It can’t be summer without a relatively brain-free apocalyptic blockbuster tentpole, so Brad Pitt has spent the past two years producing his answer to fun and action-filled disaster flicks like Armageddon and Independence Day– a zombie movie, based on a satirical collection of mockuments by Mel Brooks’ son. After whipping its fan base into excitement then hacking great chunks of it away again with hearsay, reshoots and rather disappointing trailers, the world was more excited about a fake poster featuring a cat hanging off the side of a helicopter. So, after being drastically reshot, re-cut and revamped with a seemingly bottomless budget, World War Z is finally here. But will anyone still care?
After the now expected hyper-speedy intercut scenes of real global disasters, epidemics and atrocities, we meet all-round tough guy and family man Gerry Lane (Pitt – Moneyball, Killing Them Softly) hurriedly getting breakfast together for adoring wife Karin (Mireille Enos– Gangster Squad, The Killing U.S.) and their angelic young daughters, prior to driving through the streets of Philadelphia (Glasgow and its locals standing in with epic results) for a weekend getaway. Within 5 minutes the thoroughfares are jammed, helicopters are circling, the sirens of emergency service vehicles are filling the air, soon to be joined by crashes, bangs, screams and shrieks, till Jerry and his family find themselves besieged on all sides by a superfast breed of infected who seem to enjoy jumping on people, kissing them and jumping away again.
From hereon in, we follow Gerry, once the U.N.’s go-to guy for jumping into intense war-torn areas, solving the problem and jumping away again. The perfect man for the job, as well as perfectly suiting the globe-trotting narrative that follows Gerry imitating Inspector Clouseau by finding out about unrelated matters, taking trips without knowing their intended destination and still finding himself within walking distance from saving the world. Well, not exactly…
When Brad Pitt acquired the rights to Max Brooks’ best-selling book, there were many obvious problems to solve for it to fit into the type of film it needed to be to satiate mass audiences mid-summer; as a collection of fictitious reportage from many viewpoints around the world, it had no core hero to relate to, and little use of regular characters or development required to form a proper story for just under two hours. Unfortunately neither does the film version. Pitt goes on to New York, New Jersey, South Korea, Israel and, so as to keep the massively, crowded frenetic mounting right up to the momentous finale- a field just outside Cardiff.
Yes, there are flaws. But, amazingly for a blood free family friendly (ish) zombie movie, it works more than it doesn’t. For one WWZ is perhaps the most intense film of its type for some time, the fast-paced energy of the various escape sequences and full-scale destruction during the mass-infection creating some genuinely heart-stopping moments and although eschewing gore and viscera there is still one or two scenes which will draw a collective wince from the audience.
The final sequences, featuring a MacGuffin, a series of corridors and a dozen or so zombies, is one of the most memorable, even more impressive considering its drastic drop in budget thanks to being filmed as a replacement for a more spectacular Russian sequence cut out completely, save for a brief mention at the end. It is also through conversations with other passing characters that director Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, Machine Gun Preacher) conveys the most interesting highlights of Brooks’ various inventions for other countries solutions to the outbreak, David Morse popping up briefly to show us his smile and a clever tactic from someone in North Korea who’d obviously read the Walking Dead comic books.
It may be too emotionally flat to take the crown this summer, and too tame to satiate the gore-hounds but World War Z almost succeeds in being thoroughly entertaining by the time it reaches the closing credits, it honestly could have been a lot worse.
They missed a trick by not including that cat though…