World War Z (2013)

World War Z (2013)

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Okay, Justin Bieber's just round this corner...
Okay, Justin Bieber’s just round this corner…

Twitter Plot Summary: Humanity will be wiped out by a zombie virus within 90 days, unless they can find the source and a cure. Step up, Brad Pitt!

Genre: Action/Drama/Horror

Director: Marc Forster

Key Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Fana Mokoena, David Morse, Peter Capaldi

Five Point Summary:

1. That scientist guy was their best hope? Hah.
2. Brad Pitt rocking the Richard Herring look.
3. Feature length film or series of connected mini-sodes?
4.  I want to see more zombies, dagnammit!
5. Ant-like zombies are awesome. And scary.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve watched a zombie film, back in my university days (and up to a couple of years ago) I think I was watching at least one a month. Thinking back I don’t think I’ve ever seen one at the cinema either, so World War Z was definitely on my list this summer. I’ve previously read Max Brooks’ novel of the same name and his Zombie Survival Guide before that, so I knew what I was getting myself in for. From the pre-release news and rumours I knew full well that this would be an adaptation of the book in name only, so despite initial misgivings I knew from a scripting perspective it’s better to have a single protagonist rather than trying to follow three or four different characters. That’s in a film, of course – if you were talking about TV series then you’d have several hours to explore those characters, a film doesn’t have that luxury.

There are a lot of good ideas – the sheer number of zombies is a constantly observable threat, and the speed at which they turn following infection is a frightening idea. It’s also nice to see a few new aspects of an outbreak. In essence it’s a series of shorter zombie tales as per Brooks’ original book, but instead of being told from the perspective of various different protagonists here it’s all from the perspective of Brad Pitt’s UN rep Gerry Lane. First we’re in the US as Lane manages to get his family out of the city and onto a US aircraft carrier. This sequence is the type you usually see in zombie films, with hundreds and thousands of zombies streaming into the streets and attacking all and sundry. They’re incredibly violent creatures, flinging themselves at the living and trying to reach them by any means necessary – that includes smashing their heads through windows and windscreens.

Before Gerry’s had chance to settle on the aircraft carrier he’s quickly tasked with helping to find a cure and is whisked away to mini film number 2 in South Korea. Here he meets a platoon of US soldiers in a very atmospheric, rainswept location. After that it’s off to Israel where they were able to wall off the city before the outbreak reached them. Then finally Gerry lands in Wales, of all places, where a cure could potentially be crafted. The pace slows down considerably at this point, but that’s not to say it’s a bad thing. The whole sequence is incredibly tense and worthwhile stuff, but it’s let down by a lacklustre and incredibly rushed ending. It doesn’t so much as end as fizzle out.

Zombies. Fahsan's of 'em!
Zombies. Fahsan’s of ’em!

Most zombie films (and, indeed, TV series) focus on the conflict between people. Day of the Dead in particular is a perfect example – the zombies are secondary to the conflict between the living. Here, it’s all about co-operation. There’s a scene early on where Gerry is looking for medicine for his daughter and comes face to face with a hooded youth with a gun. There’s a moment where it looks like the youth is going to attack him, but then he subverts our preconceptions and helps find exactly the right medicine that Gerry needs. There’s a couple of bits where humanity’s natural predilection towards violence appear, but otherwise the real focus here is people helping each other. Be it all of the soldiers helping Gerry, or the border guards allowing survivors to enter the city in Israel, or even the small band of scientists uniting against the common enemy (zombies, not the Judean People’s Front), the clear message is that co-operation is key to survival.

The film suffers from the fact a number of re-writes and re-shoots were ordered, and it has a narrative that is somewhat disengaged from the threat of a global apocalypse. Okay sure, the whole reason he’s going off on these adventures is to help locate a cure, but a bit more engagement with the situation would’ve been better. I can see what they were trying to achieve though – we see events from Gerry’s perspective so the action is going to be limited in scope.

From a story perspective I’d suggest that a threat back on the US aircraft carrier would’ve also made for a more entertaining narrative – as it is, you know that nothing bad is going to happen there, which is almost at odds with the entire concept of the film. Given how persistent the undead are, you’d think they would somehow find a way to reach the offshore bastions that represent humanity’s last hope for survival? This would’ve given Mireille Enos more to do rather than sitting around looking a bit depressed. Maybe I’m just looking at this from a rather bleak perspective, but it would’ve made for a far more nuanced and interesting film.

More zombies would’ve been nice as well, until the final sequence in Wales you don’t really get a good look at them, and all of the big action sequences have been spoilt by the trailer – that seems to be a recurring theme lately. It’s a 15-rated film but there’s very little in the way of blood or violence. I think it’s more the threat of their overwhelming odds that justifies that rating.

Whilst it ends hurriedly and without really providing a satisfying conclusion, there’s the suggestion that a sequel could possibly follow. I’m in two minds as to whether I’d want to see that, if they can do away with the script problems and increase/improve the zombie action then I’ll be happy.

Favourite scene: Shuffling slowly through the Welsh health centre. Very tense stuff.

Quote: “Every human being we save is one less we have to fight.”

Silly Moment: Where Gerry Lane’s wife chooses exactly the wrong moment to call him back.

Score: 3.5/5

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