Let me start off with a few things- I love zombie movies- they are one of my favorite sub genres, no doubt about it. I love the original Romero "Dead" trilogy (and even Land of the Dead, to be perfectly honest- though his most recent efforts are fairly bad). I have enjoyed the newer movies that have spiced up the genre, like 28 Days Later (but I hated its sequel), and even the Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake (better than it had any right to be). I would be remiss if I didn't mention my undying (haha) love of Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. I must also state that I have read the book World War Z, and as a history guy, the method of telling the story via "oral history" is something that historians have been doing for some time, and it was an interesting take.
So where does that leave World War Z? Well, for sure, it bears just about zero resemblance to the book- I knew the book would be virtually impossible to put to film, but this doesn't even really try. Further, the movie isn't that traditional zombie movie- not only do these zombies move fast, they are different in several key ways. That said, World War Z is indeed a really entertaining, at times thoughtful, and an interesting and unique take on the zombie genre. They have mixed zombies with a Hollywood action blockbuster- and its a great mixture. I'd like to quickly highlight some of the really great aspects of this film, but I caution you about spoilers:
1- The Scope and Scale- first off, this is how Romero and others undoubtedly envisioned the zombie apocalypse. Put simply, it is EVERYWHERE. No part of the globe is unaffected. In Romero's movies, this was only hinted at or discussed- and while that ratcheted up the dread and despair, you never saw it. The Dawn remake showed some news clips, but that was about it. Only Zombieland showed various parts of America gone, but the focus was tightly on the 4 heroes. In WWZ, they show it- the scale of the carnage is incredible. Society seems to break down in about 10 minutes- panic, hysteria, each man for himself, looting, murder, explosions, you name it... They show it happening all over the world, and not just in video/news clips/montage. Brad Pitt's Gerry Lane actually witnesses a lot of it. There were certain moments that were breathtaking in showing the scope and scale of this- I loved it!
3- The Action Set Pieces- this movie is more of an action/thriller than the traditional horror movie, and as such has action set pieces. Think of it as say Die Hard or The Bourne Identity but with zombies. For example, Gerry and his family trying to survive first in Philly and then in Jersey have the traditional zombie beats, but it also is very fast paced (less dread, more running)- can they get to the copter in time? Later, when Gerry goes to Israel, all hell brakes loose and the zombies begin to flood the city- it is race against time to escape (I must say that the Israel attack is very startling and compelling on film- it is the main set piece of the movie and it is excellent). Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the "Zombies on a Plane" sequence. When I saw this hinted at in the trailer, I scoffed at it, thinking it looked silly. Boy was I wrong. It was a very well handled scene and very intense- I loved that bit, as it turns out. Like I said, great action here.
4- Brad Pitt's Performance- the character of Gerry Lane is quite boring, and that is simply great. He's a UN bureaucrat, that's it- not a soldier, not a superhero; he's an average guy; only that he has been "lucky" to have served the UN in war-torn countries in the past and has shown an uncanny ability to survive in such environments. When we meet him here he has quit that job, as it had taken a toll on him and his family. When zombie hell breaks loose, Gerry has the skills to survive, albeit just barely. When he and his family are rescued by the military, they want him to work for them, and he refuses- they have to basically blackmail him in order to get him to go back out there. Pitt plays the role of the reluctant hero very well- he's modest, average, just slightly skilled, and he is scared. Pitt plays it very well; he avoids any flash or scenery-chewing. The role and movie becomes that much more believable as a result.
5- Political Commentary- under the surface, there is a bit of a political undercurrent at play in WWZ, in the best zombie tradition. In this case, the nations of the world really aren't coming together to fight the zombie plague. Indeed, they seem to have taken a "go it alone" posture, to the detriment of the whole world (a nuke even goes off at one point- which nation does this you never find out, making it that much more unsettling). The movie gets into how places like North Korea, Israel, India, the US, Europe, and Russia have all tried and pretty much failed) to deal with the menace. Forget international cooperation; forget fighting for humanity. Nope- each country seems to be trying to hold its own, and they can't quite get their acts together. One can't help but believe that this indeed would be the case if such an even truly happened, and it makes the movie that much more bleak. Which is great.
6- The Ending- although there seems to be a strong hope at the closing of the movie, humanity's survival is not guaranteed. Indeed, Pitt's narration makes it clear that humanity has a shot at survival and nothing more; it is a fragile chance at best. So, while it isn't the haunting and bleak ending of say Night of the Living Dead (or either Dawn of the Deads), it doesn't have the mandatory Hollywood Happy Ending either, and I appreciate that.
Now, there are problems with WWZ to be sure. First, there are several coincidences that are just too convenient (those planes were ready to leave Israel a bit too quickly). Some of the actions taken by the characters strain credulity. There is a total lack of gore- no a movie doesn't need gore, but a zombie movie should have a lot more than this (will there be a harder cut on DVD? I'm not sure, actually, as they were making a action movie here). Some of the supporting players are just fine, like the Israeli soldier, while others, like the WHO doctors, are actually pretty stupid or annoying- this sometimes detracts from the movie.
World War Z gets a lot right, more than I thought it would going into it (rumors of it being a bad production, re-shoots, etc.). It is a new twist on the zombie genre, and it feels fresh and interesting again. It does have some problems, of course, but what movie doesn't? As far as zombie movies go, I don't know what will ever touch the Romero Trilogy, but World War Z was a really strong entry into the zombie cannon. I give it 3 Marks of Chaos out of four.
Until next time...