Movie Review: World War Z

Three of my most anticipated films of the year came out this week. Here’s the first of them.

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Starring:
Brad Pitt, Mereille Enos, Fana Mokoena
Director:
Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace)
Rating: M
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It’s a wonder Brad Pitt‘s new zombie virus outbreak film World War Z has even come out in cinemas, given its well documented production troubles. The script, adapted from a well received but difficult to film novel trilogy, was almost completely re-written and re-shot along its tumultuous journey to our screens. It was only the determination and stubbornness of Pitt‘s production team that allowed it to scrape through. And at the end of the day I’m glad it did.

First things first: If everything you know about this film is that it features Brad Pitt and some zombies, you’re probably going to go into the cinema with some skewed expectations. World War Z is not a zombie movie, or at the very least not a conventional one. It’s probably more accurate to call it a global disaster movie that happens to have zombies in it. The emphasis is very firmly on “epic” scale rather than close-quarters scares for most of proceedings, which gives the movie somewhat of a fresh feel. There is hardly time to focus on the individual undead when this particular breed of virus spreads so frightneningly quickly, after all.

In any case, I certainly can’t remember seeing quite this many zombies onscreen at once in any other movie. World War Z opens with some well chosen video snippets of nature’s brutality in numbers, and it is the single-minded predatory determination of ants that comes to mind in the film’s most breathtaking shot, a mindless mass ascent of a supposedly impenetrable wall by thousands upon thousands of diseased bodies. It’s a truly spectacular set piece and it isn’t the only memorable one in the film by any means.

The rest of World War Z trots the globe, taking the zombie action from the US of A to South Korea, Israel, Wales, Russia and beyond. While this does capture the essence of a truly worldwide threat to humanity, it does rob the film of some of its focus. At times it can seem like things are meandering a little, with runs of consecutive cuts between countries that achieve very little in the way of plot advancement or character development. None of the characters, save for Pitt‘s ex-United Nations protagonist, gets nearly enough screen time or dialogue to make a memorable mark on the film, so it hardly helps that the megastar goes about his role with bafflingly little energy. But his character didn’t even exist in the book, after all. World War Z was never really a story terribly concerned with individuals, so it’s a forgivable flaw.

Having said that, the nature of Hollywood filmmaking demands a certain level of intimacy and the movie’s clever finale sequence delivers on this front. It succeeds as both a subversion of the current blockbuster trend “go bigger and bigger just so you can go biggest at the end” and as a loving tribute to the more traditional zombie films of old. Director Marc Forster handles it well and unless you were waiting the whole movie to see a scene like it, you may find it a surprisingly effective closer.

World War Z isn’t exactly a life-changing film, and with a simultaneous release alongside Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University it may not seem like a worthwhile choice to go and see, but it is certainly entertaining and does genuinely do something with the well-worn zombie genre that hasn’t really been seen before. It cranks the scale up to eleven and stays engaging most of the way through. Pitt‘s production team was vindicated on their efforts to keep it alive and I am looking forward to seeing what they do with the rest of the novel series.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Fresh approach to zombie genre, great sense of scale, tactful finale
Bad:
Lacks focus, some weak acting
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3.5 VsG !

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