Gerry Lane is a retired United Nations investigator called on to find a cure for a pandemic that is spreading…fast. After a seemingly routine traffic jam in Philadelphia turns into frenzied fear and chaos, his former boss Thierry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena) reveals that it’s not just isolated to America. No one knows what it is, no one is willing to use the Z word but everyone knows it threatens humanity, and apparently Gerry is the one to save us all.
The zombie genre is one that will never die and comes back, like its zombies, time and time again. World War Z doesn’t really offer up anything revolutionary, like fast zombies in Danny Boyle’s terrifying 28 Days Later or comedic ones in Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. What it does try to offer is much more agile zombies of the Usain Bolt variety, with bat-like listening skills and the ability to turn anyone in just 11 seconds.
Director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Quantum of Solace) tries to breathe life into this genre by making it seem so real and entirely plausible, with a lot of help from CGI. The Philadelphian traffic jam was effective, the sheer number of zombies like angry army ants attacking and zombies on a plane that make you never want to fly economy again, all build up well. If your heart rate is beating faster than it should be, in a relatively bloodless film, you’re affected. For those who love the gore associated with the brain-munching undead you will be disappointed as Forster (and Pitt as producer) wanted a more family friendly rating. It’s a feat to be able to scare with most of the blood being off-screen or left to our imaginations. The last 40 minutes particularly, prove that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better as the story is stripped back to the foreboding empty corridors of a World Health Organisation lab in Cardiff Wales. In fact, most of this film is shot in England with Glasgow masquerading as Philadelphia and parts of Devon and Wales.
The actors do their bit and carry the film as best they can, considering there isn’t much to go on – you don’t really find out anything about Gerry and why he’s the obvious choice of saviour. His wife Karin (Mireille Enos) is under-used and almost like a place holder just to flesh him out a little as a family man, who finds it hard to leave them to globe trot in search of a cure. One notable character, that doesn’t fall into the usual categories, is Segen (played effectively by Daniella Kertesz) an Israeli soldier determined to stop the spread, no matter the cost.
The film wasn’t without its problems and with rumours and confirmations of numerous rewrites, re-shooting the entire last scene and delayed release, it’s no wonder many expected it to be a disaster. My expectations were not high either, especially as I had heard from those who’d read the book (Max Brook’s 2006 novel of the same name) that it was almost nothing like it. I went to see it simply because my close friend wanted to – let’s just say she was jumpy. I left that cinema, thrilled with the plausible microbiology for a change, wondering if a sequel is necessary as the ending was a bit soft but just a little paranoid at every mini-traffic jam on the way home.
World War Z doesn’t break new ground (it’s no Night of the Living Dead), plays it safe compared to the source material (which was more politically charged) and very little character development but it’s suitably frightening, realistic and its got a lot more pulse and brains than most summer films.
What did you think? Slow and gnashing of the teeth or exceeded your expectations? Your turn on the soapbox in 3, 2, 1.