James Badge Dale
116 mins (123 for the unrated
Big Budget Zombie
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World War Z (2013)
27th Sep 13
Ex-UN investigator Gerry Lane finds himself right in the middle of a zombie outbreak and travels the world trying to find a way to save his family and the rest of us.
The film opens with Brad Pitt, his wife from the US version of The Killing and his two daughters heading in to Philadelphia. They get stuck in a traffic jam then all hell breaks loose as zombies start to appear from everywhere. Mass panic ensues, they crash, switch vehicles and make a break for it and Brad calls the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations who, after they’ve stocked up on ventolin for his asthmatic daughter via a currently being ransacked mall, arranges for them to be air lifted from the roof of an apartment building. In the process they acquire a new member of the family, saving a young boy named Tommy from his infected family, and along the way Brad works out the twelve second rule for humans turning in to zombies.
Once safely aboard an aircraft carrier off the coast of New York, the global implications kick in. Turns out Brad Pitt is a former UN investigator, and he’s soon roped in to a mission to escort a wide eyed virologist to South Korea to check out patient zero, the source of the outbreak. And that’s just the start of Brad’s relatively bloodless global adventure to find a cure and save the world and his family, which also see him head to a big set piece at the supposedly zombie proof walled city of Jerusalem and, um, a small World Health Organisation facility just outside Cardiff in Wales. He definitely doesn’t head to Moscow and have a big zombie fight in Red Square, no, that was in the earlier version of the script, the one that had Matthew Fox from Lost have more lines.
Anywho, World War Z. It’s based on a book by Max Brooks that came out a few years ago. Hell, we at eatmybrains even had the pleasure of meeting Max when he came to the UK as we dressed up as zombie’s and did promotional work for a book signing in Covent Garden, then smuggled booze in to a screening of Wild Zero at the Barbican Centre. But that’s another story – World War Z differs from the book in one defining way. The book is set after humanity has recovered from a zombie pandemic, and the lead character spends the book travelling the globe investigating how we humans managed to stop the zombie onslaught. Brad Pitt and his film company chose to make the movie more immediate, placing the lead character right in the middle of the outbreak. He still travels the world – searches for patient zero, etc – but this time it’s real time, he’s actively looking for a way for us to defend ourselves from the carnage. And he has a family, which was thrown in to help us connect with him. As such, that’s already going to put fans of the book’s noses out of joint, and it takes what is an original take on the genre and reverts it back to the standard outbreak story.
But an outbreak story with a budget that nobody has ever come close to before. Reportedly coming in at close to the $200 million mark, that brings with it one issue that has put off many zombie fans, and that is that with a budget like that you have to draw them in to the cinema houses, and to do that you need to lower the rating to a PG-13 in the States. And that means one thing – less gore. There are no decapitations in this movie, and very few shots or wounds spray blood anywhere. In fact, one character gets their hand cut off at one point and even that is a blood-free operation in the cinematic cut of the film.
Ignoring the source material, and forgiving the movie its lack of gore, how does the rest of the movie stand up though? This movie, like most blockbusters these days, is at its core a collection of set pieces held together by a narrative, and it has to be said some of the set pieces are quite spectacular and ooze budget, so much so that it is quite easy to forget at times how cheesy the character family arc is. The Philadelphia outbreaks scenes are great, the pharmacy scenes well implemented and the rooftop escape is very cool – watching running zombies throwing themselves at a helicopter and missing is pretty impressive. The Korean Army base sequence highlights that the other characters should listen to Brad at all times, and that if you’re not Brad Pitt chances are you’re not going to make it to the next scene, and the Israel sequence has the much publicised zombie ant hill piling up the Jerusalem wall which is so awesome you don’t have time to question whether that’s physically possible. And then things slow down and head to Cardiff, providing us with an ending that, while different to the original script, does actually work very well, and probably works much better than the high voltage carnage in Russia ending the original script has (and was mostly filmed rumour has it, so it would have been cool to have that as an alternative ending at some point in the future, if that’s possible).
So yes, the acting throughout is passable if a little cheesy, Brad Pitt plays Brad Pitt and is very watchable, and the set pieces are so much fun that it’s hard not to recommend World War Z, even if it is a very different beast to what most zombie fans wanted. And the so called unrated cut released on blu-ray and DVD looks very much like the theatrical cut with CG blood added in key scenes to keep the fans happy, so there’s not much in it really.
At last a zombie movie you can watch without your wife or girlfriend freaking out, but the sanitisation of our beloved genre is maybe too strong a pill for the hardcore zombie fans. As a gore free zombie thriller, however, credit where credit’s due.
Versions Unrated (that's the cinema cut with a bit of added CG blood) and 3D blu-ray