Ach, zombies! A new spin on the undead genre is light on the munching, but strong on the jet-setting as Brad Pitt tackles a bigger germ farm than a rage-infected monkey.
Zombies are so hot right now. At least the idea of them is, as the zombies themselves are the barely animated flesh of the undead, condemned to walk the Earth for all eternity. Or at least until one gets plugged between their eyes, and then it’s terror time in torpid town. The Walking Dead has brought a very traditional George Romero inspired vision of the shuffling corpses to our small screens for the last few years, but a handful of films have tired to push or tug on the boundaries of the sub-genre, including those fast 28 Days Later biters and whatever it is that emerges from the Resident Evil films.
World War Z goes one step further, crafting a tale that is not so much survival horror as it is a globe-trotting thriller. Based on the novel of the same name by Max Brooks, the son of Mel and Anne Bancroft and the author of the The Zombie Survival Guide, director Marc Foster’s film centres its narrative on the star power of William Bradley “Brad” Pitt. When a viral outbreak sends people hurtling teeth first at one another, retired United Nations guy Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) has to leave his family behind to help hunt down the source of the virus in the hopes of finding a cure. It’s a journey that will take him to South Korean, Israel and yes, even Wales.
Even though World War Z bucks the trend by daring to use the dreaded “Z” word on-screen, it steers away from many familiar tropes, or at least the ones in zombie films. After a claustrophobic opening in a major US city, the film becomes an investigative thriller, skirting political boundaries and firmly establishing that Pitt’s Lane is the one man that can get the job done. A convenient, and somewhat hilarious, character death ensures that Pitt has no competition in the knowledge stakes. This is the very definition of a star-driven film, but Pitt’s talents are such that the other characters he meets are given sufficient opportunities to warm some undead hearts. All other characters are purely perfunctory as a result, including a random Matthew Fox as a US Navy Seal, but it’s a strong supporting cast nonetheless.
World War Z has little time for complications, and some of its plot points are a little (zombie) moth-eaten. It mostly follows a video game structure of running at full tilt from one set-piece to the next. This sounds like a fault, and it probably is if you look too closely, especially given that the almost two-hour running time stretches some of those sequences a little too far. The third act is a little weak, so we can assume that was Damon Lindelof‘s bit, but thankfully rigor mortis never sets in. Thanks to the constant scene changing, and some fairly impressive special effects sequences, there’s enough shiny things on the screen to keep up the momentum. It helps that these aren’t your average shuffling zombies either, but the fast and drooling kind. Those looking for some splatter gore will find a comparatively chaste film, but thriller fans will get their metres filled adequately.
Before the final credits roll, Pitt reminds us in a piece of narration that “this isn’t the end; not even close.” Intended as a chilling reminder that viral outbreaks aren’t just for Christmas, and require your love all year round, it’s also a clear message that your box office dollars will help directly kick-start sequels until the rotting flesh falls off. This is popcorn entertainment of the purest strain, and if you accept that going in, World War Z is a fun enough romp.
World War Z is released in Australia on 20 June 2013 from Paramount.