The zombie apocalypse has been the one of the most popular forms of world-ending cataclysm for some time. In fact it’s now so embedded in the public consciousness that if it turns out to be a rogue asteroid or the arrival of aliens that ends our rule on the planet, a lot of people are going to be very disappointed. It is surprising then that Hollywood has taken so long to catch on in terms of big summer blockbuster. That is in part to the long-delayed Brad Pitt passion project World War Z. Based on the self-help book of the same name, World War Z has been stuck in something of a production Hell for years with script changes and re-shoots pushing the budget up and up ($400m), while expectations continued to rise with them.
Gerry (Brad Pitt), a former UN special forces operative lives in Philadelphia, PA with his family. One morning while stuck in traffic, he notices people behaving strangely and within minutes an infection is spreading throughout the city. Called by his former boss Terry (Fana Mokoena) Gerry and his family find themselves trying to escape the city while the infection spreads across the globe.
World War Z doesn’t bother wasting time with long character-building scenes and simply uses the small amount of time before the zombies appear to establish that Gerry knows what to do in a crisis and that he loves his family. It is these two key characteristics that drive the action throughout and at times the film feels more like a travelogue, jumping from one locale to another just to highlight different set-pieces.
In fairness to the film however, the set-pieces are jaw-dropping and impressive with mountains of infected desperately clambering over each other to reach their ‘food.’ While other zombie films like 28 Days Later… and Night of the Living Dead let their audience know that the world is affected through radio transmissions, World War Z shows its audience the scope of the infection and it is these scenes that are most memorable.
World War Z, being the big zombie blockbuster, casually uses both type of zombie, the fast-moving infected and the shuffling corpses. Both are wonderfully realised with some really gruesome make-up and truly superb physical actors playing their parts, those that run, do so, in a fast almost inhuman manner, while the more sedate shufflers allow for moments of quiet tension and even some much needed humour.
It is a real shame that there is so little time given to flesh out the characters, because there would have been a far greater level of tension in the scenes in laboratories and snow-covered runways. As it is, Gerry seems to be too well equipped to ever really be in danger, while those that refuse to listen to his ideas are quickly and brutally punished. It is left then to jump-scares that employ the ‘loud noise is scary’ model of raising tension and while these prove rather effective, they are in very short supply.
So after years in production, the final product is a sometimes dull, sometimes exhilarating mixed bag. The apocalyptic scenes look the part and the scares are well handled, but in exchange there are two-dimensional characters, cheesy dialogue and a complete anti-climatic finish. So as is often the case with Hollywood, they’ve taken ideas from independent film-makers, homogenised them and created a perfectly acceptable, if uneven film. At least we now have a big budget zombie apocalypse film that isn’t terrible, so we can all die happy. No doubt from being bitten.