Max Brooks’ book World War Z gives a series of accounts of how people’s lives around the world have been affected by a ten year war with Zombies, examining the religious, political and environmental implications of the apocalypse.
The film gives a series of accounts of how Brad Pitt travels around the world (Korea, Israel and finally for the big resolution; Wales) trying to find a way of stopping the recently started war with Zombies, examining the cinematic potential of the apocalypse. It isn’t as big or as clever as it thinks it is and most of the plot unravels the absolute second you start to question it but it is quite fun for the two hours it is on screen.
The beginning of the film is actually pretty good. For about half an hour we follow Brad and his family immediately after the sudden outbreak of Zombie flu in Philadelphia. The tension builds very effectively as what starts with a traffic jam escalates into total mayhem. For the early part of this we don’t even see the undead just the dangerous panic they cause and it is all pretty exciting stuff. Most of it was in the trailer but it is easily the best part of the film so I suppose that makes sense.
It is when the film goes global that the cracks begin to show. Brad and his brood find themselves momentarily safe aboard a UN warship which is the place that ‘project save the world’ is being coordinated from. It is nice to see that it is a global organisation that is coming to the rescue rather than just the Americans but there is only one accent being spoken on board this boat and guess which one it is. Anyway, it soon transpires that Jerusalem is a Zombie free zone because they were quick witted enough to build a wall all around the city to keep the nasties out. Hang on, this has all just kicked off in America but they’ve known about it in Israel long enough to build a thirty foot barricade around their capital. No one Stateside heard about this? Is there no such thing as satellite surveillance in this film? Does no one use Twitter?
Arguably the best Zombie films in recent years have all been comic in tone with Zombieland and recently Warm Bodies. 28 Days Later is possibly the only really good straight Zombie flick of the last fifteen years but was more about the evil living than the evil dead. World War Z certainly owes a debt to Danny Boyle’s movie in that the reason for people getting a little bit bitey is because they are infected with something but there is no real examination of how human nature changes when the instinct to survive takes over. Quite the contrary in fact, everyone Bradley meets on his mission is overly generous and totally accommodating.
The mission then is to find a cure for this pandemic. I have a problem with this because there is no satisfying scientific explanation for this affliction. Sorry but Zombieism is not a disease, it is supernatural event. Microorganisms do not reanimated dead flesh and render people unkillable. That is the work of dark satanic forces and no mistake. Stop trying to find a medical cure, surely what you need is a Catholic Priest. George A. Romero got it right with the strap line of Dawn of the Dead, ‘when there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth’.
The other thing Romero knew is that Zombies work best as a metaphor which is not something this film really plays on. These monsters do not represent the threat of communism or the rise of human dependancy on medicine/technology. They are just Zombies. The heartbreaking tragedy of Zombies as shambling, murderous versions of those we once loved goes equally unexplored save for one nice line about a man seeing something that was once his wife kill his son. Still, we do get a disembodied hand moving by itself so it doesn’t fail to tick all of the genre boxes.
The cast are fine. Brad Pitt is a pretty reliable screen presence and he is well supported by a largely unknown cast. It is great to see Peter Capaldi in there although I kept expecting (hoping) to see him burst into a creative series of expletives at any minute. Interestingly the only other familiar faces on the screen were Matthew Fox and John Gordon Sinclair whose appearances as soldiers were so brief that the movie they are in must be on the cutting room floor. (Although it is all digital now so they have the even greater indignity of ending up buried on some external hard drive.) Maybe we will see more of them in the inevitable sequel because I don’t think a film has ended this abruptly, before the journey has ended, since The Fellowship of the Ring.
Max Brook’s previous book was called ‘The Zombie Survival Guide’ and I can only assume that the people in this film haven’t read it. Judging by what goes on here I can make the following recommendations for what to do in such circumstances:
1. Be careful with firearms, keep the safety catch on when walking on slippery surfaces.
2. Turn off your mobile phone.
3. Keep the doors closed.
4. Don’t disturb people if they seem to be taking too long in the toilet.
5. Don’t sing
Max Brooks said in an interview that his publishers had wanted to use the poster image of a swarm of Zombies taking down a helicopter as the cover for a reissue of the book. He had refused because at no point does such an event occur in the text. I respect his creative integrity but he needn’t have been too precious about it because it doesn’t happen in the film either.
So, go see this if Zombies are your thing but don’t expect any entrails. It is more I Am Legend than Night of the Living Dead and Shaun of the Dead is actually scarier. It is fine but is probably one to catch on DVD.