World War Z: A Review

World War Z – Dir: Marc Forster; *ing: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Fana Mokoena


“Braaains!” – Albert Einstein. Probably.

Movie monsters have never had it this good, not since the heyday of the Universal Pictures big bads of the 30’s and 40’s – the original onscreen Dracula, the Mummy, the Frankenstein monster, the Wolf Man etc – classics that made stars of the likes of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney (Sr. and Jr). Vampires of course are the most in-demand specie of villain today, from TV’s now-defunct Buffy The Vampire Slayer, to the current True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, and, of course, cinema’s Twilight series, which showcases a decidedly toothless variety of the mythical bloodsucker: less fang, more sparkle. The zombie (the other kind of undead) has had its moment in the spotlight in the past too, with George Romero’s ‘ – Of The Dead’ suffixed cult classics from the 70’s (as well as their various imitators), and, rather like the vamp, is also enjoying a major revival, what with films like the Dawn Of The Dead remake, Simon Pegg’s quasi-parody Shaun Of The Dead, as well as TV’s wildly popular The Walking Dead. So one supposes it was inevitable that Hollywood would attempt to put a rather more somber, less schlocky spin on it, with big name stars and a budget to match.

The result is World War Z, an ambitious take on the genre, which ups the scale manifold and takes the action global, while also trying to lend the plot more subtextual heft. Brad Pitt (world-weary, with nary a trace of his bronzed-god persona) stars as Gerry Lane, a former UN employee whose quiet life with wife Karin (Enos, from TV’s The Killing) and their two daughters receives a rude awakening when what seems to be an unusually long traffic jam quickly turns into a massive and vicious zombie attack. After barely escaping the ensuing carnage with his family, Gerry is recruited by old colleague and UN Deputy Secretary General Thierry Umutoni (Mokoena) to help find the origin and cure for the zombie virus, a mission which takes him first to South Korea and then to Israel. It is in Jerusalem that Gerry gets the first important indication towards a solution to the rabid undead problem, and also picks up an important ally in the form of military escort Segan (Kertesz). One gigantic zombie wall scaling and one onboard-grenade instigated plane crash later, the duo stumble into a WHO research facility in Cardiff, where the last hope for a remedy possibly lies. Needless to say, said facility is crawling with brain-dead biters…

World War Z definitely starts strong, with the protagonists (and the audience) plunged into a harrowing opening sequence at once, including a minor stroke of genius in the form of a child’s toy counting down to all-hell-breaks-loose. Director Marc Forster is no stranger to action, having previously helmed 007 caper Quantum of Solace (to admittedly mixed reviews at best) and he inserts some well timed and impressively executed set-pieces, in particular the zombies scaling a hundred-foot wall into Jerusalem and running amok thereafter, as well as the aforementioned initial salvo that sets the tone of the rest of the film, if not the pace. That, though, is one of the major downsides of the film: while the pace is erratic, the darkly dramatic/tragic tone also keeps the story from really taking flight, even as the plot soars here and there. Zombie films need to have more than a hint of self-awareness so they don’t come off hokey, a task that WWZ manages to pull off only intermittently. The cast is game, especially Pitt and the wonderful Kertesz (though Enos is wasted), one just wishes the script had a bit of sense of humour about itself, or at least knew better than to get so heavy as to seem to be angling for the Most Overreaching Political Subtext of The Year prize.

Cult: Night Of The Living Dead (1968) – George Romero’s black-and-white cult favourite still packs a punch.

Current: Warm Bodies – A zombie rom-com? Couldn’t be worse than most of the regular rom-coms these days.

Coming Attraction: Frankenstein – Rumour has it, director Guillermo del Toro wants TV’s Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch for his upcoming re-telling of the Mary Shelley classic.

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