Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos & Daniella Kertesz
Directed by: Marc Forster
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: June 2013
Running Time: 116 mins
Synopsis: Life for former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane and his family seems content. Suddenly, the world is plagued by a mysterious infection turning whole human populations into rampaging mindless zombies. After barely escaping the chaos, Lane is persuaded to go on a mission to investigate this disease. What follows is a perilous trek around the world where Lane must brave horrific dangers and long odds to find answers before human civilization falls.
Loosely adapted from Max Brooks’ novel of the same name, World War Z differs from most zombie fiction in that it offers a global view of a potential zombie apocalypse instead of focusing the action in one country, town or cabin in the woods. Brooks’ novel was presented as “an oral history of the zombie war” and featured a number of different protagonists from different countries relating their experiences to a reporter. The movie takes that basic format, but repurposes it into an action movie mould by having Brad Pitt play the reporter/investigator who travels from country to country to find out more information about the disease and a potential cure. While the novel is more passive and focused on the past tense, the movie takes place immediately after the initial outbreak and has Pitt in a more active heroic role as he globe-trots on an unlikely quest for a cure.
There is an impressively epic sense of scale to the movie with some audacious action set-pieces such as the initial panic in the streets of Philadelphia, the frenzied horde running through the streets of Jerusalem and the claustrophobic attack on-board an aeroplane. The action moves as swiftly as the hordes of zombies that throw themselves at the living, although the plot itself is relatively paper-thin and seems to consist mainly of a series of exposition-driven conversations sandwiched between CGI-laden spectacles. The film often stretched credibility too far, particularly when it comes to the cockroach-like survivability of its protagonist. In the novel, each of the events are dictated by different survivors whereas Brad Pitt seems to encounter them all on his own and often comes out as the sole survivor. Obviously, you have to suspend some disbelief when it comes to a zombie movie but Pitt’s character is covered in plot armour as all around him die horrible deaths.
One of the most iconic images of the movie is the swarm of zombies that use each other to build a ladder of bodies to climb over the defences in Jerusalem and even manage to take down a helicopter. The speed and ferocity of the zombies is very striking, echoing the ‘fast zombies’ seen in 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake. While some sequences were rather CGI-heavy, I did like the visual impact of the huge horde of zombies chasing after the humans like lions chasing wildebeests. Stylistically the film is very impressive, with a number of sequences that evoke memories of other zombie movies from the past few decades. The zombie movie genre has definitely been overused in the 2000’s, but World War Z still manages to offer something different to the mix, much like its source material did when it was published in 2006.
It’s extremely eerie to watch a film about a global virus during the COVID-19 pandemic as despite the fact this film features a fictitious zombie plague, it feels like we’re just one step removed from this level of chaos ourselves. While the film accurately captures the frenzied disorganisation of the world’s government, the logic doesn’t always ring true and so much of the plot hinges on coincidence that it becomes almost laughable. If Gerry, Pitt’s character, doesn’t spot the zombies avoiding an elderly man and emaciated teen then he wouldn’t come up with his “cure” to help the humans fight back against the zombies. This, coupled with Pitt’s god-like invincibility, tips the scale towards incredulity. If the film had featured multiple protagonists each relating their own individual near-death experiences to Pitt, it might have been a much more feasible story and would have aligned itself closer to the novel.
My favourite sequence of the movie had to be the Jerusalem attack, where hordes of undead scale the walls and attack the seemingly safe city. It is such a tense sequence of events and it reminded me of that final scene in Rogue One as the rebels attempt to escape Darth Vader and pass the plans onto the next group. I was on the edge of my seat for the whole fifteen-minute chain of events, and just when there appears to be some respite, it launches into a bloody zombie attack on a moving aeroplane. While most of the action set-pieces are big-screen blockbuster affairs, the final act changes pace somewhat and feels like more of a traditional zombie movie as Pitt must sneak his way into a laboratory to gain access to the resources he needs for his cure. This sequence felt most like 28 Days Later, possibly due to its UK setting and the sterile locale of a W.H.O. research lab.
There’s no denying that World War Z injects new life into the genre, but it never really decides whether it is a realistic take on a zombie apocalypse, or a typical Hollywood blockbuster with a heroic leading man. The film’s $190M budget is clearly visible on the screen and there are some stunningly epic sequences that feel more in line with the fantasy battles of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy than the typical zombie genre. Pitt is a charismatic leading man and plays the role as understated as he can, portraying Gerry as an everyman even when the script positions him as a superman. Ultimately, the reliance on coincidence, luck and plot armour undermined the film’s own attempts at tension and stretched credibility to breaking point. Impressive to look at, but with a frustratingly flawed plot, World War Z stands out from the horde of zombie movies but misses out on achieving “hall of fame” status.
Score – ★★★ ½
World War Z is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Amazon UK, as well as available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. The original novel by Max Brooks is also available from Amazon in print or eBook formats.