Saturday, 26 October 2013

World War Z - review

2013 (USA / Malta)

Contains mild spoilers.
Now before we start we'd better get the whole is it faithful to the book stuff out the way as I don't want it to dominate the review. Kev, I mean, Burt Malone ahem, perfectly sums up not only my but I think pretty much everyone who has read Max Brooks' zombie opus's thoughts perfectly over at Zombie Hall so I'll not regurgitate it all here again.

Suffice it to say, I'm not going bitch and whine too much about the change to the more traditional linear narrative style as stylistically I'm not sure what else they could have done that would have lent itself to the big mainstream audience that justified such a huge budget. Yes, perhaps they could they have been a lot more clever about it, and somehow looked at keeping the broken interview narrative style interweaving multiple timeframes, characters and stories, but that could have easily become cumbersome and is more suited, funnily enough, to a medium where there's more room to play. I'm also not going to moan about the sanitised reduction in blood and gore, though the extended cut I watched I believe is somewhat improved. The target was disaster / apocalypse movie over horror and that's ok.

The one thing that does irk me, however, are the zombies and the war. The essence of Max Brooks' fight was mankind's stand against the slow <<< now this word is important, inevitable tide of death. The zombies were ponderous gruesome macabre flesheaters in the Romero mould, and the survivors' stories the pained weary confessions of those who were faced with the most difficult of decisions. The zombies' consumption of the world reflected their gait; it was slow, painful and endless and not as is the case in this movie adaption overnight and total. I'm not saying it's better or worse, just WWZ the movie is Max Brooks' zombie and zombie story only in name; and that's not really right.

Anyhow, we'll move on. The first ten or so minutes of WWZ the movie is perhaps ten of the most satisfying big scale zombie apocalyptic movie watching minutes of my life. There I said it; ten minutes in did I care the story wasn't being narrated and zombies were leaping and running about like crazed kamikazes? Not one jot. WWZ is what it is, a big budget, high octane triple A trip with a big name attached, the backing of a huge studio and CG exploding from every orifice. The fact that so many people were prepared to throw so much money and resources at my favourite genre is commendable and, despite any idealistic misgivings I have, I just can't help myself from loving them all for it.

Max Brooks' disparate tale doesn't lend itself to the idea of a single story and character and that screenwriter Michael Straczynski managed to do so convincingly while in my mind staying true to the investigative oriented origin story of the book is commendable. Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a retired UN investigator used to working in the most hostile places and conditions. Surviving the initial zombie explosion in Philadelphia with his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos) and two daughters Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) and Constance (Sterling Jerins) he gets the call from his old boss Deputy Secretary-General (Thierry Umutoni) who promises to save his family on condition he joins the scant remaining forces to find out what started all this in the hope it will lead to some kind of solution.

Gerry's journey takes him to South Korea, to Jerusalem then to Cardiff; each location full of high octane drama, tension and close-calls. If we nit-pick one could argue the story is merely the vehicle to move Gerry to a new zombie playground to get chased around in and destroy; but that would be slightly disingenuous to what is a global investigative story. The big urban sprawl of Philadelphia, teeming as it is with pedestrians and vehicles, is the perfect place to show the pandemic arrive like a tsunami of death; cars get tossed, everybody screams and almost everybody gets turned. The tight fog-laden airport in South Korea provides the opportunity for claustrophobic tension and a wee bit of horror then rinse and repeat for Jerusalem and Cardiff. Each location provides just enough story to make the trip feel worth while allowing the action and zombie fun to never distance itself too far from centre stage.

Say what you will about director Marc Forster's ultra-fast uber-zombies in relation to the Romero plodders but they are well fleshed out, visceral and have certainly taken on an identity all of their own. The infection in WWZ is the puppet master and its need to spread and stay alive is all that's important; the undead are really only here to make this happen. There's no desire to actually eat flesh or brains; after contracting the disease through a bite, 12 seconds is all a person has until death, violent reanimation and the virus driving its new host on the singular mission. And man do they go about this in a virulent and exhilarating way. They leap, they bound, they never ever stop sprinting and if you've seen one you're more than likely already well on your way to being one too; they're pure instinct and animated muscle, sinew and teeth, and they also work together in swarms in ways we've never seen before.

The phrase is mimicked behaviour and the WWZ team took the emergent idea from nature, that small but large scale micro-interactions could easily be misconstrued as some grand combined-thinking intelligence when seen on a macro level. Whether it's ants coming together to build a bridge or a flock of birds turning together in unison, the zombie ladder being erected to scale a vast wall is merely a product of them all copying each other, and entirely reliant on them having no superfluous will or motivation. When combined with the resilience of being dead and not needing everything to work, not feeling pain and a tenacious and relentless drive it a) lays the groundwork for probably the most dangerous zombies yet devised and b) doesn't half lend itself to some extravagant and excessive large scale CG scenes that somehow despite the sheer insanity of what's going on maintain a certain degree of plausibility.

For a film that cost some $190m to make the presentation is, as expected, immaculate. Buildings explode, bombs go off, planes crash with style and panache. Brad Pitt's pitched perfect performance is one of many and I really can't find fault with the film on any technical level. Character development is somewhat neglected and the final third does become dare I say a little derivative in style, though this isn't necessarily a bad things as watching Brad line up with several unruly looking scientists melee weapons in hand ready to go creep round a claustrophobic infested lab like in any other zombie film from the last thirty years was somewhat perversely gratifying. WWZ is what it is. A high octane, big budget apocalyptic thrill ride that really doesn't do a lot wrong other than not acknowledging the style, pace and heart of the source material it paid a lot of money to secure.

WWZ is a stunning piece of apocalyptic cinema and a zombie film I will be coming back to time and again with many memorable scenes, an original and audacious reimagining of the zombie and a competent and cohesive enough story to hold the orgy of global apocalyptic scale CG together. Yes it's a pop-corn flick, yes it's daft and it seems a lot of non-genre, new wave TWD fans liked it, yes it's Brad Pitt's WWZ, not Max Brooks' but it's I have to admit also unwaveringly full-on, intense and utterly brilliant, 8/10.



  1. NIce review, and thanks for the shout-out. I agree that Pitt did a great job. Had there been even just a touch more character development the film would have been pretty unstoppable.

    Unless, as we have all noted, you're hoping it will be ANYTHING like the book :)

    In any case, glad you enjoyed the film as I did.

    1. Cheers Burt deserved it! I really think those giving very low scores need to get over themselves somewhat; I mean really, some of those scenes were a zombie fans wet dream...