In Cinemas: World War Z
Is anyone doing better than we are?
Loosely based on the book of the same name by Max Brooks (which you should go buy), World War Z is a zombie apocalypse thriller directed by Mark Forster, starring Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane (rubbish name), a former UN investigator who’s tasked with finding a cure for the outbreak.
In truth World War Z could have had any title apart from the one it shares with its literary cousin. Compared to Brooks’ book, it bares little in resemblance whether it’s content, characters or plot. Where the book told stories from several perspectives after the fact, Z reduces it to one and tells it as the conflict unfolds. To call the antagonists in this film zombies is also something of a misnomer. They’re infected in a similar manner to ‘zombies’ in 28 Days Later, or Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake; a bite turns people rabid, and grants them Usain Bolt-like pace and a predilection for biting people’s necks.
Despite the film’s much publicised production troubles (apparently Pitt and Forster fell out on set), and huge rewrites by both Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) and Damon Lindelof (Prometheus), the resulting film is not a disaster. It still shows signs of cracks but it’s a surprisingly competent and enjoyable film.
The opening credits set a familiar tone, too familiar in fact, with flashes of news reports about a virus spliced with images of rabid animals attacking each other. It recalls I Am Legend, Snyder’s remake and parts of Contagion but has an effect of making Z somewhat derivative. A feeling that deadens (ha!) the first few minutes.
Matters aren’t helped by a sugary opening scene of domestic bliss involving Pitt and his family. It presents a saccharine, superficial slice of Americana that we’ve seen so many times that it comes across as a bit dull. Thankfully things kick into gear with a chaotic sequence in Philadelphia as the infected swarm the streets (although why buildings are on fire I’ll never truly understand). After this point the film gradually finds its groove and becomes something of a travelogue, showing how various countries/cultures have ‘adapted’ to the current situation. Some better than others.
The idea that this is a global conflict is one of few aspects that remains intact from the book (in some form), bestowing the film with a scale lacking in other efforts. Zombie films usually focus on a small group as society crumbled. Z is drawn on bigger canvas, as the world is suffocated by a horde of undead. One memorable little moment is had when Lane flies from one location to another and a nuclear bomb goes off in the background. It’s sudden and unexpected, but a reminder of society’s rapid implosion.
Changes from the novel make Z light on character and heavy on action. These undead don’t shuffle, they sprint. Loud noises attract a horde and the infected use their own bodies as links in a chain to build bridges (like ants). It looks spectacular, with one sequence in Israel bringing to mind an infestation, although the use of CG-assisted ‘zombies’ detract from the supposed ‘reality’.
Emotionally it lacks engagement, with Forster never really presenting a sense of danger or feeling that things could go wrong, at least for the main character. That’s one of its problems. Despite the world ending the sense that Gerry or his family could be in trouble is never really felt. Characters dies but you barely know them. There simply isn’t much in terms of character and on those terms the film doesn’t engage enough. It’s a good thing then, that the film never stays in one place for too long before its on the move.
The best sequence takes place in – of all places – Wales. It’s here the film returns the traditional trappings of the genre, having characters evade the infected in a confined medical facility that had me thinking of Resident Evil (the games, not the shabby films). It’s old-fashioned stuff that rubs up against the big budget CG spectacle that came before. As a whole Z doesn’t surprise or bring much that’s new, but it gets the job done, which is good enough.