some say 3D should be innocuous and intended to build on quality storytelling, but some say that 3D should remember its roots as a 1950s novelty and throw things out of the screen. Oz falls into the second category with spears, flying monkeys, carnivorous trees, and bubbling fog all flying out to the audience. I decided to save a few bucks and went to the 2D, which may have been a mistake. From the animated credits it was clear that Sam Raimi was playing to the 3D crowd next door.
The movie opens in black and white Kansas with the frame cut off at the old 4:3 ratio. Oz (James Franco) is a magician working in a travelling circus. He is selfish, deceitful, and as much of a womanizer as children's films allow. Plenty of great films have sleazy leading men who see the error of their ways, but this opening sequence is missing any kind of villain to contrast with the charming hero. When Rick first appears in Casablanca we like him not because he's a sharp-tongued rogue, but because he's a sharp-tongued rogue outwitting Nazis. Here, Franco is just the least honest man in a room of nice country people, and the intro sequence suffers as a result.
When Oz's hot air balloon is tossed around by a tornado the visuals kick in. Broken fence posts stab at him through the floor and waggons crash into the screen as the noise rages on. Finally calm air returns and the screen transforms into panoramic colour. One thing that cannot be faulted is the film's production design. The look of the original 1939 film is recreated and expanded very effectively. Although the movie is claimed to be based on the books, it is clearly inspired most by the original musical.
References to The Wizard of Oz imagery are everywhere. Rainbow arcs appear in clouds and tree branches through the whole film to the point of overkill. In one respect Raimi did hold back, which is referring to the original film's trio of characters. A lion makes a fun appearance, and we meet a man who makes scarecrows, but other than these little nods the film is mostly concerned with the love triangle (or square?) of Oz and the three witches.
Michelle Williams is the bubble-powered Glinda, Rachel Weisz is the uncomplicated evil witch Evanora, and Mila Kunis is the naive Theodora. The relationships of these three with Oz appear a little one-sided, and are only marginally better than Twilight in terms of inspiring female role models. Also, since this is essentially a prequel, the original film's ending is given a depressing new twist with Oz abandoning Glinda to return to Kansas with a younger woman. But, all that aside, the three leading women are all great actors and they are performing in the slightly exaggerated style that classic Hollywood and children's films demand.
When Glinda brings Oz into her protected kingdom there is a sequence where a bunch of townspeople explain exactly what they do; someone sews, someone makes bread, someone builds scarecrows, etc. Unfortunately this is not the only scene where people voluntarily say exactly what they do. The script is filled with exposition where characters simple state their intentions. If this weren't aimed at children I'd say it was criminally lazy writing, but I have to remind myself again that this is targeted at kids who have recently hit the age where The Wizard of Oz is first experienced. Clarity is expected.
Without the dazzle of 3D I was left to look at the quality of the story, the script, and the acting, none of which are the film's strength. It's worth looking at for the visuals of the production design. I wouldn't say that it is a terrible otherwise, since it easily outdoes other re-visitations of children's classics (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes to mind), but it isn't great, and unless you're under 10 it isn't powerful.
World War Z (2013)
Good zombie thriller, but next time they should adapt the book
Max Brooks' book "World War Z" is a masterwork thriller. It drips information about the zombie apocalypse to the reader through short stories, so that as you read the survivors' accounts you piece together a much bigger story. It would make a brilliant anthology series on HBO. They could hand chapters off to individual filmmakers to adapt into hour-long episodes. Rumour is that there was an earlier script that would have made this film 3+ hours and stuck much closer to the book's structure. The rumour also says that it would have been the first Oscar-worthy zombie film.
But that is not what happened. Instead, the filmmakers behind World War Z, including producer Brad Pitt, have looked at the macro-political story that Max Brooks wrote and wrote a Hollywood hero into it. Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former UN agent who is drafted to find a cure. Forced away from his family to globe-trot the apocalypse, he deals with a variety of situations borrowed equally from zombie films and apocalypse disaster movies.
Plenty of fans of the novel will be disappointed by this. But the fact that the movie follows a new character while (roughly) following the bigger story of the book means that the characters of the novel are out there. They are facing their own apocalypses. They just didn't cross paths with Brad Pitt. Sequels or (hopefully) an HBO series could give them their time on screen, but for now we have this film starring Brad Pitt.
As far as films starring Brad Pitt go, this one is quite good. It didn't try to be funny, which most zombie films do, and the resulting tone was closer to Contagion than Dawn of the Dead. Brad Pitt is a solid leading man as usual. Mireille Enos (The Killing) is his wife, and in her short time on screen she manages to be a competent survivor.
Something that often sinks apocalypse films is a transparently manipulative character. The screaming blond in Jaws 2 should have been the first one eaten, but she stubbornly survives to annoy the audience to the end. Fred Astaire's part in The Towering Inferno was specifically designed to break your heart. 2012 was hemorrhaging selfish and annoying characters to hate. These cheap emotional manipulations reveal bad scripts more often than bad actors, so it was nice to see World War Z did not burden its good cast with cheap tricks.
Perhaps we will see a WWZ adaptation some day, but for now there is a solid zombie thriller starring Brad Pitt that happens to use the same title.