Max Brooks fictional journalistic account World War Z is a novel that is held in incredibly high regard amongst zombie fans across the globe, me included. When a film was announced, there was uproar, and for good reason. Quite how would the text translate to film? The answer it would seem was to turn it into a summer tent-pole action star-vehicle for Brad Pitt. Perhaps not what most fans wanted. Surely much of the political, sociological , and psychological detail of Brook’s apocalyptic accounts would be lost in favour of generic Hollywood action flick. The production only increased cause for concern, with the film receiving extensive re-writes and re-shoots following an apparently ‘atrocious’ first cut (Pitt’s words). The film was over-due, over-budget; it was the recipe for a big old juicy turkey. You could hear the critics sharpening their teeth as the release date dawned closer and closer. But, would you know, it came out of the bat and knocked those teeth straight out of the flop seeking critics. While certainly not amazing reviews, it has received a warm reception, both critically and commercially, with a sequel already in the works. So, how does it fair? Is it still the film fans were dreading? Who has it truly delivered something brilliant?
Gerry Lane (Pitt), once an incredibly skilled United Nations Investigator, has chosen the life of the modest family man. However, Gerry soon finds himself thrown back into action when in finds his family in the middle of a terrifying outbreak whilst being stuck in traffic in Philadelphia. In return for the certainty of his family’s safety, Gerry agrees to lead a mission to find the source of the outbreak that is turning the dead into flesh-hungry monsters, quickly being labelled as zombies. Gerry’s quest to discover the origins of the outbreak in the hopes of figuring out a way to combat the zombie hordes send him across the globe; from Korea, to Israel, and to, err, Wales. With the hordes growing in numbers day by day, it is a race against time for Gerry who must discover the means of defeating the zombie virus before it brings about the annihilation of the human race.
Directed by Marc Forster of Quantum of Solace fame, World War Z‘s scope is undeniably impressive. Truly encapsulating the world-wide plight of the outbreak, Forster establishes a frighteningly realistic sense of pandemonium and chaos, suiting in some aesthetic value to the account nature of the novel. Forster still struggles in regards to up close and personal action sequences, his frantic camerawork leading quickly to irritation. I understand the need to enforce the sense of pandemonium, but the handheld action (as was the case in Quantum) infuriated me. Thankfully, he does not employ this technique too often, seemingly taking his lesson from the criticisms of his Bond entry. He relishes more in set pieces built around creeping tension, constructing scenes of genuine fright through ingenious sound design and a stoic camera pace. The numerous aerial shots of most of the known world going to shit enforce the scope and impress even if they do start to become rather repetitive.
While World War Z does feature some cracking set pieces of tension and genuine horror, there is still something very bland about the whole piece. It never truly establishes a momentum, heading straight into full throttle and then moving between set piece and across continents, seemingly in search of some form of focus. It most certainly feels as though scenes were shot whilst the cast and crew were waiting for new pages of the script to arrive. The lack of focus does allow for the more thought-out action scenes to impress just that little bit more; with the airplane sequence and final act within the W.H.O. building in Wales standing out as the highlights. Yet, again, despite its confidence, despite its entertainment value, the action is nothing that we haven’t seen before. There’s a dash of 28 Days Later, a large dose of The Walking Dead, and the whole film bears an incredibly similar tone to Will Smith’s I Am Legend. Make of that what you will, but World War Z does not tread any new ground. It follows well worn foot-steps in a very competent fashion.
The performances in World War Z do not engage too well, with many characters (including Gerry) simply spouting out exposition. It merely relies on cliched stereotypes and on the wattage of its star to carry it through. That coupled with the blistering pacing results in very little attachment to the characters involved. The only reason we care for Gerry is because he is being played by Brad Pitt, and if you do not like Pitt then I’m afraid you’re going to find little to connect with. The zombies themselves are an interesting breed. Despite some ropey CGI, the hordes of the undead are a terrifying force, moving with ferocity and pure animalistic rage, stopping at nothing to consume the flesh of the living.
There is plenty for die-hard fans of the novel to get in uproar about, but the film does establish the grounds to produce a franchise that can and should continue to mine the rich and detailed work of Brooks. There is, on evidence of this film, intriguing potential for a franchise within this world. The smart move would be to take on different perspectives of different characters within this world, portray the locales that have been omitted on the journey from page to screen. We could have a very down and dirty Guerrilla War Zombie movie franchise in the making, and one that I can most definitely see improving now that it has a world firmly established in which to roam. I have been left hungry for more, if only because this doesn’t quite satisfy the appetite. More brains I tell you. BRAAAAINS.