Adapting Max Brook’s epic zombie anthology into a cohesive movie was never going to be a straightforward task at the best of times. The novel, first published in 2006, took the form of an oral record concerning the various stages of a bitter war against a zombie plague that takes in first hand accounts from all over the world from the brutal ground battles in frozen Russia to the clearing out of the pitch black, maze-like Parisian sewers and was, quite frankly, terrifying.
Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, got the rights and then summarily wandered into a well publicised production nightmare which by all accounts, was pretty damn scary itself. Whole sections of the movie were completely scrapped and rescripted and reshoots from scratch with whole plotlines and characters vanishing as completely as a zombie’s pulse.
What’s left is a geo-political eco-horror that criss crosses the globe and surely still stands as the biggest production dedicated to the living dead Hollywood have ever mounted but can it possibly hope to hold together?
Former UN employee Gerry Lane and his family experiences a new level of gridlock when an outbreak of an unknown virus turns downtown Philadelphia into feeding frenzy. The infection, transmitted by bite, transforms panicked citizens into maniacal screeching ghouls within 12 seconds who are lightning fast and run down their victims in overwhelmingly huge numbers and Gerry desperately struggles to get his wife and two girls out of the city. Making a connection with the people he used to work with, Gerry manages to wrangle a spot on a warship for his family in payment for resuming his old job and transporting a scientist to South Korea to follow a lead on the virus’ origins but predictably (for a zombie movie) shit goes south in a hurry and soon he’s globe trotting in a race against time to find a cure for the outbreak that spreading across the planet quicker than a cheetah with it’s balls on fire and Gerry finds himself barely escaping from each place by the skin of his uninfected teeth.
Bluntly put, World War Z is as big a mess as a blood sample from one of it’s own infected, with a story that attempts to replicate the episodic nature of the novel by having each destination Gerry stops in having a different feeling and tone. The Philadelphia segments are a fast paced and briskly edited race against time while South Korea is rain swept and dark and all about stealth with the superlative Israel section played as a mad race for survival.
For all the feeling that every scene is slapped on top of one another like a precarious stack of meat, World War Z isn’t without it’s moments, in fact the section where Israel’s defences come spectacularly crashing down is one of the more memorable moments in modern zombie movie history with the undead swarming over everything like psychotic ants, rolling buses and cars aside by sheer force of numbers. Similarly, the initial outbreak and a chaotic incident aboard an airplane also bring fast paced necrotic thrills on a scale hitherto unseen thanks to it’s muscular budget so it’s somewhat a shame that the power of it’s apocalyptic images are diminished somewhat by the less than perfect rendering of the CGI dead rag-dolling themselves off literally every surface they see. It’s not as bad as, say, I Am Legend’s computer generated blood suckers but it’s noticable enough to be take you out of the story. Something else that’s way too noticable is that after all the reshoots, the filmmakers obviously still couldn’t figure out how to end this bloody thing and the original final third of the movie bewilderingly dumps us in Wales (after Korea and Israel it’s somewhat of a letdown) and has Pitt wandering around a research lab sipping on a soda like the armageddon’s been sponsored by a soft drink company. The random cast contains some standouts with brief but memorable spots by James Badge Dale, David Morse and Daniella Kertesz as a tenacious Israeli soldier but anyone wondering why Matthew Fox’s name is in the credits when he obviously seems to be playing Sir Not Appearing In This Film proves how much of the original script was chopped and changed.
In fact the original ending (which reportedly saw Fox’s paratrooper force Gerry’s wife to shack up with him in order to protect her girls while Gerry himself tries to survive a vicious ground war in Russia) maybe would’ve added more of a human element in favour of a more basic find-the-cure plot which sort of works but hardly forges the new ground that the innovative source novel broke so well.
As it stands, World War Z is fairly serviceable with chiefly it’s scale that sets it apart from far superior competition, but some credit must go to Marc (Quantum Of Solace) Forster and a small army of writers to produce ANYTHING that even makes a lick of cohesive sense after all the tumultuous behind the scenes turmoil but this can only really be judged as a missed opportunity considering the amount of material that remains stubbornly unmined from the source novel.
Here’s hoping a long mooted sequel can redress the balance but as it stands World War Z is a solid C-.