I got bored with Max Brooks’ novel of World War Z and didn’t finish it. When it was suggested by a friend that we go see the film, I didn’t want to. In the end pressure won out.
The film stars Brad Pitt as the central character who in a re-imagining of the book flies around the world trying to find both the source of a “zombie” outbreak, and how to cure / survive / stop the contagion.
A few things should be noted here. The first is that these “zombies” are quick. They run, and they run fast. This is not your stereotypical plod, plod, shuffle, shuffle-fest. Oh no, they run and they will catch you up. It is strange then that when the chase scenes take place they are not “on the edge of your seat” nail-biting affairs. Somehow the plodding and suddenness of attack wins out in other films of the genre.
Secondly there are no real jump out moments, and there certainly is very little by way of gore and splatter. It is this which I think makes the film stand separately from the genre. What we have is not a horror film, it isn’t a shock-fest or indeed a purely action film. Sure, there are action sequences, all of which play out well. For example, hordes of charging “zombies” look like a wave, a tsunami sweeping over the ground swallowing up people, cars, and anything else which gets in its way. A real unstoppable force.
The film tries to take itself seriously and tell a story which could be factual. I know this most likely comes from the book which is in a documentary-style from written reports of events as they happen. Whilst there is little attempt to explain the how it all happened, there is also very little reference to the affected being Zombies at all. Notice the use of quotes in the review up until now? World War Z prefers to consider it an infection, an outbreak, a plague or some other viral / bacterial mutation which could of course really occur. I daresay that outside of movie-life, whilst such an epidemic could of course sweep around the globe, I’m fairly confident that those struck by it will not suddenly gain superhuman powers of speed and start hurtling down the street!
Given the subject-matter then, I know it is a little dumb to complain of a few points in the movie being unrealistic. However one unrealistic moment really annoyed me.
(SPOILER): Even if I accept that Brad (and his accomplice) are the only survivors of a plane crash which they cause by detonating a grenade on board before fastening his seatbelt. How were they able to walk from the crash site in the valleys of Wales, through deserted towns to the countryside and find the WHO Laboratory? They’d never been before, they didn’t have any technology (GPS, working phones, etc.) and it was intimated that any Welsh survivors kept out their way behind curtains and closed doors. Was there a signpost and directions on the hilltop upon which they crashed? Petty perhaps, but this jarred as soon as the scene took place.
The film is split into three distinct acts. This format is Storytelling 101 however it is extremely clear in the film. Each Act a set-piece; Escape. Travel. Solve.
Escape. The onset of the plague, and the escape and survival scenes are excellent. Grittier and more realistic(?) than much I have seen previously in this genre. But it needs to be said that I wasn’t rooting for the hero and there was little in the way of “oh fuck” moments.
Travel. Investigation of the contagion through travel around the globe was interesting. This Act had some nice set pieces; Israel looked fantastic, whilst the South Korea refueling scene felt like an outtake from Pitch Black.
Solve. This was the most enjoyable part for me. Once in the laboratory things were intriguing at first followed by the search for the goal which was a rat-race / maze adventure. What it was not however was climactic or a sudden crescendo of adrenaline. Not ever. The scenes here were serious, methodical and that same documentary-style which I guess bored me in the book causing me to put it down.
As the solve scenes came to their end the film suddenly sped up into a montage and neatly cleared up the loose ends with a voice-over from Brad essentially reading (what I assume was) the last 150 pages of the book in summary form for three or four minutes. It felt rushed and ill-considered, but also nicely left enough material for a second film should there be a desire for one.
Although I enjoyed World War Z it is hardly a classic. There are some nice set-pieces and a great use of effects without them all screaming “SPECIAL EFFECT” from the screen at you. Reading this review you may think to yourself that you’d be better off avoiding the film, however the weird thing is I could easily see myself watching this again and again once released to buy.