I will to admit having extremely low expectations of World War Z when I went into this screening, despite the unexpected appearance of the one and only Mr. Brad Pitt to introduce the film and big it up to the audience. The troubled production had been widely reported with the release date being pushed back, reports of multiple re-writes (5 writers in total are credited on IMDb), a last minute re-shoot of the ending, a budget in excess of $200million, not to mention a public falling out between its star and the director Marc Forster. Was I right to be concerned? Well unfortunately, the answer is yes.
The opening sequence of the film gave me a glimmer of hope; it starts off by introducing us to Gerry Lane (Pitt), his wife Karen (Mireille Enos) and their two children. Gerry has seemingly quit his never specified but obviously important and dangerous job for the UN to become a stay at home Dad. This however is all about to change as a ferocious zombie outbreak is quickly taking over the world and he is called back into work by his old boss Thierry (Fana Mokoena). We get some exhilarating action set pieces as Gerry and his family escape Philadelphia and are airlifted to safety aboard a US navy vessel; the sheer force and speed with which we see the population of a large city like Philadelphia (despite these scenes actually being shot in Glasgow) turn into a rampaging horde of very fast zombies is a sight to behold and it really is edge of your seat stuff.
Once aboard the naval vessel Gerry reluctantly agrees to go back to work after realising that this will be the only way to keep his family protected. Although of course you’d hope that stopping the zombie outbreak threatening to wipe out all of mankind might also have a part in his decision. Either way, here starts a bizarre and oftentimes incoherent wild goose chase that sees Gerry hop from South Korea to Cardiff by way of Israel in his bid to get to the root of the outbreak. This was where the film started to lose me; we get no real characterization, not even of Gerry who is on screen almost every second of the film, and the host of temporary sidekicks he accumulates are poorly developed and their motivations often under explained, leaving you with nobody to truly care about. Everyone concerned also seems awfully quick jump into action with little or no information; this includes a mad rush to South Korea in response to a single email with the word “zombie” in it, shortly followed by a sojourn to Israel after being told by a crazy ex-CIA man (played by David Morse in a role that you feel there was perhaps a lot more to than we are given in the final cut) that the city went on lock down before the epidemic spread, meaning that they must have known something was going on… and on it goes until Gerry finds himself in Cardiff with Peter Capaldi and a host of other British TV actors. I should hasten to add that I absolutely love Peter Capaldi and not even he could prove the saving grace.
That’s not to say that I can’t generally overlook plot-holes and questionable character motivations, especially in a silly action flick, but crucially where the major flaw lies for me is in the cynical lack of gore and violence to ensure a PG-13 rating. Blood is conspicuous by its absence, the foe being reduced to a faceless mass of danger which could essentially have been anything, and in the process ensures that this is a thriller rather than a horror film, and the scares are minimal at best.
The production troubles are apparent in the characters and storylines that appear then don’t seem to go anywhere, and the tacked on ending feels exactly that. The ending is in itself quite effective and it gives us a taste of the tension first created in the opening sequence, but it feels alien to the rest of the film as a whole. There is also an over reliance on convenience throughout the film that is particularly noticeable when everything comes together just a little too well, without there ever being any real sense of danger surrounding Gerry and his family.
This may be apparent by now, but I should also mention this what we have here bears little resemblance to the source material. The first draft of the script by J. Michael Straczynski apparently remained faithful to Max Brooks’ satirical novel, but what went into the Hollywood machine has come out as something completely different that instead gives us a definite hero and doesn’t offend anyone in the process, ensuring a large international market (in the book the virus originates from illegal organ trading in China). It’s a shame really, as the book had a lot of potential to be made into something intelligent and scary, but this really is quite simply a daft summer blockbuster that can only really be enjoyed if you leave your brain at the door, but for me the experience was frustrating and only exasperated further by the 3D-induced headache I’d developed an hour in.
World War Z is on general release on 21st June, from Paramount.