Okay. We think everyone was ready to lynch World War Z weren’t they? It’s the joy and wonder of this brave new world of social media. When something or someone gets a kicking by the media, we all scrabble over to get the boot in. In World War Z’s case, the film, produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B company, has been getting a merry pasting with a belt buckle for 6 years. The press has constantly reported on the troubled shoot, which involved recasting, reshoots and rewriting. As critic Giles Hardie pointed out, this is the film where they literally had to edit out countries to get it to the finish line.
So what are we left with?
Brad Pit is Gerry Lane; full time house husband and retired UN trouble-shooter. When he and his family find their school run interrupted by a pack of screaming, violent Philadelphians, they are taken in by the Deputy Secretary-General (Fana Mokoena), who explains that the world is under some sort of viral attack. Before anyone has a chance to come to terms with this, Gerry is packed off to discover the source of the virus.
If you’re a massive fan of the book on which it’s based, there is the potential for the film to disappoint. World War Z takes the brooding, slow boiling political allegory of its source, gives it a few cardio lessons, wipes the grave dirt off its face and sends it on its way. As such, it’s more of a spiritual successor to 28 Days Later with a detective story, than it is a true zombie film. In fact, like Shaun of the Dead, when the z-word is first mentioned, it’s immediately derided and never discussed again. However, without making the book into a mini-series, Gerry’s globetrotting paper chase seems to be the most logical to push the narrative forward.
Marc Forster, who is well known for pretty much not doing these kind of films, has been given the thankless task of helming the constantly shifting narration that changed with each draft of screenplay. It’s either down to him or the editors, but World War Z is very much like a patchwork quilt. There are lots of little storylines stitched together, but a lot of them could have easily been forgotten. And in some cases, the film does it for us by either dropping characters or resolving their arc in the most unsatisfactory way possible! This is really apparent with Mirellie Enos, who must have signed on to the film to do more than hang onto a walkie talkie and pine after Brad her onscreen husband. Meanwhile, Elyes Gabel’s virologist feels like a leftover from the first draft and treated as such.
There’s also the issue of the ‘zombies’ themselves. If you believe zombies don’t run, then this film is not for you. World War Z has them running, jumping, spitting and at one point, clucking. If you do venture in, just keep repeating to yourself ‘It’s just a movie. It’s just a movie.’ Because, despite all that’s wrong with World War Z, there is so much right with it as well.
There are some great flourishes of innovation that really do help it stand on its own. Gerry uses the most unlikely of items to measure how long zombification occurs. Believing they may be infected, a character contemplates suicide. Then there’s that finale… There will be those who know the original filmed ending to World War Z and trust us, they made the right choice in dispensing with it. Despite his previous vocation, Gerry is still the everyday family man, so it is tonally and narratively right to go the way they do. Subtle and a stark contrast to the finales found in summer blockbusters, it’s a satisfying pay off.
World War Z may not be a classic of the zombie genre, but its strengths outweigh its weaknesses enough to make it a pleasing piece of escapist cinema.