After all the production troubles, director juggling and delays, it’s a welcome surprise that World War Z is as solid as it is. It’s not one of the all time great zombie movies by any means, and it does not even come close to replicating the greatness of the book, but it’s a solid entry in the genre.
Brad Pitt stars as UN investigator, Gerry Lane, who barely manages to get his family out of Philadelphia before a swarm of infected humans overrun the city. His old boss recruits him for a mission to try and find the source of the outbreak, which leads him from a US military base in South Korea to Jerusalem and beyond. There was probably no way a 2 hour movie could have done justice to the globe trotting, multiple perspective approach of the book but the movie does a decent job of conveying the global nature of the zombie outbreak. There are few nods and ideas from the book but glaringly obvious things, like the Battle of Yonkers for instance, are notably absent in favor of the more intimate focus on Brad Pitt and his family. One thing that bugged me was that the ending has glimpses of exactly what many fans of the book were probably looking for, there’s mention of a Battle of Moscow, a global radio network relaying info about the zombie outbreak and people finding creative ways to fight back. It felt a bit like Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, where the movie felt like a 2 hour prequel for what we actually wanted to see and ends before we got to the good stuff. With a sequel on the way, I have some hope that they can get more focus and possibly bring in the actual “war” of World War Z.
One of the main issues with World War Z is an issue that has plagued a number of big blockbusters lately, and that is that it clearly was intended to be R rated but there were most likely demands from higher up that caused it to be cut down to a PG-13. There’s lots of shaky cam and cutting away before anything violent happens that showed up last year in movies like Red Dawn, Taken 2 and The Hunger Games. It’s incredibly strange when you have a TV show like The Walking Dead with much better zombie effects and violence and a $200 million blockbuster with spotty CG and no violence. I can understand that the movie was kind of an out of control disaster, financially, so they needed any way to get their money back, thus the PG-13 rating and 3D, but I can only imagine how much better it would have been as a true, R rated, zombie movie. That being said, the movie does do a few cool things with it’s zombies, including their utter disregard for anything but their next meal, throwing themselves off roofs and through windows for a chance to catch someone and the swarming we saw in the trailer is actually a lot cooler than you might have initially thought. You also get both styles of zombies in the movie, with the “runners” of 28 Days Later as the initial form and then more of the Romero style zombies when they go “dormant” after eating everyone in the general vicinity.
There are a couple of really great action sequences in World War Z that feature probably the most zombies ever seen on screen. The highlight of the movie is the middle sequence that begins in Jerusalem and ends with a plane crash in Wales. The sheer amount of zombies is worth seeing if you’re a fan of the genre. The climax is almost the exact opposite, a tense stealth mission into a virus lab at the World Health Organization labs in Wales, but it’s just as good. The movie suffers in between action sequences though with lots of cliched character work and dialogue. Of course the doctor who is “our only hope at a cure” will be killed on the first mission; Of course the captain of the troops stuck in South Korea will give Brad Pitt his mom’s ring to give to his family and then die a few minutes later. No one in the movie is an actual character, they are all just the standard action movie stereotypes. It’s interesting that a Roland Emmerich movie is coming out this weekend, because World War Z very much had the feel of one of his disaster movies.
If you can separate your expectations based on the book, World War Z is a pretty solid, action packed entry in the zombie genre. It has some plot issues, the characters are all stock and the movie is handicapped by it’s rating but there is definitely room for things to improve in the sequel. If you haven’t read the book, definitely stop what you are doing and pick it up immediately, as it is one of the greatest pieces of zombie fiction ever, up there with the Romero classics and The Walking Dead and if you only have time for one, the book is the obvious better choice over the movie.