More noise than signal

World War Z

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

This latest in the interminable line of zombie movies is, I guess, somewhat unsual in being an adaptation of a book. To my knowledge at least, the undead d’jour for literature is still rather more vampiric in flavour. Still, Max Brooks’ collection of first hand recollections was highly entertaining and while this movie has close to nothing, apart from zombies, in common with the book it does a solid job of capturing the spirit of the piece.

Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a seasoned U.N. Investigator who’s given up a life probing some of the world’s most dangerous situations in favour of spending time with his family. It all seems quite cosy until Philadelphia, played here by Glasgow, gets over-run by 28 Days Later type speedzombies.

Escaping the city by the skin of his teeth, his old U.N. boss offers him and his family a berth onboard a small U.S. Navy led flotilla that’s one of the only safe places from the zombie hordes, on the condition that Gerry heads out with a small task force to trace the origins of this menace, and hopefully, find a cure.

Following this trail leads him to a South Korean military base, a freshly walled-off and besieged Jerusalem and despite the few hints left in this cut, not Russia, what with the whole last third of the film being reshot and all, instead building to a climax in the rather more glamorous and exotic Cardiff.

I suppose seeing as it’s come up, we should address most folk’s largest concern going into World War Z. If you’ve been keeping your ear to the ground, or even a few feet from the ground, you’ll have heard of the significant chopping and changing to the film occuring after it was pretty much complete. Seemingly, it was rather more concerned with setting up a sequel than finishing Gerry and his families’ own story, which is somewhat understandable as the narrative’s much more concerned with the source of the zombie menace rather than any of the survivors and their emotions. While that’s still a pretty credible contender for major problem with the film, the new ending at least ties the first and final reels together.

It should be said, however, that if you’re going to call an audible and re-write a third of the film, this isn’t a bad example of how to do it. It’s far from seamlessly folded back in, which I guess is unavoidable. While, as mentioned, the odd hint of a Russian finale remain, the problem’s less with a Belarussian airplane diverting, somewhat out of the blue, to Cardiff as it is with a rather sudden change in atmosphere and stylistics, and if it wasn’t for the incontrovertible fact that it’s so much better than what preceded it it would be a real problem.

Y’see, a lot of World War Z is based on the mass-scale CGI hordes of zombies swarming around causing bother, as you’ve no doubt seen on the trailers. That’s fine for what it is, but by the time we reach Israel a certain amount of fatigue has set in, so the change to a super-tense, small scale, intimate zombie avoiding stealth-em-up provides an unexpected and gripping finale.

So, it turns out that although I was expecting the worst for World War Z, it has delivered a pretty enjoyable film. It’s also a zombie film unlike most other zombie films, which has understandably thrown some people. For instance, if you like your zombies all Romero’d up, ready to slowly rip people apart in showers of gore then this perhaps isn’t the film for you, as its U.S.A. PG–13 rating would imply. While it’s pretty good at building up that somewhat silly “sustained threat” advisory, there’s little in way of explicit or even implied nastiness that you would been forgiven for anticipating from a zombie flim.

The vast bulk of the other issues people seem to be having with the film harken back to the issue mentioned earlier, that this root cause investigation leaves us with a film that’s closer in structure to Contagion than to Day of the Dead. I’d argue that you ought to have been expecting that, given the source material. That said, I take the point that once Gerry’s family is tucked up relatively safely, the normal, more personal reasons to empathise with Gerry leaves us with rather more high level, abstract goals that you may find more difficult to invest it.

There’s a few other niggles, but they’re almost entirely stylistic differences of opinion rather than anything that’s obviously not working. For example perhaps the only flaw in that stealth portion comes from zombies chattering their teeth as though they’ve got some sort of dental echolocation thing going on, which is a touch too silly to have the chilling effect intended. I’m sure others have their niggles, but I’m left with nothing else worth mentioning.

Now, had this film not taken a sharp left turn in the final third I’d probably agree with those decrying this as a big, bland, loud, overly CG reliant, diet zombie movie. The earlier running didn’t leave me as cold as the perhaps prevailing critical opinion, but I could certainly have taken or left it and would have little to praise it for other than the unique, broader focus taken as compared with most zombie films. It’s really that final stretch than moves this from average and forgettable to something interesting and worth recommending, and which incidentally could have been done on a fraction of the budget.

Which actually seems to be a common theme, in that the most interesting zombie movies I’ve seen over the past decade are not the big budget films either the bad (Resident Evil) or the good (Dawn of the Dead), but the low to no budget stuff like Warm Bodies and Pontypool. Just sayin’. Anyway, regardless of the amount of money spent on footage that’s ultimately gone on the shelf, World War Z is a credible contender for your summer blockbuster movie budget.

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