World War Z review

Banana Rating: 2 out of 5

It’s a fact that a zom­bie movie is in the pro­cess of being made every sixty seconds. Actu­ally, it’s not a fact. I made it up. But I’d be sur­prised if it wasn’t true.

They’ve trans­formed over the years. From sham­bling undead — Night of the Liv­ing Dead and their ilk — through to 28 Days Later — super fast brain munch­ers that run like the wind. Dir­ector Danny Boyle would dis­agree that his rage infec­ted vic­tims are zom­bies, but they are really, whatever he might say.

The fast vari­ety of zom­bie seems to be the cur­rent favour­ite among film makers, and its slow cousin is becom­ing a rar­ity, find­ing a more com­fort­able home in TV shows like The Walk­ing Dead. The epis­odic nature and long story arcs of TV seem like a bet­ter fit these days. The zom­bies aren’t always present. But they can lurk in small groups, pulling the nasty, clas­sic zom­bie movie trick of lulling the human prot­ag­on­ists into a false sense of secur­ity. Humans are faster, but fewer, and one wrong move through over con­fid­ence can res­ult in being over­whelmed by lar­ger groups, or being caught off guard by the lone zom­bie they don’t see walk­ing slowly behind them.

Fast or slow?

World War Z, the book, writ­ten by Max Brooks (son of Mel), focuses on the slow kind. So you’d be for­given for think­ing World War Z, the movie, would do the same. But no, it’s the fast sort. Which I ima­gine is some­thing of a sore point for fans of the book. I haven’t read it by the way, but I have read its pre­quel, The Zom­bie Sur­vival Guide, an excel­lent book which plays it totally straight. If there was such a thing as zom­bies, I genu­inely think I’d stand a chance against the undead hordes with a copy of the book in my back pocket. Sounds daft, but it’s true.

All I know of World War Z, the book, in terms of struc­ture, is that first and fore­most, it’s a novel, and con­sists of dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters of dif­fer­ent nation­al­it­ies and their stor­ies about fight­ing the zom­bie men­ace, with all of it pulled together by a cent­ral nar­rator.

With that in mind, you can see why the film makers of World War Z decided to con­cen­trate on the nar­rator (Brad Pitt) and his globe-trotting adven­tures, rather than a mix of char­ac­ters. It might have been too messy and dis­join­ted. Hav­ing said that, I found the film to be dis­join­ted any­way, mainly because it doesn’t stay in one place too long.

A bloodless exercise

Over­all, it’s a some­what bland, blood­less exer­cise in water­ing down hor­ror to appeal to a wider audi­ence. The ver­sion I’m review­ing here is sup­posedly the “Exten­ded Action Cut” which has a bit more gore thrown into the mix than the cine­matic release.

But other than a grue­some ampu­ta­tion to stop the zom­bie virus tak­ing a fresh vic­tim, it’s hon­estly not that bloody. Even then, dir­ector Marc Foster seems almost reluct­ant to show the true hor­ror of the ampu­ta­tion in any great detail, the cam­era twitch­ing nervously, eager to be some­where else, with dol­lops of obvi­ously CGI blood spurt­ing from below the screen like they were added as a cyn­ical after­thought to sell more blu-rays to those who were dis­ap­poin­ted first time round. The extra blood in the rest of the film has little impact too, the cam­era never dar­ing to linger for more than a nano­second. For a hor­ror film, it’s extremely tame.

Brad Pitt, the Jessica Fletcher of zombie movies

Of course, you might argue that hor­ror can be just as scary with what it doesn’t show, and you’d be right. But the best examples of the hor­ror genre know how to build mood and ten­sion, the dir­ector lay­ing the ground work, with your ima­gin­a­tion filling in the rest.

World War Z jet­tis­ons all of that, and makes the big mis­take of think­ing that if you just pile the zom­bies up, and shake the cam­era around like a Bourne movie, it’ll be scary. Hordes of zom­bies swarm across the screen, jump­ing around with super­hu­man strength, head­but­ting cars, jump­ing off build­ings, tum­bling over each other in waves, even using their com­bined might to scale huge walls. They look faintly ridicu­lous, far too fast, and just improb­able in the way they move. As a res­ult, ten­sion and scares drain away with each sub­sequent attack.

Another prob­lem is that it’s hard to give a shit about the cent­ral char­ac­ter, as it’s quite pos­sibly the most bor­ing Brad Pitt has ever been. Admit­tedly, the broken up nar­rat­ive doesn’t help him much. It fol­lows a tem­plate of new coun­try plus massive zom­bie attack, over and over until it becomes repet­it­ive, before end­ing with a whim­per in Wales. Yes, Wales! And it’s curi­ous how in their search for a cure, nobody ever stops to think, “Hang on, every time this Brad Pitt guy turns up, the shit sud­denly hits the fan, and we get attacked by loads of zom­bies! Mmmm, I won­der…”

He’s basic­ally the Jes­sica Fletcher of zom­bie movies.