Just so much as three years ago, the very idea of a sprawling, two hundred million dollar zombie film with a star like Brad Pitt in the lead was a laughable impossibility, but thanks in no small part to gutsy shows like The Walking Dead and nearly a ka-jillion low budget zombie flicks, we now have just such a movie. And we just saw it!
World War Z is based on Max Brooks' best-selling novel of the same name. However, its name is practically the only thing it has in common with the film. Brooks' story is told exclusively in the first person, through interviews and diary entries from dozens of loosely connected characters; the movie, on the other hand, follows Pitt's Gerry Lane, an earnest family man with a somewhat mysterious military background. Just a mere six minutes into the film, Gerry's world (and everyone else's) is turned upside down by a virus that turns humans into sprinting, snap-jawed maniacs, and from that moment on, nearly the entire film is wall to wall chaos.
WWZ doesn't have everything zombie lovers crave, but it still brings a lot to the table. First off, the film moves at a breakneck pace; there are no languid, lumbering zombies in the classic George Romero vein to be found here. These zombies are FAST, like gold medal winning Olympians on steroids fast. Now yes, it's true, we've seen running zombies before (see 28 Days Later for first and best example), but there is a clever new element at play here that makes the action move at even a more frenzied pace—it only takes about twelve seconds from bite to full on zombie infection. This is perhaps the most ingenious twist WWZ brings to the zombie game, because it allows for some truly intense action and more jump scares inside of its one hundred and sixteen minutes than practically any film you've ever seen.
The speed of infection isn't the only difference between these zombies and ones you've seen in the past; they more or less behave like an insect colony, running en-masse through cities and decimating everything in their path. When they need to scale a wall or attack a low flying helicopter, they band together into a writhing zombie cluster just like ants. Also, they don't do a whole lot of flesh eating. These zombies are more concerned with spreading the virus and moving on, so there is no brain chomping, no viscera spilling onto the streets, and not even that much blood. To the squeamish, this might be a god send, because they won't be grossed out, but for many zombie lovers, this will be a minor tragedy, because they are NOT being grossed out.
There are a few more chinks in WWZ's armor than just its lack of gore. In all honesty, there is close to zero character development here. Even Pitt's Gerry Lane, although capably played, doesn't really have all that much depth. The supporting characters could, for the most part, be anybody. There are notable actors in many of these roles, but with few exceptions barely any of them do anything to distinguish themselves from one another. Probably the most perplexing is Lost's Mathew Fox, who pops in for a few seconds here and there to say a few throw away lines, fire a gun and then leave.
That being said, are you really coming to view World War Z to see some sort of grand commentary on the human condition? Heck, no! You're here for the zombies and the scares and WWZ is chock full of 'em.
The expectations for most were quite low for WWZ. Its production was said to be a disaster, with countless re-shoots and a budget that became so bloated that it supposedly caused a major rift between Pitt and director Marc Forster. They were apparently barely speaking to each other by the film's completion. The entire original ending, an epic zombie battle staged in Russia, was scrapped completely. For a film that had so many horror stories attributed to it, though, WWZ is actually surprisingly decent. It doesn't pack the blood-stained punch nor the emotional weight of a good episode of The Walking Dead, but it has its own thing going on. It's more action than horror, but that action had us on the edge of our seats the whole time.
All in all, WWZ delivers enough pulse-pounding entertainment to make it worth the ride, even if it could have used a little more bite.
What did you think of World War Z?