Following in the footsteps of the best of zombie lore, the film is part horror, part science fiction, and part medical thriller
A film about zombies is always improved if it is actually a film about many other things as well. This summer’s World War Z starring Brad Pitt, though long delayed in its release due to chronic script problems (it is now advertised as being ‘loosely’ adapted from a novel of the same name by Max Brooks) is therefore surprisingly intense and really quite good.
Like Steven Soderbergh’s excellent Side Effects (2013), which was reviewed previously in this column, World War Z is a film that is a bit of a hybrid. While undeniably following in the footsteps of the best of zombie lore, the film is part horror, part science fiction, and part medical thriller. Having not read the literature on which this movie is based, I cannot say for sure how much it deviates from its original source material, but I can say that though the film went through several re-writes, in the end the screenplay is so much more sophisticated than what one might expect from a film about the walking dead.
As anyone who is immersed in popular culture today will know, the world of mainstream cinema and fiction has lately been dominated by vampire, werewolf, and, most recently, zombie mythologies. Most are mediocre hack products, very few are fairly watchable. I am happy to say that this film, though it could have easily fallen into the former category, has instead sought, however humbly to transcend its own pulpy roots.
This is partly achieved by the toned down, excellent, non-swaggering performance by the main character played by Pitt. While I will not go so far as to say that he is an anti-hero, he is nonetheless incredibly effective without his usual “I’m a very attractive, very successful actor who is also married to Angelina Jolie” persona.
This is a film about fairly ordinary people who are asked to do extraordinary things and they do them because they have to for the sake of decency. There are no theatrical heroics here and Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, although he was once a crack investigator for the United Nations, is now just a dad who makes pancakes for breakfast for his two daughters and then does the washing up.
It is only when the family are on their way to school that the film begins to resemble the as promised full-fledged zombie fest that will keep you clutching the edge of your seat, nibbling the ends of your fingertips, and occasionally even putting your fingers in your ears so that your heart doesn’t jump out of your chest.
The very first glimpse of zombies is accomplished in a masterly set piece when the Lane family is in the car, on the streets of central Philadelphia, in bumper-to-bumper traffic. All of a sudden, all hell breaks loose: cars crash into each other, cops start running away from something as yet unseen, and in an incredibly effective aerial view shot, we see a swarm of fast moving humanoid creatures tearing into crowds of petrified people who are as slow as they are bewildered.
There are many such scenes, on rooftops jumping into helicopters, on tarmacs, and very memorably in the city of Jerusalem, where Gerry eventually finds himself, on his mission to trace the origin of the outbreak.
World War Z has its extremely entertaining moments, and dare I say it, scenes of real blockbuster material genius, elevating it from what could have been one of those soporific run of the mill disasters into a film that one might even want to go see again while it’s still in theatres.
World War Z, a film directed by Marc Foster
Other film reviews:
Star Trek Into Darkness
Iron Man 3