After a troubled production history, many thought World War Z would be the flop of the summer. However it became a pretty decent hit, grossing over $540 million around the world. That’s pretty impressive for a film that had to have its entire final act scrapped and a brand new one shot to replace it.
Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, who gets in his car one morning with his family and heads off into the city. Suddenly all hell breaks loose, as out of nowhere zombies start ravaging the streets, attacking everyone they can find and turning them into one of them. Gerry and his family manage to escape and soon learn the zombie plague has spread across the world.
Due to his experiences in the UN, the authorities want to use Gerry to learn more about what’s going on. He’s reluctant to leave his family in the middle of an emergency, but is soon trotting off across the world looking for ‘patient zero’, the very first zombie, in the hope this will offer clues as to what is going on and how to deal with it. However a new possibility leads Gerry to the UK.
Zombie movies have traditionally been low budget gore-fests, so it’s very unusual for a studio to spend mega-bucks (in this case it’s believed to have cost $190 million) on one. The result is the undead on a scale we’ve never really seen before. While purists many not like these post-28 Days Later fast zombies, they’re a very effective force here, and seeing them on this scale really does make the epidemic feel a bit new and different.
However it’s a flawed film. The setpieces are all pretty effective, with Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster creating a series of situations of chaos where no one is sure what to do or what will happen next. Unfortunately though, what happens in between is messy, confused and pretty clunky. It was the same with what Forster did with Quantum Of Solace, where as soon as the movie slowed down for five minutes, it seemed utterly confused as to what it was doing and what the actual plot was. That movie also had problems with its action, but the shaky-cam style works With World War Z due to the chaos Gerry finds himself part of.
As previously mentioned, the entire third act was reshot. Originally a massive battle in Moscow was planned, and apparently despite being the main character, Gerry wasn’t really part of it. What we get is very different and it’s almost surprising it works. While the first hour and 20 minutes are told on a massive scale, the final third calms down dramatically. Gone are the huge CGI setpieces and instead it’s a small group of people in a finite location, trying to avoid the undead. It’s much more traditionally zombie, relying on building tensions and the rules of what we’ve learned about the zombies (even if those rules are pretty dumb). The ending we get must have been far less expensive that what was originally envisioned, but is actually quite a nice way to bring things to a close, making things more personal after the worldwide action the film starts with.
It’s also difficult to escape the sense that the makers are hoping this will become a franchise. Indeed that appears to have been the problem with the original ending – that it was so busy setting things up for future instalments that it forgot to conclude the story of this movie. While that’s still a slight problem here – not least because the thing that was apparently most important in the middle hour is never actually sorted out – it still works.
Although World War Z has plenty of flaws and is often narratively confused, it still workd. You just have to forget the nonsense that goes on between the major sequences, as most of it either makes no sense, is painful exposition or is just plain dumb. If you do that and enjoy the city under attack, the chaos in Israel and the quieter tension of the UK sequence, it’s surprisingly entertaining.
While the DVD contains the theatrical version, if you fancy a longer version (which unfortunately we didn’t get in for review), you can get one on the Blu-ray edition.
Overall Verdict: Thanks to the presence of Pitt and some strong central sequences, it’s possible to enjoy World War Z, even if around those scenes it’s incredibly undisciplined. It certainly sets things up so that a sequel could be very interesting.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac