World War Z

Paramount Pictures
What it's about:

United Nations employee Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) traverses the world in a race against time to stop the zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself.

What we thought:

While the central appeal of zombie films have been, by and large, the threat of bloodthirsty monsters on the hunt for fresh brains, the underlying theme has always been the breakdown of civilisation; that society bereft of its rules would go mad and literally eat itself.

It's a breakdown reflected not only in the bloodthirsty rending of limb from limb but also in the haunting simplicity of empty houses and eerily vacant shopping stores. Turning the norms of our daily world on its head is the post-apocalyptic zombie movie's bread and butter. Going down to the Spar to pick up bread and milk is not an option in this sort of film.

I say all this largely because the best parts of World War Z (by which I mean the most engaging and compelling parts) all involve the notion of our day to day life torn apart by the zombie hoards. It's scary seeing people, whom you'd normally never give a second glance, going mad, frothing at the mouth and attacking people in the streets. Worse, it's made clear that the threat comes not only from the undead but also average people whose sense of self-preservation has been pushed to the edge. 

This upsetting of society makes for compelling viewing but soon enough our main character, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family are safely onboard a US aircraft carrier and Gerry is ordered to go on a globetrotting mission in search of Patient Zero, the source of this zombie outbreak. 

A journey around the globe allows for a nice take on the zombie situation (zombies on a military base; zombies in Jerusalem; ZOMBIES ON A PLANE!!!), but because of the film's constant hopping from one place to the next, we're not allowed to connect with anything or anyone barring Pitt's character and there's not much about him that's especially interesting. The film is tied together with the thinnest of story threads, which isn't enough for it to avoid feeling episodic. 

World War Z is based on Max Brooks' novel of the same name. Not having read the book, I can't speak to the differences between it and the film, though I gather that the book is told from viewpoints of a number of characters while the film only has the viewpoint of one character, Gerry.

This is what you will see: Brad Pitt shows up, asks questions, gets a few answers, the zombies attack, then he leaves. Oh, there are a few other things going on but that is the general habit of this film's plotting.

Director Marc Foster does produce quite a few impressive set-pieces which are equal parts tense and action packed, but the film is largely hampered by its episodic plotting. Because of this, it doesn't build up any momentum, merely lurches like the undead, breaking into frenzied spurts and then settling down again.

Curiously, for a zombie movie, World War Z is pretty bloodless. Nearly all the fatalities and injuries in this film occur without any sign of blood or other evidence of injury. One assumes things must be gruesome given that there bullets are flying around, explosions are going off and zombies are snapping their teeth at anyone who comes nearby. Not that I enjoy violence for its own sake but to convince me of the severity of an outbreak of zombies, I think it a necessary aspect.

The performances are adequate at best, though you won't get to know much about these characters outside the functions they serve, even Pitt. I liked seeing South African actor Fana Mokoena as the UN Deputy Secretary-General though he isn't given much to chew on. I hope this film acts as a stepping stone for him as he acquits himself well with the little he is given here.

World War Z is by no means the disaster the film's troubled production may have lead you to expect. At best, it's a mixed bag, a collection of scenes and sequences that never really coalesce into a whole. If you liked 28 Days Later, you might enjoy this, though I wouldn't say it's anywhere near as good as that film.

It zips by quickly enough, though you’ll probably find there's not much about the film to sink your teeth into.