Let me say it up front – World War Z doesn’t the least bit follow Max Brooks’ book which it claims to be adapted from. Like the I am Legend movie, this film absolutely desecrates the source material, exudes none of the various geo political themes and offers a blasphemously different ending. So if you’re a fan of the book and worship Brooks, this movie is definitely not for you. But here’s the good news – World War Z is more proof that tabloid news stories about troubled film productions are irrelevant, because the film is a surprisingly polished and entertaining end product.
Directed by Marc Forster who was blamed for everything that went wrong during filming, World War Z doesn’t offer anything new, but it takes all the familiar tropes of modern zombie films and presents them on an extremely large scale. It’s a disaster pic that mixes the soulless excess of Roland Emmerich and the pseudo realistic procedural style of Soderbergh’s Contagion. The film doesn’t waste any time – we’re plunged straight into the zombie apocalypse that breaks out in an American city. We follow Gerry (Brad Pitt), a former UN personnel who is tasked with shifting his family to a safe zone and traveling the world to find the origin and cure for the epidemic. The narrative structure is fun as Gerry jet sets from one country to another, even though we’re left wondering why the other experts of the world don’t procure the vital information that he does. The zombies are terrific and they make the ones from Walking Dead look like Teletubbies - their transformation is established in a superbly shot early scene where Gerry watches a man painfully twitch, contort and turn into a zombie in 12 seconds.
Although there isn’t a shred of the pragmatic philosophy from the book, World War Z doesn’t end up as dumb summer hokum. In one scene Gerry gets zombie blood on his face and runs to the ledge of a building terrace and waits for 12 seconds to jump off. Pitt wonderfully underplays it, making a decent effort to not shove his mega movie star persona down our throats – something Tom Cruise needs to learn. It’s a shame that Pitt’s production will forever be maligned as yet another Hollywood movie that didn’t respect its source material. The Bourne films didn’t follow Ludlum’s books either, and though World War Z isn’t as good, it still works as a decently put together standalone movie. It’s beautifully shot too – from red flares illuminating a pitch black abandoned building to a rain soaked bicycle ride amidst sleeping zombies, it’s candy for the eyes, poisoned by the zombie plague of cinema – 3D.
There are some welcome character moments between the pounding action set pieces to make us care about Gerry and his family, and Forster handles these scenes just right, effortlessly avoiding the chasm of melodrama. It’s difficult to pull off an intriguing serious tone in a disaster movie of this scale, a zombie one at that. Where Forster does fail is the close quarter action department – as exhibited in Quantum of Solace, the man just doesn’t have the chops to film a decent close up without shaking the camera like a snow globe, and the effect is even more awful in 3D. To fix the supposedly disappointing third act the filmmakers had turned to the one man who in Cabin in the woods created the mother of all third acts – Drew Goddard. But despite his rewrites and reshoots it is easy to sense a sudden drop in quality in the last twenty minutes. The final scene is a whimper and just terrible in every possible way, it sets up a sequel but given the budget it would technically be impossible to fund any further films in the franchise. It’s a mystery why the studio didn’t realize this and decide to end the storyline in this film with the epic battle of Yonkers.
(First published in MiD Day)