Review: World War Z / Cert:15 / Director: Marc Forster / Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof / Starring: Brad Pitt, Mirielle Enos, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Danielle Kersetz, Peter Capaldi / Release Date: October 21st
World War Z is a breathless, high-octane action movie, and Hollywood’s first proper attempt at a big, multiplex-pleasing zombie apocalypse film. Whilst it eases up on the viscera and gore so typical of the genre in favour of a family-friendly certificate (although the ‘extended action’ Blu-ray edition adds a bit of welcome red to the proceedings), there’s one moment of true horror, a scene of such gratuitous stomach-churning unpleasantness you’ll be wondering if, this time, they really have gone too far. It’s around 2.17 minutes in; midway through the opening credits… a big, fat close-up of Piers Morgan pontificating in some random imaginary TV broadcast or other. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it’s entirely unnecessary. Don’t do it again, Tinseltown.
Once the bile has died down we can begin to appreciate what a clever and occasionally daring film World War Z actually is. Its production problems and ever-drifting release dates have been well documented and fans of Max Brooks’ novel, the ‘oral history of the zombie war’ are probably right to be frustrated that so many liberties were taken with their sacred text. But World War Z emerges from the chaos of its creation as its own beast, the zombie genre reinvented as an adrenalin-fuelled summer blockbuster movie where the emphasis is on true spectacle, a string of jaw-dropping set-pieces which explode onto the screen with such regularity and such intensity that we’re rarely given a moment to worry about the linear nature of the plot and the paper-thin characters propelling it.
Family man Gerry Lane (Pitt) is enjoying quality time with his wife and cheery nippers when the balloon goes up. We’re only just starting to feel nauseous from the unremitting niceness of the family when they’re caught in traffic in Philadelphia (looking remarkably like Glasgow) and all Hell breaks loose when the streets are suddenly overwhelmed by ferocious, snarling creatures which begin bloodlessly tearing everyone to pieces. Gerry, a former UN employee (luckily) gets his family to safety (obviously) and is quickly drafted back into service to try to find the source of the viral outbreak in the hope of being able to create a vaccine to counteract its effects. Leaving his family safely behind Gerry sets off across the globe, stopping off in South Korea, Jerusalem and… um… Cardiff.
Many brows were understandably furrowed when Marc Forster was chosen to direct World War Z – it’s unlikely he’ll be soon forgiven for badly ballsing-up Bond in Quantum of Solace – but he’s turned this potential cinematic car crash into one of the most energizing experiences of the year. World War Z just doesn’t let up the pace until, intriguingly – and rather intelligently – the very end. Forster’s zombies, the extremely fast-moving kind, are depicted not as supernatural undead monsters but as a massive force of nature, an unstoppable living tide, which sweeps across and tears apart all before it. The gut-wrenching first attack is followed by more intimate battles as Gerry and his family flee for safety and then a darker, intense sequence in South Korea. But the film’s real money shot is set in Jerusalem, walled off against the outside world and with the population safely tucked away inside. Hair-raising stuff as the zombies, like a swarm of ants, climb and roll over each other to surge over the wall and devastate the city. It’s genuinely extraordinary stuff, a triumph of visual FX married to stylish, powerhouse direction which wrings every last thrill from scenes both of mass carnage and one-on-one combat as Gerry and Israeli soldier Segen (Kersetz) battle to reach an ill-fated commercial airliner on its way out of the city.
It’s a scene which is impossible to top, of course, and Forster doesn’t even try. Limping to a World Health Organisation facility in Wales (where they encounter new Doctor Who Peter Capaldi playing, amusingly, a WHO doctor), Gerry tests out his theory that the zombies won’t attack anyone with an illness or disability by injecting himself with a pathogen and throwing himself into the path of the facility’s diseased staff. Beautifully understated and low key, it’s a finale that works precisely because it’s absolutely not what Hollywood has taught us to expect. Gerry is reunited with his family and mankind’s fighting back and the movie ends on a note of hope not only for the future of the human race but also for a sequel which Paramount have now given the thumb-up to thanks to the unexpectedly healthy box office of World War Z.
Well deserved too. It’s a film which somehow overcame its not-inconsiderable production difficulties and, if not quite dramatising the popular book it was based on, managed to subvert not only the basic tenets of the summer ‘event’ movie but also all those derivative zombie movies which came before it. Not so much World War Z as World War A+.
Extras: Origins feature / Looking to Science / Production futurities